The Cosmological Argument: “Eternal sky man used magic”.

November 14, 2013

The old cosmological argument as a classical ‘proof’ for the existence of God is apparently alive and well. It is used in practically every debate for the existence of God that I’ve come across. They sometimes rewrite it a little, believing to have strengthened its points, but the argument remains the same. The argument seems to require both supposition, and circular reasoning, whilst attempting to seem logical. William Lane Craig is always itching to use it before he even steps up to the podium. Hamza Tzortzis is under the unique impression that it still has merit especially if he uses pretentious language that is ultimately meaningless. The argument is as follows:

1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

– In essence… you cannot get something from nothing.

I have several criticisms of this classical ‘proof’ for the existence of God that I’ll set out below, point by point.

1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
You may have noted several problems with the argument immediately, starting not with its first point, but with its overall premise that an infinite cannot possibly exist. The premise that an infinite cannot exist, in this case is negated by the idea that a creator was uncaused, and thus, infinite. On top of an infinite God, the argument presupposes that the first cause ‘created’ everything…. out of nothing. They attempt to argue that something from nothing is impossible, whilst arguing that something from nothing is possible, as long as an eternal overlord did it. They don’t in any way provide evidence for the presupposition that something – anything – is able to exist prior to time and space, or outside of time and space. And that’s a crucial point. They therefore have no logically sound base for their argument. We try to rationalise with them, debate respectfully, use grandiose philosophical terms on a level that they believe helps their cause, but I think perhaps we give the cosmological argument too much credit, when in fact its very fundamental premise is just a more eloquent rewording of: “Eternal sky man used magic“.

Secondly, the phrase “…that begins to exist” is vital to the flaw. It used to be simply “Everything has a cause”. Well, then, if everything includes itself, then we must say that a creator must also have a cause. This presented problems for the believer, and so the phrase “…that begins to exist” was added. But this addition isn’t free from flaws, in fact it multiplies them. It is clearly intense circular reasoning. It presumes two states of being. Things that begin to exist, suggests there are also things that don’t begin to exist, which suggests they’ve always existed, which exempts them from the entire argument. In turn, this means by splitting existence into two categories a) Things that begin to exist and by extension b) Things that don’t begin to exist, but exist anyway, those who use the cosmological argument defeat their own premise; that nothing can be infinite.

They are also trying to prove God, by exempting God from the argument. To put it a little more simply, it is like saying “Everything…. that is blue“. Everything encompasses itself, there is nothing excluded. But the addition of “..that is blue” suddenly changes the meaning of “everything” by exempting everything that isn’t blue. And so “…that begins to exist” exempts that which is presumed not to have a beginning, by which believers call “God”. The argument already presumes a God, whilst trying to prove a God. To put it simply, Point 1 can thus be rewritten as:
1. Everything, except God, has a cause.
Which means point 2. can be rewritten as:
2. The Universe (but not God) began to exist.
– If an exemption for “everything” exists – and the exemption is that which you’re trying to prove – then your argument is incomplete, and so it is flawed.

Also flawed, is the premise that everything has a cause. Hume argued that we can infer from our experience of houses, that an architect and builders are required for a house to exist. We know this from experience of how houses come to exist. But we have no experience of how universes – the chain itself, rather than the constituent parts – come to exist, and so it is not possible to draw the same inference as we would do for houses. In essence, causation applies to the constituent parts of the universe, but need not apply to the universe (and so, time) itself.

2. The universe began to exist.
This is a flippant attempt to link the beginning of the universe itself, to the beginning of everything within the universe, when in fact the two are separate. Causation requires time to exist. Therefore causation is a product of the universe, the universe need not itself be a product of the laws of causation observed within the universe. The argument “the universe began to exist” places the universe (the entire set, rather than the parts of the set) within itself, subject to the law of the parts of the set that it gave birth to.

There was no “before time“, there was no prior state of being in which the universe hadn’t “begun” to exist yet, and so there was never a possibility for something to exist in order to be the cause of the universe – and therefore time – itself. The word “begun” requires time. The word “before” requires time. The word “cause” requires time. If a cause existed, then time existed, which means the universe had already begun to exist.
To argue “you cannot get something from nothing” is meaningless when discussing the universe itself, because there has never been “nothing“, there has always been “something”.

Causality is linked necessarily to time. So the Kalam Cosmological argument, by including the phrase “…that begins to exist” suggests that something can exist outside of time and so has no cause, without actually providing evidence for that subtly made assertion. This is not a respectable argument for the existence of God, it is not a rational argument for the existence of God, and yet some of the key Theistic public speakers use it constantly. It isn’t in the slightest bit convincing.

3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.
As noted above, this does not follow from the first two points, and therefore fails. It is a meaningless statement. Before making a case for the cosmological argument’s credibility, it seems to me that one must first produce the slightest piece of evidence that it is possible for something to exist outside of the all-encompassing confines of time and space. Which is of course both irrational, and self defeating. Existence requires time. And on that basis alone, the third point is irrational.

We non-believers simply say we do not know. Scientists are working on it. We just don’t know yet. In time, evidence will be gathered, theories formed, and conclusions drawn. It is simply not acceptable practice to notice a gap in our understanding, and place “God” without a significant amount of evidence for such an extraordinary claim, relying instead of horribly flawed philosophical talking points. The cosmological argument is one of those flawed talking points. It is nothing more than an eloquently formed synonym for “Eternal sky man used magic“.