• Brian A
    25
    The following argument seems to be a convincing argument for holding that it is more probable that God exists than that God does not exist. The argument derives from my understanding after reading Aquinas and listening to some secondary Christian resources. Is there something flawed in it?

    Premise-1: Everything in the world has a cause.
    Premise-2: If we trace the causes back, we arrive at the big bang, and the cause of the big bang.
    Premise-3: Even if God was not the cause of the big-bang, and something natural was, still, it is very improbable that there is an infinite chain of causes going back forever.
    Conclusion: Therefore, it is very probable that a non-contingent first cause exists; and this must be God, since there is nothing greater than the non-contingent first cause.

    I appreciate your criticism. Thanks.
  • TheMadFool
    2.3k
    Infinity is crucial to the argument. I've always wondered why.

    There are two kinds of infinity:

    1. Spatial
    2. Temporal

    1 is not a problem. Infinite space neither helps nor hinders the argument.

    2 is problematic. If there's an infinite chain of causation then the past would be infinite. The universe is travelling along a timeline and if the past were infinite, how did the universe traverse infinity to reach this point in time? Impossible.

    Therefore, the chain of causation can't be infinite. We need a beginning. God is defined as this beginning of the chain of causation.

    That's the crux of the argument in my view.

    Anyway, the problem with this argument is that it doesn't prove the omnipotency, omnibenevolence, and omniscience of God (O-O-O God)That's an issue because the Abrahamic God is the O-O-O God.

    Also, we can counter the argument by positing a cyclical universe. The beginning causes the end and the end causes the beginning (circular). We get rid of the infinity problem and God isn't needed. If you look at nature, this view isn't that outlandish - water cycle, the elliptical orbits of planets, nitrogen cycle, etc.
  • Banno
    3.1k
    Premise-1: Everything in the world has a cause.Brian A

    Well, does it?

    And even if it does, it does not follow that the world has a cause; the wold is not in the world.
  • mcdoodle
    990
    And even if it does, it does not follow that the world has a cause; the wold is not in the world.Banno

    Just to mention, here in Yorkshire there are Yorkshire Wolds, which are in the world :)
  • Brian A
    25

    Therefore, the chain of causation can't be infinite.

    I don't understand your argument about why the causal chain cannot be infinite. I don't know what you mean by the universe "traversing" the infinite. Could you explain a bit further?

    Also, we can counter the argument by positing a cyclical universe.

    I am hesitant to agree that this is an adequate counter-argument. For, the cyclical universe theory entails the view that there is X-amount of matter that cyclically explodes and implodes, and that matter is eternal. But it is improbable that matter is eternal; rather, it is more probable that the evolving-devolving-matter itself had a cause: viz. why something exists rather than nothing.

    Anyway, the problem with this argument is that it doesn't prove the omnipotency, omnibenevolence, and omniscience of God (O-O-O God)That's an issue because the Abrahamic God is the O-O-O God.

    I agree. How is one to hold the view of the O-O-O God then? My guess is that the O-O-O view arises from the ontological argument and the argument-from-design: that the mere thought of an O-O-O God in our minds indicates that such a being really exists, and that the immensity, orderliness, and goodness perceived in the universe reflects an O-O-O God, respectively. Or are there other ways to affirm an O-O-O God?
  • Mr Bee
    166


    I'm having trouble reading your argument, since I don't see how your premises are all related to one
    another (in the sense that they all should point to a single conclusion). Most of them seem to make unjustified assumptions about the world, and others seem to outright contradict each other if not the whole conclusion of the argument (with one of them being just a statement about the conclusion itself).

    Premise-1: Everything in the world has a cause.Brian A

    Wait, wasn't your argument that an infinite chain of causation was impossible? That seems to be your conclusion, but apparently one of your premises assumes that the conclusion is false. If you're trying to prove that it is false by way of a reductio, then I do not see where that comes into play.

    On top of that it may not necessarily be the case that the premise is true anyways. This premise assumes determinism but it is not clear that determinism is true.

    Premise-2: If we trace the causes back, we arrive at the big bang, and the cause of the big bang.Brian A

    Willing to grant that current cosmological theories suggest that there was a big bang in the earliest moments of the universe that we know of, but the idea that there was a cause to the big bang is debatable. Some physicists have suggested that there is no meaning to a "time before the big bang" and therefore no meaning to a cause of the big bang.

    Premise-3: Even if God was not the cause of the big-bang, and something natural was, still, it is very improbable that there is an infinite chain of causes going back forever.Brian A

    This is a bald assertion that basically states the conclusion you want to prove. Why is it improbable that there cannot be an infinite chain of causes? That is what your argument is trying to make the case for.

    So on the one hand you have a premise that assumes that everything has a cause, and in another you have a premise that basically states that an infinite chain of causes is improbable, and your conclusion is that an infinite chain of causes is impossible.

    Conclusion: Therefore, it is very probable that a non-contingent first cause exists; and this must be God, since there is nothing greater than the non-contingent first cause.Brian A

    Your conclusion makes other statements that might as well be additional premises: that there must exist a first cause, that it must be a non-contingent first cause, and that that cause must be God. Like the other premises, I think you need to offer some more supporting reasons for these statements as well.
  • TheMadFool
    2.3k
    I don't understand your argument about why the causal chain cannot be infinite. I don't know what you mean by the universe "traversing" the infinite. Could you explain a bit further?Brian A

    Let me give you an analogy.

    It isn't possible to reach the end of an infinite line because infinite literally means ''without end''.

    Say you're at a certain point on that line and now are contemplating the nature of your beginning. Is there a starting point where you began or is it infinity on both sides from the point where you're at?

    If there's a beginning there's no problem. However, if you think that it's infinity on both sides of the point you're at there's a problem viz. how did you travel an infinite distance to reach the point you're at? It's impossible to travel an infinite distance and yet there you are at a particular point on the line.

    Same reasoning applies to time. If the past is infinite how did you reach the present?

    The causal chain if left unchecked suffers the same setback - the infinite regress. How did an infinite chain of causes ever ocur? Infinity can't have ocurred, passed or travelled by definition.
  • TheMadFool
    2.3k
    I am hesitant to agree that this is an adequate counter-argument. For, the cyclical universe theory entails the view that there is X-amount of matter that cyclically explodes and implodes, and that matter is eternal. But it is improbable that matter is eternal; rather, it is more probable that the evolving-devolving-matter itself had a cause: viz. why something exists rather than nothingBrian A

    I only posit it to solve the infinite regress problem of the cosmological argument. I'd also like to add to the issue @Mr Bee raised.

    1. Everything has a cause
    2. If everything has a cause then there'a an infinite regress of causes
    3. Infinite regress of causes is impossible
    So,
    4. It's false that everything has a cause

    As you can see, 4 doesn't need us to entertain a God as an uncaused cause. Why not just conclude the universe as the uncaused cause.
  • unenlightened
    2.5k
    The notion of cause requires time, because cause has to precede effect. It follows (as effect follows cause, or as conclusion follows argument?) that if there is a beginning of time, there can be no cause of that beginning in sense in which 'cause' is understood in every other case. And if there is no beginning of time, there are the problems mentioned above.

    It is, in short, unthinkable that there either is or is not a beginning to time. This is because thought is time. Fortunately, it is not necessary to encompass the world with thought.
  • Cavacava
    2.4k


    Premise-1: Everything in the world has a cause.

    The assumption then is that "the world"/nature/universe is uniform everywhere and will remain so into the future. Causes are only known by induction, they are not deductive, they are only contingently possible or probable.
  • Brian A
    25


    I see that my argument was ill-constructed. Now I understand that space and time are essentially associated with the universe: that is, before the universe "banged" (presupposing the big-bang theory) there was neither space nor time. Let me re-construct my argument. It will argue that it is likely that God exists. I will assume that (a) the big-bang theory is correct, that (b) causality is real, and (c) that causality is not necessarily contingent on time (when considering a cause of the universe).

    P1: Everything in the universe (the earth and the activities therein, all the galaxies, etc.) is contingent on the big-bang: that is, without the big-bang, none of these things could have existed.
    P2: Time and space emerged at the moment of the big-bang.
    P3: Before the big-bang, there was neither time nor space.
    P4: It is probable that there was a reason, or a cause, for the big-bang (for, the universe is magnificent and even contains conscious human beings with remarkable minds).
    P5: Said reason/cause must transcend space and time (since before the big-bang, space-time did not exist).
    Conc.: This supra-spatiotemporal cause is likely to be God.

    Also:
    Why not just conclude the universe as the uncaused cause.

    Since something cannot cause itself. Also, the universe contains conscious rational beings: this suggests that the ultimate, supra-temporal cause of the universe is conscious, too.
  • Cavacava
    2.4k
    If you have assumed causality is necessary, you have already assumed god.
  • noAxioms
    585
    P3: Before the big-bang, there was neither time nor space.Brian A
    If there was no time, there is no 'before the bang'.
    I have issues with the others as well, but P3 has that blatant self contradiction
  • Mr Bee
    166

    P2: Time and space emerged at the moment of the big-bang.
    P3: Before the big-bang, there was neither time nor space.
    P4: It is probable that there was a reason, or a cause, for the big-bang (for, the universe is magnificent and even contains conscious human beings with remarkable minds).
    Brian A

    Seems like you decided to go with the idea that the big bang was the origin of time and space. That seems to create a problem with your P4. though like I said earlier, because if there is no such thing as a "time before the big bang" then how can anything stand in a relation of causality to it? Causality conceptually requires time to exist.

    Also, you say that the big bang, which caused the universe must have a cause because the universe is magnificent, but wouldn't the same reasoning apply to God, which I imagine you would also say is magnificent?
  • Wayfarer
    6.3k
    I think the real point of all of these style of arguments can only be understood if you consider what is the nature of the kind of causation that is being discussed.

    The kinds of causation that the natural sciences are concerned with always seem to me to presuppose natural regularity or lawful relationships between cause and effect. For example, the point about physics and physical laws is that the behaviour of mass and energy is predictable, otherwise, there would be no such thing as 'the laws of physics'. But why there are laws is a question of a different order to the kinds of things that can be discovered on the basis of those laws. We might know that f=ma, but why f=ma is another question altogether. It might not even be an answerable question, but I think it is a question.

    In respect to the so-called 'big bang' theory, this is why there is an absolute barrier, beyond which physics cannot penetrate. At the moment of the singularity, as mentioned above, there are no laws, no time, no space, nor any of the other fundamentals on which science itself is based. Science can 'see' back to an infinitesmal fraction of a second after that moment, but it can never see the moment.

    So an argument from natural theology might be: the Universe that emerges from the complete nothingness of the 'singularity' subsequently assumes a form which gives rise to matter and energy and ultimately also intelligent beings who are able to analyse just these kinds of questions. Why the Universe is such that it produces such an outcome, and doesn't simply remain as an inert mass of chaos, is the kind of question that is being asked by cosmological arguments. So it is a 'why' of a different order, to the kinds of causative explanations that are sought by scientific analysis.
  • TheMadFool
    2.3k
    Since something cannot cause itself.Brian A

    That's not part of the argument. What's essential to the cosmological argument is that there has to be an ''uncaused'' cause. That ''uncaused'' cause can be anything God, the universe itself.

    If you insist that the universe has a cause then you'll have to explain why the chain of causation has to terminate with God.
  • Wayfarer
    6.3k
    My guess is that the O-O-O view arises from the ontological argument and the argument-from-design: that the mere thought of an O-O-O God in our minds indicates that such a being really exists, and that the immensity, orderliness, and goodness perceived in the universe reflects an O-O-O God, respectively. Or are there other ways to affirm an O-O-O God?Brian A

    None of the traditional 'proofs of God' were ever intended as 'proofs' in the sense understood by modern or analytic philosophy. They were primarily exercises in intellectual edification; but Aquinas, for instance, never would have deployed such arguments to 'prove' that God existed. I think that like any Christian, he would insist that first you have to have faith in God; absent that, no argument can be convincing on its own merits.

    There are some exceptions, however. There was a well-known case of British philosopher, Anthony Flew. who said that after being a convinced atheist most of his life, he came to the view that there must be some kind of higher intelligence, although he preferred to think of it along deist lines.
  • jorndoe
    549
    Here are two arguments that an infinite past is logically impossible, and why they’re wrong.

    Last Thursdayism:

    • assumption (towards reductio ad absurdum): infinite temporal past
    • let’s enumerate past days up to and including last Wednesday as: {..., t, ..., -1, 0}
    • that is, there exists a bijection among those past days (including Wednesday) and the non-positive integers
    • now come Thursday
    • observation: {..., t, ..., -1, 0} cannot accommodate Thursday
    • let’s re-enumerate the same past days but including Thursday as: {..., t, ..., -1, 0}
    • that is, there exists a bijection among those past days (including Thursday) and the non-positive integers
    • observation: {..., t, ..., -1, 0} can accommodate Thursday
    • the two observations are contradictory, {..., t, ..., -1, 0} both cannot and can accommodate Thursday
    • Conclusion: the assumption is wrong, an infinite past is impossible

    Note, this argument could equally be applied to infinite causal chains, and nicely lends support to the Omphalos hypothesis (hence why I named it Last Thursdayism). Another thing to notice about the infinite set of integers: Any two numbers are separated by a number. And this number is also a member of the integers. The integers are closed under subtraction and addition. For the analogy with enumerating past days, this means any two events are separated by a number of days. Not infinite, but a particular number of (possibly fractional) days. That’s any two events. To some folk this is counter-intuitive, but, anyway, there you have it.

    The first observation is incorrect. Whether or not the set can accommodate Thursday (one more day), is not dependent on one specific bijection (the first selected), rather it is dependent on the existence of some (any such) bijection. A bijection also exists among {..., t, ..., -1, 0} and {..., t, ..., -1, 0, 1}, and the integers, for that matter.

    Therefore, the argument is not valid.

    The unnumbered now:

    • if the universe was temporally infinite, then there was no 1st moment
    • if there was no 1st moment (but just some moment), then there was no 2nd moment
    • if there was no 2nd moment (but just some other moment), then there was no 3rd moment
    • ... and so on and so forth ...
    • if there was no 2nd last moment, then there would be no now
    • since now exists, we started out wrong, i.e. the universe is not temporally infinite

    Seems convincing at a glance?

    In short, the argument (merely) shows that, on an infinite temporal past, the now cannot have a definite, specific number, as per 1st, 2nd, 3rd, ..., now. Yet, we already knew this in case of an infinite temporal past, so, by implicitly assuming otherwise, the argument can be charged with petitio principii. That is, the latter (conclusion) is a non sequitur, and the latter two could be expressed more accurately as:

    • if there was no 2nd last moment with an absolute number, then there would be no now with an absolute number
    • since now exists, we started out wrong, i.e. any now does not have an absolute number

    Additionally, note that 1,2,3 refer to non-indexical “absolute” moments (1st, 2nd, 3rd), but the following steps are indexical and contextual (2nd last, now), which is masked by “... and so on and so forth ...”. We already know from elsewhere (originating in linguistics) that such reasoning is problematic.

    Still no proof, as some of the religious apologists propose. :-|
  • Brian A
    25
    I concede that the statement "before the big-bang" is nonsensical because time arises precisely with the big-bang. But surely one can acknowledge of a sort of causality, or more precisely, responsibility, that does not pivot in the existence of time. For instance, what is responsible for the big-bang? It seems probable that something beyond space-time is responsible for the big-bang. Like a God simpliciter. Of course, this would result merely in deism: but the view that something Transcendent is responsible for the big-bang seems so clear.

    So then, my understanding is the following: the human mind simply cannot cognize about "what happened prior to the big-bang", since (1) our minds operate under space and time, and (2) there was either space nor time before the big bang. So to believe in a God requires a leap of faith. But that leap of faith, by itself, does not contradict reason, as the issue of God cannot be adjudicated by reason.


    If you have assumed causality is necessary, you have already assumed god.

    This seems too good to be true. Is it true that if we assume the existence of causality in general (which, incidentally, seems to be a common-sense view), and trace it back, "God exists" is the necessary conclusion? So then, non-theists necessarily hold that causality is unreal?


    Also, you say that the big bang, which caused the universe must have a cause because the universe is magnificent, but wouldn't the same reasoning apply to God, which I imagine you would also say is magnificent?

    God is necessarily the first cause: "being the first cause" is analytically a predicate of the subject "God." The reason why God must be the first cause is because that is part of God's definition as it were, viz. "the first cause."



    Thanks, I read the article. But the view that causation does not exist contradicts common intuition to such a degree that the view is rendered suspect. We can "trace back" easily, though I am not sure about the technical aspects of how. For instance, I exist due to the coming together of my parents, they exist for a likewise reason, the human species exists because of some original lifeforms in the ocean, the elements supporting life exist because of some exploding star, etc. The "tracing back" is obvious and convincing, in my view. It is true that if causality does not exist, my entire argument collapses. But I confidently assume that causality does exist, because such a view corresponds with experience and intuition.
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