Cosmological Arguments - Why is There Anything at All, Instead of Simply Nothing?
The core logic of the Cosmological arguments is summed-up by Alan Sandage, winner of the Crawford prize in astronomy: "I find it quite improbable that such order came out of chaos. There has to be some organizing principle. God to me is a mystery but is the explanation for the miracle of existence, why there is something instead of nothing." Stephen Hawking adds, “Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing?”
Cosmological Arguments – The Contingency Argument
The Cosmological arguments are a series of simple deductions that get us thinking about origins. Think about it; if there were no God, why would anything at all exist? There’s no necessity for it. One can imagine nothing at all ever existing. Philosophers have wrestled with the puzzle of why there is anything at all since the beginning of recorded history.
The deductions reached by the top modern philosophers on this question can be formulated as follows:
- Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence (either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause).
- If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is a timeless, personal, immaterial being of immense power.
The universe exists.
Now what follows logically from these three premises?
From 1 and 3 it logically follows that:
The universe has an explanation of its existence.
And from 2 and 4 the conclusion logically follows:
- Therefore, the explanation of the universe’s existence is a timeless, personal, immaterial being of immense power.1
Cosmological Arguments – What about an Eternal Universe?
Here, the skeptical mind might argue against the foundation of the cosmological arguments by asking, “What if the universe was always here, eternally self-existent, the same way that most people see God as self-existent?” This is a fair question. Let’s look at what would be required if this were the case, and the evidence for and against this notion.
If the universe never began to exist, then that means that the number of events in the past history of the universe is infinite. But mathematicians recognize that the idea of an actually infinite collection of things (as opposed to a conceptual infinity) leads to self-contradictions. For example, what is infinity minus infinity? Well, mathematically, you get self-contradictory answers. For example, if you take an infinite number of moments, number them all as moment one, moment two, etc., and subtract all the even-numbered moments, you have an equation where “infinity minus infinity equals infinity”. If you then take the same infinity of numbered moments, and subtract only the moments numbered higher than 3, then you have the equation “infinity minus infinity equals 3”. If you take the same numbered set of moments and subtract the entire set, you have an equation that says “infinity minus infinity is zero”. You can actually get any answer you want for the equation “infinity minus infinity” depending upon how you word the equation! This shows that infinity is just an idea in your mind, not something that exists in reality. David Hilbert, perhaps the greatest mathematician of the 20th century states, "The infinite is nowhere to be found in reality. It neither exists in nature nor provides a legitimate basis for rational thought. The role that remains for the infinite to play is solely that of an idea."2
But that entails that since past events are not just ideas, but are real, the number of past events must be finite. Therefore, the series of past events within the universe cannot just go back forever. Rather the universe must have begun to exist.
This conclusion has been confirmed by remarkable discoveries in astronomy and astrophysics. From ancient times, many deep thinkers like Plato and Aristotle assumed that the universe had existed eternally into the past. Of course, the Hebrew and Christian cultures believed in the creation account represented in the Bible, and there were numerous non-Judeo-Christian creation accounts as well, but there were always individuals and groups who thought of the universe as eternal. Subsequent to the so-called “Enlightenment” in Europe in the 18th century (when many in Western Civilization began to drift away from biblical thinking) and even more so subsequent to Charles Darwin’s proposal of the Theory of Evolution in 1859, it became very common among scientists and university professors in the West to presume that the universe had existed eternally into the past.
This viewpoint was heavily shaken starting in 1913 when scientists Vesto Slipher, Albert Einstein, and Edwin Hubble discovered very compelling evidence that the universe was expanding. Discovery after discovery in the 20th century affirmed that not only was the universe expanding, but that time, space, matter and energy appeared to have had a beginning in the finite past. In 1965, scientists Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson discovered the remnants of background radiation from the Big Bang. In 1968 and 1970, Stephen Hawking, George Ellis and Roger Penrose published papers that extended Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity to include measurements of time and space, demonstrating that both had a finite beginning that corresponded to the origins of matter and energy. Remarkably, their conclusion was that (causally) prior to that moment, space and time did not exist!
The astrophysical evidence indicates that the universe began to exist in a great explosion called the "Big Bang." Physical space and time were created in that event, as well as all the matter and energy in the universe. About 11 years of work by cosmologists Arvind Borde, Alan H. Guth, and Alexander Vilenkin culminating in 2003 established that this conclusion holds for all theories of cosmic origin for which there is observational evidence. This is the conclusion of modern science. Therefore, as Cambridge astronomer Fred Hoyle points out, the Big Bang Theory requires the creation of the universe from nothing! This is because, as you go back in time, you reach a point in time at which, in Hoyle's words, the universe was "shrunk down to nothing at all."3 Thus, what the Big Bang model requires is that the universe began to exist and was created out of nothing.
Now this tends to be very awkward for the atheist. For as Anthony Kenny of Oxford University urges, "A proponent of the Big Bang theory, at least if he is an atheist, must believe that the universe came from nothing and by nothing."4
But surely that doesn't make sense. Out of nothing, nothing comes. So why does the universe exist instead of just nothing? Where did it come from? There must have been a cause which brought the universe into being. And from the very nature of the case, this cause must be an uncaused, changeless, timeless, and immaterial being which created the universe. It must be uncaused because there cannot be an infinite regress of causes--that is to say, there cannot be a series of causes extending backwards in time to infinity past. It must be timeless and therefore changeless, at least without the universe, because it created time. Because it also created space, it must transcend space as well and therefore be immaterial, not physical.
Cosmological Arguments – The Kalam Argument
This brings us to another logical exercise in the lineage of cosmological arguments, “The Kalam Argument.” This cosmological argument is deceptively simple, but in its modern form (as developed by philosopher William Lane Craig), has never been successfully refuted:
Premise 1: Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
Premise 2: The universe began to exist.
Conclusion 1: Therefore, the universe must have a cause.5
Cosmological Arguments – The Inevitable Conclusion
Isn't it incredible that the Big Bang theory and the cosmological arguments fit with what the theist has always believed -- In the beginning God created the universe. Ever since indications began to surface early in the 20th century that the universe had a beginning, attempt after attempt has been made to hypothesize an eternal model to avoid the metaphysical implications of that. Some of these attempts include the Oscillating Model, the Steady-State Model, and the Vacuum Fluctuation Model, all of which have failed. The “Big Bang” models, which all have a beginning in space and time, have grudgingly become accepted by well over 90% of scientists despite their inherent metaphysical implications, due to overwhelming evidential support.
In a series of papers culminating in 2003, Arvind Borde, Alan Guth, and Alexander Vilenkin were able to prove that any universe which is, on average, in a state of cosmic expansion cannot be eternal in the past but must have an absolute beginning. This includes all universe models that honestly assess the available data. Regarding this, Vilenkin states: “It is said that an argument is what convinces reasonable men and a proof is what it takes to convince even an unreasonable man. With the proof now in place, cosmologists can no longer hide behind the possibility of a past-eternal universe. There is no escape, they have to face the problem of a cosmic beginning.”6
Compliments of Steve J. Williams. Rendered with permission from the book, The Skeptics’ Guide to Eternal Bliss (2nd ed), Steve J. Williams, Lulu Press, 2009. All rights reserved in the original.
1 William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, third edition (Crossway), p. 106.
2 On the Infinite," in Philosophy of Mathematics, ed. Paul Benacerraf and Hilary Putnam (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1964), p. 151.
3 Fred Hoyle, From Stonehenge to Modern Cosmology (San Francisco: W.H. Freeman, 1972), p. 36.
4 Anthony Kenny, The Five Ways: St. Thomas Aquinas' Proofs of God's Existence (New York: Schocken Books, 1969), p. 66.
5 The Kalam Cosmological Argument (New York: Harper & Row, 1979), page 63.
6 Many Worlds in One (New York: Hill and Wang, 2006), p.176.
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