Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Problem Of Causes

One of the big questions that theists pose to atheists is the cause of the universe. They claim that everything has a cause; therefore the universe has a cause as well. However, to try to find the cause of the universe, you first need to define universe. I have heard two different definitions of universe, generally one coming from atheists and the other coming from theists. The first is that the universe includes everything that exists. The second is that the universe includes everything that exists, except for god. Since there are two definitions, I will make two arguments. The first is to show that the universe cannot have a beginning by the first definition.

First we will assume for the sake of argument that the universe did not always exist. We will try to get the conclusion that we know is true. Keep in mind that as the universe includes everything that exists, there would be no god either.

Premise 1. There was, at some point, no matter in the universe.
Premise 2. There was, at some point, no god in the universe.
Premise 3. Something cannot come from nothing.
Conclusion: The universe exists.

Obviously the conclusion cannot be true if the premises are true. If there is nothing, and something cannot come from nothing, there will always be nothing. I think that we can agree that something cannot come from nothing, so one (or both) of the other two premises must be flawed. Since the existence of god has not been proven or disproved, we cannot rule out either one. For the sake of simplicity, let’s combine premises one and two to say, "There was, at some point, no god or matter in the universe."

Now, if we know that there is not any point where there was no god or matter in the universe, which means there has always been either matter or god in the universe. This does not say anything about the existence of god, only that the universe he inhabits must always have existed.

Premise 1: There was not any point where both matter and god did not exist in the universe.
Premise 2: The universe is the combination of everything that exists.
Therefore, there was no point where that which makes up the universe did not exist.
Conclusion: The universe has always existed.

Now we have proven that the universe has always existed by the first definition. Keep in mind that this is the definition that you will find in the dictionary. As the definition is everything that exists, to claim that god does not fit inside that category is to agree with atheists that god does not exist. However, I will show that changing the definition of the word to not include god does not change the result. If the universe, with god excluded, does not lead to the same outcome it would mean that god must exist since the universe would only be able to exist with god.

When you remove god from the argument, it changes because you now have something that supposedly can create items from nothing. The only reason the argument in that form was sound before was because without god, god could not create anything. However, you can reach the same conclusion by using the premise that caused the question in the first place; the assumption that everything had a cause.

Once again, we will assume that the opposing viewpoint is correct; that there was a first cause and the universe had a beginning. Keep in mind that this is in answer to what was the first cause, not assuming or opposing the existence of god. If you assume that god does not exist, the first argument is perfectly valid without premise 2.

Premise 1: The first cause had no cause.
Premise 2: Nothing can occur without a cause.

These premises reach the conclusion that...

Conclusion: There are currently no causes.

Since this is not true, one of the premises is flawed, but which one? In truth, either one would reach the conclusion I had before, that the universe has always existed. If there was no first cause, that means that things have been happening in the universe forever. If something can happen without a cause, matter that existed in the universe could have sprung to life, this being the first cause, though this doesn't seem as likely intuitively.

Now lets check and see what those premises mean to god. We are assuming god does exist here instead of taking a neutral stance.

Premise 1: There was no first cause.
Premise 2: God exists.
Conclusion: God did not create the contents of the universe.

Now, I doubt that many Christians would want to accept this, so I suppose they would like to assume that premise is true. Now let's see how the other premise stands up. For this one we'll start by assuming it's true.

Premise 1: God does not have a cause.
Premise 2: Everything that exists must have a cause.
Conclusion: God does not exist

Well, at this point if you believe in god this must be the false premise. Remember that we haven't actually proved that there is a first cause; we just haven't disproved it.

Premise 1: God does not have a cause.
Premise 2: There may be a first cause.
Premise 3: Causes do not require causes.
Conclusion: God could have created the contents of the universe, but is not required to do so.

So, in the end the universe must have existed forever. However, this does not say anything about the existence of god, as long as you are willing to accept that causes do not need causes. If not, then god is proven to not exist.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

How I became an Atheist

When I was young, I believed in santa claus. I would get presents from him, and people would tell me that he was real. From tv, I learned that the reason he was able to perform the impossible feat of delivering presents to everyone on the planet was through magic. It makes perfect sense to the simple mind of a child, as does a sort of ever present, all powerful, all knowing ghost that determines whether or not you spend the rest of eternity in pain. However, when you look at it from a neutral perspective as i did, Santa was far more plausable than god was. It's far more plausable to say a person has a special power than it is to say a person can do anything. So, as I grew up, I found that I wasn't so sure if santa was real anymore. I came to the conclusion that, "if he is real and I don't believe, I won't get presents; but if he's real and I do believe, I will get presents. However, if he is not real, it doesn't matter either way." Thus, I continued to "believe" in santa for a few more years, although it was a skeptical belief. My belief in god was along the same lines, except that santa remained more realistic. I figured that if he existed and I believed i would go to heaven, but if he didn't exit and i believed, nothing bad happened, so I maintained belief in god as well. Now, there comes a point when you pretty much have to stop believing. It becomes obvious to you that Santa is not real. When this happened, my parallel belief in god vanished as well. Even as a young child, the contradictions and unrealistic ideas of god were obvious to me, while the simple, "he uses magic" explains every issue that relates to santa.

So, having discarded my skeptical belief in god and santa, I went on to think about it. The more I thought, the more obvious it was that Christianity, the religion under which I was raised, was wrong. My beliefs matured over time, thanks to critical thought, reading on the interenet, and debates with religous friends. I spent a large amount of time debating religion on my Xanga site, where I was introduced to creationists who would readily discard modern science in favor of the pseudo sciences of christianity.