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.


Blogger sattvicwarrior said...

your whole premis is flawed as you are presenting SCIENCE with RELIGION . that two totally differnt fields of thought.
your comparing apples and oranges. not only does GOD not exist. NEITHER does the UNIVERSE!!!!. and even a scientist can tell you that . .

9:51 PM  
Blogger Beast_of__Burden said...

I hate to break the bad news to you, but you can indeed compare apples to oranges. You just have to be careful about it. You can't say that the apple isn't ripe because it is green, then same color as an unrippened orange. Just like you can't say that an orange is diseased because the texture of the skin is nowhere near a normal apple. However, you can accurately say that the two fruits have different shapes, colors, flavors, and attatch descriptions of the differences and even reasons for them. The problem only arises when you look at one position from too narrow a perspective.

...besides, if you don't mix science and religion I still proved an eternal universe, in fact it makes it far easier to prove. However, a proof that ignores the possibility of a god could easily be considered insufficient, as it only adresses the side that already agrees with you.

10:43 PM  
Blogger Lui said...

I asked my (atheist) philosophy teacher if "physicists think that the Big Bang came from literally nothing", and he agreed. I can't help thinking that this can't be the whole story. In fact, I can't help but think that it can't be any of the story, because it seems to me like gibberish. I think it's logically incoherent that something can come from nothing, because that would require that "nothing" has something inherent in it from which something can come. Nothing means just that, so how can there be a process by which something can come into being, because if that process is there, then the "nothing" wouldn't be nothing, it would actually be something. The "how" of nothing turning itself into something means that there was already a totality of everything that exists; hence there was already a universe. And I'm even more confused about what Hawkings is saying, about a "Wave Function" of the universe. Any thoughts? When physicists say that the Big Bang was the start of the universe, do they mean from "nothing nothing" (as in no "quantum fluctuation") or do they just mean the universe as we know it started in that instant? Is it possible that the Big Bang never happened at all, and that we can explain the cosmic background radiation using other models? If there were a Big Bang from nothing, would this necessitate God? Or is the very concept of God logically incoherent to begin with? If there is no God, how is it that there is something instead of nothing? These issues have been messing with my mind for a few weeks now. I just thought maybe someone could throw some light on them for me.

3:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The reason that something can come from nothing is because nothing is actually unstable while something is not. Essentially, the fact that there was nothing meant that there would inevitably be something. Before the big bang, there was nothing, which is not to say empty space - that's something. When the big bang occured, it created all the space, matter and energy that we know today. There are models of the universe that can explain cosmic background radiaton but they are exceedingly complex and still have issues beyond that which is why the big bang theory is the prevailing model of the universe. The big bang would not require god as nothing is an unstable state, and as to the issue of god being contridictory, I can at least say that the god the christian bible portrays could not logiclly exist.

1:04 AM  
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7:48 PM  
Blogger lee said...

I do not believe that it is any more unrealistic to believe in a self existent eternal universe than it is to believe that there is a self existent eternal creator that wants everyone to come to him but hides himself from them at the same time.
Simply positing God as the origin does not solve the problem of infinite regression.

12:52 PM  

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