Incorporating Aristotle’s notion of a “prime mover” into Summa Theologica and elsewhere, Thomas Aquinas famously formulated his version of the cosmological or “first cause” argument. According to this argument, the things which we see around us now are the products of a series of previous causes. But that series cannot go back in time forever. Thus there must be some first cause which was not itself caused by anything else. And that first uncaused cause is God. The argument can be put more formally as follows:
1. Every thing has either been caused to exist by something else or else exists uncaused.
2. Not every thing has been caused to exist by something else.
3. Therefore, at least one thing is itself uncaused.
There are several problems with this argument. The most crucial objection to the argument itself is that unless we know that premise 2 is true, the argument fails. If the universe is infinitely old, for instance, every thing could indeed be caused by something else before it; the series of causes could go back forever. But perhaps more importantly, one could hold that the argument succeeds without believing that God exists. There could be multiple uncaused causes—multiple gods, say—or the uncaused cause could be an unintelligent, impersonal force. Finally, the argument holds that God is required to explain the existence of the universe, but offers no explanation for why God exists. If you invoke God to answer the question “Why is there a universe rather than nothing?” you raise the further question “Why is there a God rather than nothing?” The fundamental question—”Why is there something rather than nothing?”—remains unanswered either way; so why invoke a potentially nonexistent God to explain a universe which we know exists?
Of course, the traditional cosmological arguments offered by Aquinas and others have largely been supplanted by contempory versions of the argument, such as the Kalam cosmological argument, cosmological arguments based on big bang and quantum cosmology, and arguments based on philosophical considerations concerning time and causation.
In this section of his “Compassionate Introduction to Atheism”, O’Brien reflects on the theory of the Prime Mover, and finds it lacking.
In addition to evidential and logical arguments for atheism, there is a lesser-known third kind of argument. Modal arguments for atheism conclude that atheism is necessarily true on the basis of a mere possibility claim. In this paper Ryan Stringer considers how modal arguments for atheism contribute to the philosophical defense of atheism, concluding that modal arguments for atheism either (a) positively support atheism or (b) at least undermine modal arguments for theism.
One of the clearest statements of the case for a Creator is written by Roy Abraham Varghese in his introduction to the volume Cosmos, Bios, Theos. Here Varghese argues that the best explanation for why there is something rather than nothing necessarily terminates in God, rather than the ultimate features of the physical universe, for unlike any physical thing, God is self-explanatory. But we are left completely in the dark on the sense in which God is self-explanatory, and how that would differ from the self-explanatoriness of a putative original, uncaused state of the physical universe. Consequently, I argue that there is no intellectual difficulty in postulating an initial state of the universe as an ultimate brute fact, and conclude that Varghese’s arguments to the contrary fail.
In “No Creator Need Apply: A Reply to Roy Abraham Varghese,” Keith Parsons argues that the success of science in explaining the world makes belief in God logically unnecessary, as science is fast approaching a point where everything has been explained by a completed and well-confirmed physics. As science progresses, he argues, we are left with less and less need to hypothesize the existence of a Creator. But to the contrary, Paul Herrick argues that philosophical theism rests on a rationally satisfying and philosophically attractive logical basis that cannot, in principle, be overturned by the continued progress of natural science.
In this paper Ryan Stringer assesses a modal version of the cosmological argument that is motivated by the so-called “questions of existence.” He begins by formulating the argument before offering a critical assessment of it. Specifically, he argues that it not only fails as a proof of the existence of God, but that it is not even rationally acceptable. He concludes that it does not provide rational justification for belief in God.
Jordan Howard Sobel’s Logic and Theism is long, abstruse, and technical, but valuable for those who have an interest in its topics. Those looking for arguments based on empirical phenomena said to be best explained by the God hypothesis should look elsewhere. Sobel’s focus is, rather, issues of definition and logical structure. He addresses everything from the ontological argument to the fine-tuning argument, demolishing all of the main arguments for God’s existence. Moreover, he argues that the kind of omnipotence and omniscience that theists ascribe to God is incoherent, and defends both evidential and logical arguments from evil against the existence of God. Finally, he turns to a discussion of practical reasons for belief in God, such as those invoked by Pascal’s wager. No cutting-edge research on these topics should omit Sobel’s work.
As skeptics see it, recent theistic arguments are pretty much old hat. Their basic modus operandi has always been the same: represent some aspect of the universe as requiring an explanation that no naturalistic hypothesis can provide, and then propose God as the only possible or most satisfactory solution. Skeptics retort that either no explanation is required, naturalistic accounts suffice, or God provides no uniquely satisfactory explanation. The details may change, but the pattern remains the same. The theistic pattern is exemplified in the work of Dallas Willard, particularly his three-stage argument for the existence of God. Willard argues that God is needed because the natural universe is not enough. In this response, Keith Parsons provides the standard retort: naturalism suffices to answer all legitimate questions, and the appeal to God is either useless or obscurantist.
Response to a short series of exchanges on cosmological creationism which explains many of my views on the subject and exhibits what I see are paradigm examples of what is wrong with the thinking and methods of creationists. This essay is aimed at those creationists who are not beyond all reason, but who admit they may be wrong, and thus may yet notice their mistakes and learn from them, and who at any rate are genuinely open to honest debate.
In “Ten Things Wrong with Cosmological Creationism,” Richard Carrier argues that if we try to explain the existence of the universe by positing God, we still leave the existence of God itself unexplained–invoking an additional, unnecessary entity without any explanatory benefit. But Paul Herrick resists this conclusion, arguing that theists have a reasonable reply to Carrier’s argument. Moreover, this reply requires the existence of God, as it cannot be applied to any material object or collection of material objects. This, in turn, demonstrates that theism offers an explanatory advantage over scientific naturalism, collapsing a crucial premise of Carrier’s argument.
A crucial premise of William Lane Craig’s kalam cosmological argument (KCA) is that the universe began to exist. Craig supplements the KCA itself with a secondary argument for this crucial premise. That secondary argument, in turn, presumes that an actual infinite cannot exist. In this essay, Jeffrey T. Allen argues that if an omniscient God exists, the premise that an actual infinite cannot exist is false, as an omniscient God would need to know an infinite number of truths about himself. Thus Craig’s defense of his KCA appears to entail a premise that contradicts the conclusion of his KCA. As long as Craig does not offer some alternative defense of the KCA premise that the universe began to exist, and unless he can justify limiting to the physical world his KCA premise that whatever begins to exist has a cause, he must either concede that it is false that an actual infinite cannot exist, or else that God does not exist.
This article examines Nowicki’s novel version of the Kalam Cosmological Argument (N-KCA), and finds it seriously flawed. The N-KCA purportedly shows the factual impossibility of a denumerably infinite set of coexisting concrete entities; and that there would be such a set were an infinite temporal series of events to obtain because each existing substance bears its own necessarily permanent temporal marks and those of its ancestors. Nowicki, professing the A-theory of time, nevertheless maintains that truth-makers of past-event propositions are not tensed facts, according to some correspondence theory of truth, but rather the temporal marks borne by existing substances.
Three possible flaws in the Kalam cosmological argument are discussed. 1) If God is the only object accommodated by the set of things that do not begin to exist, then the Kalam argument has the effect (if not the intention) of begging the question. 2) Kalam’s logic regarding the impossibility of an actual infinity disproves the existence of an actually infinite God. 3) Since the universe is not a member of itself, the Kalam argument is illogically comparing apples and oranges.
The author argues that the existence of God cannot be deduced on the basis of the universe having a first cause. He points out that Craig has committed the fallacy of hasty generalization in his assumption that if all current naturalistic interpretations of a first cause fail, it follows that the first cause is supernatural.
The kalam argument carries too heavy of a burden in its task to show God as the first cause. It must assume a realist view of time in order to generate the puzzle of why the Creator chose to create it “now” rather than “later.” Yet, in order to argue that the universe had a cause, it must simultaneously assume a relational view of time in order to conclude that the universe is finite.
The Existence of God and the Beginning of the Universe (Off Site) by William Lane Craig
The Argument from First Cause dressed up in it’s latest finery by William Lane Craig. This 1991 article defines the now-famous kalam cosmological argument.
In a recent article, William Lane Craig claims that critics of his kalam argument have failed to address what he perceives as his “strongest arguments in favour of the impossibility of the existence of an actual infinite, those based on inverse operations performed with transfinite numbers.” Oppy considers those arguments and concludes they do “nothing to advance his [Craig’s] attempts to defend the claim that kalam cosmological arguments are probative.”
Sotnak primarily critiques William Lane Craig’s version of the Kalam cosmological argument, which relies on maintaining that an actual infinite collection of things cannot exist (and hence that an actually infinite regress of past events is impossible). Craig uses the claim that an actual infinite is impossible, in turn, to support a crucial premise of his Kalam argument—that the universe began to exist. Sotnak focuses his criticism on showing that, contra Craig, an actual infinite can exist.
The Kalam Cosmological Argument: A Rebuttal (1997) (Off Site) by Andrew Lias
The Kalam Cosmological Argument provides nothing to substantiate the claim that there is a creator.
According to a form of the kalam cosmological argument expounded by William Lane Craig, there cannot be a beginningless temporal world because the application of Cantorian set theory of transfinite arithmetic to the real world generates counterintuitive absurdities, thereby disclosing that an infinite set of real entities is metaphysically impossible. This article shows how this is not the case by pursuing a novel approach wherein it is understood that an infinite set of real entities is not a set, considered as a technical term of art, within the meaning of Cantorian theory. Upon accepting the original version for publication, Quentin Smith, then editor of Philo, wrote: “Your paper has been studied thoroughly for some time and there is agreement that it is at least an undercutting defeater of [William Lane] Craig’s beliefs about real infinites, probably even an overriding defeater. More importantly, it introduces a novel metaphysical theory of the relation of transfinite arithmetic to concrete reality.” Guminski’s persuasive challenge to Craig’s account of why Cantorian transfinite arithmetic should not be deemed to apply to the world of concrete entities has yet to be answered by Craig. The world wonders.
Arnold T. Guminski’s “The Kalam Cosmological Argument: The Question of the Metaphysical Possibility of an Infinite Set of Real Entities” showed that the argument by William Lane Craig and others that real infinites are metaphysically impossible presupposes the standard version (SV) of how Cantorian set theory presumably applies to the real world. This is the case because it is the application of SV to the real world which generates counterintuitive absurdities. However, there Guminski also showed that there is an alternative version (AV) of applying Cantorian set theory to the real world, the application of which does not generate counterintuitive absurdities. In the present paper he shows that given AV, an infinite temporal series is metaphysically possible, producing a result that should be equally satisfying to both theists and nontheists who are loath to believe that a beginningless temporal world is metaphysically impossible. However much theists and nontheists may disagree about other issues, they are at least able to agree upon one important thing: the kalam cosmological argument fails insofar as it is grounded upon the alleged metaphysical impossibility of an infinite temporal series.
William Lane Craig’s kalam cosmological argument maintains that the universe had a beginning. One of his arguments for this premise aims to show that a beginningless universe is metaphysically impossible, either because an actual infinite cannot exist because it would result in counterintuitive absurdities, or because time consists of a temporal series of events formed by successive addition, and that it’s not possible for any such series to be an actual infinite. In the first of two previous papers, Arnold T. Guminski presents his solution to the problem of counterintuitive absurdities, which he believes results from applying Cantorian theory to the real world. However, his alternative version of the application of Cantorian theory to the real world attempts to achieve by a priori methods what can only be accomplished a posteriori, raises the question of whether a set theory can be fully developed that is consistent with it, and addresses “counterintuitive absurdities” that are not absurdities at all. In his second paper, Guminski correctly argues that it’s possible for time to have no beginning by showing that the totality of all time need not be formed by successive addition, but this argument succeeds independently of his alternative version of the application of Cantorian theory to the real world, rendering it unnecessary.
In this third paper about the Kalam Cosmological Argument (KCA), Guminski shows how William Lane Craig has developed a mutated form of the argument such that it presupposes the metaphysical possibility of an infinite temporal series of finite duration. The Kalam Cosmological Argument As Amended (KCAAA) thus contradicts a key component of the KCA: that any infinite temporal series is metaphysically impossible. The KCAAA relies upon the Standard Big Bang Model as providing the supposed factual basis for concluding that the universe has a finite but indefinite past, thus involving an infinite temporal series of finite duration. Guminski argues why there is good reason to hold that any infinite temporal series of finite duration is metaphysically impossible given the A-theory of time, absolute simultaneity, and some complementary doctrines—assumptions that Craig accepts. Given these assumptions, however, the KCAAA fails.
Must the Beginning of the Universe Have a Personal Cause? A Critical Examination of the Kalam Cosmological Argument (Off Site) by Wes Morriston
“The kalam argument is not as simple and straightforward as it initially appears to be. Its underpinnings are at least as complicated, and at least as controversial, as those of any other cosmological argument. When applied to the beginning of time, the principle that whatever begins to exist must have a cause is not clearly true. And even if it could be shown that the first event in the history of the universe has a cause it is not at all obvious that this cause must be a person.”
In this online debate between Richard Carrier and Tom Wanchick, Carrier opens with a discussion of method followed by 5 arguments for naturalism and 2 arguments against theism, while Wanchick opens with 9 arguments for theism. In the first rebuttals, each debater criticizes the arguments offered by the other in the opening statements. In the second rebuttals, each debater defends their opening arguments against the criticisms of the other in the first rebuttals. Both closing statements focus on the purported deficiencies of the other debater’s overall case.
Kalam cosmological arguments have recently been the subject of criticisms, at least inter alia, by physicists—Paul Davies, Stephen Hawking—and philosophers of science—Adolf Grünbaum. In a series of recent articles, William Craig has attempted to show that these criticisms are “superficial, ill-conceived, and based on misunderstanding.” I argue that, while some of the discussion of Davies and Hawking is not philosophically sophisticated, the points raised by Davies, Hawking and Grünbaum do suffice to undermine the dialectical efficacy of kalam cosmological arguments.
Oppy argues that “there is not the slightest reason to think that kalam cosmological arguments should be dialectically effective against reasonable and reflective opponents.”
The massive Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology aims to be the standard reference work supplying the best reasons to believe that God exists from the foremost experts on various arguments for the existence of God. It is not recommended for readers without some background knowledge of the philosophy of religion, modal logic, and Bayesian confirmation theory. Nevertheless, it cannot be ignored by anyone who wishes to argue that belief in God is irrational or intellectually bankrupt. In this review, Aron Lucas focuses on its chapters on the kalam cosmological argument, the fine-tuning argument, the moral argument, and the argument from miracles. Despite some valuable novel contributions, the volume focuses too heavily on defending some premises while ignoring others, and is highly technical even for advanced readers, with one argument presented in 87 steps purely using symbolic logic. One can only wonder why God would make the evidence for his existence accessible only to a select handful of professional academics, let alone punish people with eternal torment because they failed to properly apply Bayesian reasoning to little known historical data. The very fact that the volume needs to dig so deep in order to make its case is, in a way, evidence against the existence of God.
Oppy argues that proponents of kalam cosmological arguments presuppose Strict Finitist metaphysics, i.e. that the world is fundamentally discrete in all respects. “Speaking for myself,” Oppy says, “I think that there is a pretty good inference from the success of current physics to the conclusion that the world is not fundamentally discrete in all respects … Consequently, it seems to me that kalam cosmological arguments are bound to be pretty useless things.”
In this chapter-by-chapter critique of Lee Strobel’s The Case for a Creator, Paul Doland comments on the general direction of the book before analyzing Strobel’s interviews with his various experts on specific topics. Topics include the origin of life, evolution, the relationship between science and religion, the origin of the universe, the alleged fine-tuning of the universe, whether there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, intelligent design, information theory, the origin and nature of consciousness, and whether consciousness can survive the death of the brain. Particularly noteworthy is Strobel’s silence when his experts make conflicting claims (e.g., Wells and Dembski on evolution).
Smith argues that the Big Bang theory is incompatible with Christian theism and other theist perspectives.
Some believe that evidence for the big bang is evidence for the existence of god. Who else, they ask, could have caused such a thing? In this paper, I evaluate the big bang argument, compare it with the traditional first-cause argument, and consider the relative plausibility of various natural explanations of the big bang.
Smith argues that it is unreasonable to believe that God created the big bang.
Big Bang Cosmology and Atheism: Why the Big Bang is No Help to Theists (1998) (Off Site) by Quentin Smith
“[C]ontemporary scientific cosmology is not only not supported by any theistic theory, it is actually logically inconsistent with theism.”
A refutation of T. D. Sullivan’s claim that it is impossible for the universe to come to be without a cause. In the course of arguing that it is possible that the universe came to be causelessly, Smith outlines an argument that it is necessary that the universe began with a big-bang singularity if it began causelessly.
Creation and Big Bang Cosmology (1994) (Off Site) by William Lane Craig
Craig answers Grünbaum’s (and others’) “deep-seated aversion to the possible metaphysical and, indeed, theological implications of classical Big Bang cosmogeny” with the “obvious” consideration that “the cause of the Big Bang operated at t0, that is, simultaneously (or coincidentally) with the Big Bang.”
Grünbaum’s critical reply that Craig “disingenuously makes much of a relativistic ally impermissible Big Bang model” in order to generate the metaphysical intuition that “out of nothing, nothing comes”, which he needs in order to make his proof cogent.
A Response to Grünbaum on Creation
and Big Bang Cosmology (1994) (Off Site) by William Lane Craig
Craig’s rejoinder to Grünbaum, in which he argues that Grünbaum’s “argument is invalid, since it equivocates on the meaning of the term ‘event.'”
Creationist interpretations of contemporary physical cosmologies offer pseudo-explanations.
“I conclude that neither the big bang cosmogony nor the steady-state cosmology validates the traditional cosmological argument for divine creation. But, as we see, that argument dies hard.”
Evidence for the Big Bang (2006) (Off Site) by Björn Feuerbacher and Ryan Scranton
Many modern versions of the cosmological argument appeal to the Big Bang as the origin of all matter and energy, and indeed space-time itself. This in, turn, is argued to be evidence of the creation of the universe ex nihilo by God. Consequently, it is important for those evaluating such arguments to be aware of both the evidence for the Big Bang and what the Big Bang represents. Prior to extensively surveying the former, on the latter the authors argue that Big Bang theory is “not a theory about the origin of the universe. Rather, it describes the development of the universe over time.” The implications of correcting such common misperceptions are also discussed.
“The theological significance of inflationary cosmology is this: It shows how the universe can have formed from nothing … without violating any known principles of physics. That is, it provides an economical explanation of the origin of the universe without creation or design.”
Carrier explains his change of mind from doubting the Big Bang theory to believing that it is well supported and probably true. This has replaced his previous essay which was skeptical of Big Bang theory, “Was There a Big Bang? I Honestly Don’t Know.”
“[E]ndeavoring to justify his secular creationism,” Narlikar now points out that, in the general theory of relativity, the usual derivation of matter-energy conservation from Hilbert’s stationary action principle cannot be extended to include the putative first instant t = 0. Narlikar reasons that this “breakdown” in the derivation of energy conservation at t = 0 qualifies the putative initial event as the “creation event.” Grünbaum argues that this inference is “multiply fallacious.”
“The standard view of philosophers is that the existence of particular events within our universe is capable of being explained in terms of initial conditions and natural laws, but that the existence of our universe itself is a ‘brute given’ that is incapable of naturalistic explanation … I believe these standard views are unduly conservative and that a naturalistic explanation of the existence and basic laws of our universe is possible.”
After examining Gerald Schroeder’s academic credentials, Scott Oser critiques his arguments from Big Bang cosmology, quantum mechanics, and alleged “fine-tuning” for the existence of the biblical God in The Hidden Face of God. Oser tours such perennial issues as what, if anything, came before the Big Bang, various interpretations of quantum mechanics and whether it requires us to believe that atoms are literally “aware” and “make choices,” whether entangled states indicate a universe underpinned by Mind, and whether purported fine-tuning is grounded on solid probability calculations or would even require a grand “tuner” if real given the possibility of a cosmic lottery playing out across a hypothetical multiverse. Niall Shanks turns to Schroeder’s discussion of origin-of-life studies and purported “intelligent design” on the cellular level, noting that current biochemistry actually reveals substantial evidence of unintelligent design by mindless, trial-and-error processes such as self-organization. Moreover, good scientific hypotheses for such “mysteries” as the origin of sexual reproduction exist but simply lack confirmation at this stage, undermining the need to postulate any guiding supernatural agents. Oser and Shanks conclude that if the history of science is any guide, Schroeder’s God of the gaps will be supplanted by natural explanations as our current scientific understanding advances.
Theists continue to insist that the existence of the world requires divine volition at every given instant. In an effort to establish the viability of this “doctrine of perpetual divine conservation,” theist Philip Quinn argues that “it is entirely compatible with physical energy-conservation in the Big Bang cosmology, as well as with the physics of the steady-state theories.” Grünbaum contends that “there is a logical incompatibility on both counts. Besides, the stated tenet of divine conservation has an additional defect: It speciously purchases plausibility by trading on the multiply disanalogous volitional explanations of human actions.”
Not only is there no evidence that God caused the universe, there is scientific evidence that the universe is uncaused and that God does not exist.
“There is sufficient evidence at present to justify the belief that the universe began to exist without being caused to do so.”
Those who closely study the origin, development, and structure of the universe tend to disbelieve in any spiritual dimension to it. Science has inadvertently discovered that religious pictures of the world are false; when speaking to the same questions, science and religion invariably get different answers. Cosmology has no need for a First Cause since the Big Bang might simply be a transitional phase in an infinitely old universe or, alternatively, there may be no “before” the Big Bang anymore than there is a “north” of the North Pole. Appeals to alleged fine-tuning are presumptuous: physicists extrapolating from the earliest well-understood moment after the Big Bang using the laws of physics alone would erroneously deem our universe inhospitable to life. How, then, can we reliably anticipate the likelihood of life arising in hypothetical universes with different laws? Even supposing that physical constants are in fact “tunable” (which they may not be), constants might take on different values in other universes; and as Carroll puts it, “intelligent observers will only measure the values which obtain in those regions which are consistent with the existence of such observers.” Finally, cosmology betrays unintelligent design: entire classes of fundamental particles exist that would have no impact on life if they had never existed. Evidently, a simple materialist formalism could offer a complete description of the universe.
In a long overdue update to this popular article, Mark Vuletic offers a short but informed discussion of whether physical processes could have produced the universe from nothing. This discussion is divided into three main sections: (1) Can Something Come from Nothing? (2) Can the Universe Come from Nothing? and (3) Is the “Nothing” of the Physicists Really Nothing? This discussion is supplemented with an updated list of quotes from popular science works supporting the idea that the universe could come into existence from nothing via natural processes.
Smith argues that quantum cosmology implies atheism.
“Virtually all contemporary theists, agnostics and atheists … [have] assumed that the sentence, ‘God is the originating cause of the universe’, does not express a logical contradiction … I believe the prevalence of this assumption is due to the fact that philosophers have not undertaken the requisite sort of metaphysical investigation into the nature of causation.”
Citing both philosophical considerations and modern day physics, Smith argues that “it is nomologically necessary that a beginningless universe has an internal causal explanation (be it deterministic or probabilistic) but no external causal explanation.”
Is God in Time Prior to Creation? (Off Site) by Wes Morriston
In section I, I consider the implications for the kalam argument of the suggestion that since time is created along with the universe, God is not in time prior to creation. I try to show that premise (1) loses much of its plausibility when it is applied to the beginning of time itself.
Must the Past Have a Beginning? (Off Site) by Wes Morriston
Morriston takes a close look at the second premise of Craig’s argument (i.e. that the universe “began” to exist, and therefore must have a cause), “with a view to determining whether it is sound.” Morriston finds that the “standard criticisms of this argument are correct” and that Craig fails to defend it against those criticisms.
Short essay by physicist Victor Stenger in which it is shown that the universe need not have had a beginning.
“[T]he case which Leftow makes for God’s timelessness is weakened by a number of bad arguments and dubious distinctions which he uses in developing his case. The aim of this note is to draw attention to some of the arguments and distinctions, and to suggest ways in which the ensuing difficulties can be circumvented.”
Stephen R. Welch maintains this page.