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Cosmological Argument


Definition: The cosmological argument is a philosophical and theological argument from antiquity which supports the existence of a first cause, usually equated with God as the first cause. The basic structure of the argument changes depending on the formulation. It has been restated many times over the years, dating back to ancient Greek and Islamic scholars at the very least, with the following modern set-up attributed to Christian philosopher William Lane Craig:
  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

Refutations of the Cosmological Argument

On the surface of it, there doesn't seem to be much to dispute in this from a logical standpoint, although it's always possible that either statement 1 or statement 2 are false, which would lead to a false conclusion in either of the following ways:
  • If it's possible for the universe to begin to exist without a cause, the universe doesn't need a cause.
  • If the universe (or multiverse) has always existed, then the universe doesn't need a cause.

No one really argues that the universe could begin without a cause, but the idea of a universe that always existed has a fairly long pedigree in the realm of science. Famously, Albert Einstein was so wedded to the idea of an eternal and infinite universe that it never occurred to him to take his own theory of general relativity seriously when they predicted an expanding universe.

These days, of course, scientists no longer believe in an infinite universe, instead subscribing to the Big Bang theory in which our universe began at some point a finite time in the past. The most common belief in modern physics to explain the cause of the universe's creation is based around the idea that the laws of physics are unstable when there is no matter or energy present, and allow - in fact require - that matter and energy will spontaneously be formed. This is outlined in excellent detail (and quite accessibly) in a number of popular physics book, such as The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow and A Universe From Nothing: Why There is Something Rather Than Nothing by Lawrence Krauss.

This interpretation is based upon the known fact from quantum physics that in the absence of matter or energy, quantum fluctuations will cause the spontaneous creation of virtual particles. Cosmology and particle physics has shown that, according to our understanding of the laws of physics, when this happens in the middle of such a "nothingness," the result would be that time, space, and matter would instantly come into existence and begin expanding. In this explanation, therefore, the "first cause" are the laws of nature that trigger this process.

Defining The First Cause

Of course, the next natural question is "But what caused those laws of physics?" ... and it's a question which physics cannot answer. To this the theologian replies by defining the first cause as God and saying that he has solved the riddle, but the skeptic need only ask the next logical question ... "But what caused God?"

Even if you concede the logic of the theologian's cosmological argument, and are willing to tag the label of God upon the First Cause, this argument really cannot tell us anything clear about the nature of God, so it's sort of a useless argument in favor of any particular religious tradition and can, instead, only be used to argue in favor of God in the most general of terms.

Also Known As: argument from universal causation, an argument from first cause, the causal argument, the argument from existence
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