The cosmological, or “first cause” argument, is a metaphysical argument for the existence of God.
St. Thomas Aquinas stated it as:
- Every finite and contingent being has a cause.
- Nothing finite and dependent (contingent) can cause itself.
- A causal chain cannot be of infinite length.
- Therefore, there must be a first cause.
The stylized “proof from the big bang” is:
- Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
- The universe began to exist.
- Therefore, the universe had a cause.
Both proofs contain several problematic claims:
A causal chain cannot be of infinite length.
Infinities do not actually exist. Each specific set of entities is discrete. But the causal chain itself is not an existent. It is the set of all entities that have ever existed. That is a theoretical construct (like infinity or a singularity in mathematics) rather than a discrete set of entities that we can point to. If I walk from one side of the room to the other, my body exists in an infinite number of locations along that path during the time it takes me to do so. But it only exists in one location at any specific time.
The universe is an entity.
This is an equivocation known as the fallacy of composition. The universe can be defined as “the set containing all entities in existence.” The universe is not itself an entity, but a collection of entities. All entities in the universe may be finite, but the set of entities need not be.
There is a cause “outside the universe.”
For there to be a cause, there must be an entity doing the causation. If the universe is the set of all existing entities, that entity must be part of the universe. An entity cannot be its own cause, so it cannot have created the universe.
The universe began to exist.
The cosmological argument defines “universe” as the set of events since creation, and places the first cause “beyond” our timeline. But time is a relative measure of the rate of change between entities, not an absolute linear constant. It is a contradiction of the concept of time to speak of a “time before time.” There cannot be such thing as a “timeless” entity because time includes all causal interactions, including the initial one. It is meaningless to speak of a time before the existence of entities, because time is a property of entities itself.
The universe has always existed — but this means only that as long as the universe has existed, so has time.
The first cause is God.
Even if we accept that the universe has a cause, it does not follow that that cause is God. Why should the first cause be a complex and conscious entity conforming to a particular religion? It is more logical to conclude that the origin of the universe is the simplest one possible, since all higher-level causes derive from it. The difference between science and religious dogma is that science is falsifiable, whereas dogma is not.How could one prove that the universe created by a personal, Christian God, and not a Hindu deity, a computer hacker in another dimension, or the flying spaghetti monster?
- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Cosmological Argument
- The One Minute Case For Atheism
- Wikipedia: Cosmological Argument
- Wikipedia: Time in physics
- Meetup.com post which expands on the last point.