The cosmological argument is an argument for God based on the principle that everything has a cause. The argument is also known as the first cause argument, uncaused cause argument, argument from existence and the causal argument. One of the most influential statements of the argument was by Thomas Aquinas:
There are some popular variants of the cosmological argument, including:
- Kalam, which argues that things that do not come into existence do not require a cause, and
- Why is there something rather than nothing?, which argues the chain of events or state of the universe requires an extra explanation.
- Leibniz cosmological argument, uses a chain of explanations rather than a chain of causes. It depends on the premise that "everything that exists requires an explanation"; this concept is known as the principle of sufficient reason.
The argument runs like this:
- Everything that exists must have a cause.
- If you follow the chain of events backwards through time, it cannot go back infinitely, so eventually you arrive at the first cause.
- This cause must, itself, be uncaused.
- But nothing can exist without a cause, except for God.
- Therefore, God exists.
Many of the criticisms of the Unmoved mover argument apply here.
- Main Article: Infinite regress does not occur
The most concise answer to this argument is: "Who created God?", which in turn raises the question "Who created God's creator?", and so on ad infinitum. This is known as an infinite regress or "It's turtles all the way down".
It is not necessarily impossible for there to be an infinite chain of causes and effects. Among scientists, it is widely agreed that our universe began with the Big Bang. But we don't know what occurred in the first split second after the Big Bang, nor can we comment on anything that came before it, as no experiments have yet been devised that could test any hypotheses about these early moments.
Some have claimed that with an infinite past, we could never get to now. Flip the infinity: does an infinity of seconds not stretch forward into the future, eternally? Starting from an infinite future, can you go a second before that, and a second before that, ad infinitum, and get to now?
Possible response: Second law of thermodynamics implies the universe is of finite age
Why assume the first cause is god-like?
- Main Article: Which god?
Natural processes and multiple creators are not ruled out.
Even if we grant that a first cause exists, it makes no sense to assume that it is any kind of god, let alone Yahweh. The idea of an intelligent, universe-creating god "just existing" is far more difficult to explain than the universe itself "just existing". Intelligence is one of the most complex things we are aware of in the universe. To assume the existence of a being who is so intelligent that it can design an entire universe, as well as micromanage the personal lives of billions of people on earth through prayer, would require an enormous amount of explanation.
Special pleading regarding God existing outside of time
There is a contradiction between the first statement and the second statement. If "everything that exists has a cause" then there cannot exist anything that does not have a cause, which means that there is no first cause. Either some things can exist without causes, or nothing can. It can't be both ways. God is considered to be exempt from infinite regress by special pleading.
Changing "Everything that exists has a cause" to "Everything that begins to exist has a cause" produces a variant known as the Kalam cosmological argument.
Christians try to avoid regress of God by saying "God does not need a cause because He is outside of time." This is a glib non-answer. If all that is required to get around the first cause argument is an entity that exists outside of time, then all we need to do is postulate a single particle that exists outside of time and triggered the Big Bang. It need not have any additional powers. Besides, this particle might even exist, depending on how you define "outside of time." Photons (light particles) do not experience time, since they move at the speed of light. Therefore, according to this argument, light can pop into existence without cause.
Theists will object that this particle should have a cause. But they have already refuted this argument by granting that there exists an uncaused cause in the first place. If God can exist without a cause, why not a particle? Why not the universe? It may be the universe is the necessarily existent being and it is impossible for it to be in any other state.
Not all events necessarily have causes
- Main Article: Not all events necessarily have causes
The argument asserts that "everything that exists has a cause". However, this is arguably a false statement and a hasty generalization. It is possible that some events, particular on the quantum scale, do not have causes (or at least we do not fully understand the cause at this time).
Some versions of the cosmological argument rely on chains of explanations starting from observed phenomena. However, no such explanation may exist and the phenomena might be a "brute fact". This is known as the Glendower problem.
The cosmological argument has had little impact on Islamic apologetics because causality was already in doubt and it was unwise to base an argument on this uncertain foundation.
- "The main reason why the cosmological argument was thus rejected out of hand by both the [Islamic] philosophers and the theologians was the fact that the concept of causality upon which it rested had been exposed to doubt since the beginning of Kalam [Islamic apologetics]. [...] the alleged necessity of this principle is a mere illusion; because it is unwarranted inference, based on observation from the correlation of events. Observation, however shows simply that the alleged effect happens alongside the cause rather through it [...] and accordingly, such a correlation is not logically necessary but is rather the outcome of a correlation is not logically necessary but is rather the outcome of mere psychological disposition or habit. "
- Main Article: Ultimate 747 gambit
The God hypothesis is not only unnecessary, it is not parsimonious. In order to explain something apparently designed and which cannot create itself, a being is conjured into existence which would require even more unlikely explanation.
By the same reasoning, God created evil
"[While evil exists at all], it will very much puzzle you Anthropomorphites, how to account for it. You must assign a cause for it, without having recourse to the first cause [God]. But as every effect must have a cause, and that cause another, you must either carry on the progression in infinitum, or rest on that original principle, who is the ultimate cause of all things... [i.e. God]"
A-priori arguments cannot establish matters of fact
- Main Article: Proof by logic
Overall, this argument is an example of a proof by logic, where philosophers attempt to "demonstrate" god with a logical syllogism alone, devoid of any confirming evidence. This is arguably inappropriate for establishing matters of fact.