Cosmological Argument – Part II (Critical Responses)

In part one, we examined the scientific and philosophical rationale that supports God as the cause of the universe.  However, since there are many intelligent, rational, scientific atheists, one may suppose that the case is hardly undeniable.  And as you would assume, there are many responses provided by naturalists to refute the Cosmological Argument.  So we will look at the primary arguments and assess their validity.  In the end, it will be clear that God remains not only the most reasonable explanation for the universe, but the only intellectually honest option.

“If everything needs a cause, what caused God?”

One of the oldest and most popular attacks on the Cosmological Argument is to attack Premise One to erode the primary foundation.  The argument can be stated numerous ways, but basically boils down to “Proposing God as the first cause simply avoids the question.  Because now you have to explain where God came from.”

This response makes two basic mistakes.  First, it creates a strawman by misstating Premise One.  Premise One is not that everything needs a cause.  Only things that begin to exist need a cause.  If something does not have a beginning, no cause is required.

Secondly, the argument misunderstands the nature of God.  It implicitly assumes that God is a created being that must have had a beginning.  If this assertion is correct, the critic is quite right that the Cosmological Argument fails.  But as we have already seen, the Cosmological Argument points to a first cause that must be uncaused, eternal, and immensely powerful, which must be God.  In summary, only effects need causes and God is clearly not an effect.

“The universe could be uncaused and eternal, so God is not necessary”

In essence, those taking this position argue that if an uncaused first cause is necessary to avoid the infinite regress, it is more likely to be the universe itself than God.  Invoking God as the first cause simply adds unnecessary complexity to explain the universe.  We have only to assume that it has always existed in some form or other.  David Mills in Atheist Universe builds on this argument by claiming that since the First Law of Thermodynamics states mass/energy cannot be created, the universe must be eternal.1

It is surprising that Mills, who claims to have a rational, naturalistic, scientific worldview, would appeal to this argument.  All of the scientific evidence clearly points to a non-eternal universe with a definite beginning for space, time, mass/energy, and the laws of physics.  The vast majority of scientists, even secular and atheistic ones, agree on this point.  Eternal universe models were discarded decades ago.

Mills’ appeal to the First Law of Thermodynamics is especially confusing.  It actually argues against the very point he is trying to make.  If mass/energy cannot be created, yet we are surrounded by unimaginable amounts of it, that science agrees came into being at a set point in the past, we have a real quandary, at least from a secular perspective.  Because the only logical solution is that the mass/energy had a supernatural origin since a natural one appears impossible.  There is one theory some have proposed to solve this issue naturally, but we will tackle it later in the article.

One final point that is rarely addressed by naturalists who argue for an eternal universe is the impossibility of the infinite regress of time it would cause.  As we discussed in part one, if we could go infinitely in the past, we could not have actually arrived at today.  To his credit, David Mills at least addresses and seeks to answer this objection.

Mills argues that the infinite regress caused by an eternal past is an illusion.  It is no different than the fact that we cover an infinite number of points when we simply walk a city block2.  In fact, we cover an infinite number of points all the time.  So traversing an infinite past to arrive at today is no big deal.

While Mills is to be respected for acknowledging there is an issue to answer, he fails miserably in doing so.  Anyone with a basic understanding of geometry knows the infinite number of points we cover in his example are simply dimensionless mathematical concepts.  In other words, they don’t actually exist.  So covering an infinite number of them is no big deal.  However, to traverse an eternal past requires covering an infinite number of actual, measurable points.  Doing so is impossible by definition.  Mills is surely aware of this fact.  So his answer is either a desperate grasp at straws or a willful deception.

“Science has documented ‘something’ spontaneously created from ‘nothing’ via quantum fluctuations.  God is not needed.”

Quantum Mechanics (how physics works at a subatomic level) is a fascinating field of science and has produced many surprising and counter-intuitive results.  One such occurrence is that physicists have found evidence of subatomic particles and anti-particles (e.g. electrons and positrons) spontaneously “popping” into existence.  Since the universe began as a dimensionless point it was by definition a quantum event.  Therefore, the universe’s spontaneous creation from nothing is entirely consistent with an apparently naturalistic phenomenon.  At least that is the story.  But there are several reasons why this phenomenon has no comparison to the creation of the universe.

First, these particles appear from “nothing” in a quantum vacuum.  While the quantum vacuum is “empty” space that contains no matter, it is far from being “nothing3.”  Rather, a background vacuum energy permeates all of empty space4.  And for that matter, the empty space itself is a thing.  While difficult to understand, science has shown that space can be bent by gravity and was “stretched” immediately after its creation at the start of the universe (“inflation”).  So there are at least two things present in the empty space that produces quantum fluctuations:  vacuum energy and space itself.  The only way to say that such fluctuations show something coming from nothing is to redefine “nothing” to include multiple “somethings5!”  Worse yet, both of these “somethings” purportedly came into existence with the Big Bang, so they cannot be invoked as its cause!

Secondly, when such particles and anti-particles pop into existence they instantaneously annihilate one another6.  That is not a promising means of creating a universe.  And if such quantum events are routine and the cause of our universe, why do we not see new universes being created constantly?

“Because there is a law like gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing…7

Steven Hawking makes the above statement in his best-selling, and immensely interesting, book The Grand Design.  Hawking admits that the creation of the universe is fascinating, but that it is ultimately explainable naturally via so-called M-theory and gravity.  A bit of explanation is in order…

M-theory is a theoretical model that seeks to unify the four fundamental forces of nature (strong and weak nuclear forces, electromagnetism, and gravity) and integrate competing models of “string theory” into one Theory of Everything that explains physics at both the normal and quantum levels.

Hawking also has a special appreciation for gravity within the creation of the universe.  It is gravity, he and others believe, that allows for something to be created from nothing without violating the First Law of Thermodynamics.  The theory is that the entire universe has a net energy of zero.  This is because the “positive” energy of traditional mass/energy is exactly offset by the “negative” energy of gravity.Because of this balance, the First Law of Thermodynamics is conserved and creation is not a miracle after all.  It is the ultimate free lunch9.

Let’s address both of these thoughts (M-theory and zero net energy) separately…

It is beyond the scope of this article (and the abilities of the author!) to go into a full explanation of M-theory.  However, it is sufficient for our purposes to point out a few key facts.  First, M-theory is largely a philosophical and mathematical construct, not a scientific one.10  This fact is significant.  While “the math works” within M-theory, that in no way means it is true.  For example, I can create mathematical models that show millions of dollars in my bank account, but that does not mean the money is there.  And given that M-theory is primarily philosophical and mathematical, it is largely untestable and unprovable in any real way scientifically.11

Because of the above points, M-theory is definitely not a consensus theory among scientists, even secular ones.  In fact, well respected physicist (and secularist) Roger Penrose has been quoted as saying M-theory is “a collection of ideas, hopes, and aspirations” that is “hardly science12” and “enjoys no observational support whatsoever13.”  So while it may be an elegant model, it must ultimately be accepted on faith, not demonstrable fact.

As for Hawking’s view of gravity, there are several glaring problems with it.  First, the idea that the universe’s net energy is zero is a theory, not a proven fact.  Depending on how one accounts for the cosmological constant and “dark energy,” the universe may in fact have a positive net energy14.  So while Hawking declares zero net energy as a fact, it is hardly a proven one.

Secondly, Hawking makes a classic circular argument.  By declaring that “because there is a law like gravity…” he is invoking an element of creation to explain creation!  One has to wonder “why is there a law like gravity15?”  And since the evidence suggests that gravity was itself created at the beginning, it cannot somehow contribute to creation.

Finally, while the zero net energy theory sounds elegant and appears to resolve the need for a supernatural creation implied by the First Law of Thermodynamics, it actually does nothing of the sort.  It may resolve the “mathematical” challenge of getting something from nothing, but not the real one.  Invoking “positive” and “negative” energies as a way of getting something from nothing is foolish.  Positive and negative energies (e.g. mass and gravity) are both “somethings.”  To invoke two “somethings” to explain creation from “nothing” is, again, to redefine “nothing” in an ad hoc fashion.  As Dr. John Lennox states in his book “God and Stephen Hawking” responding to Hawking’s theory “Nonsense remains nonsense, even when talked by world-famous scientists16.”

To further illustrate this point, a brief analogy is useful.  The zero net energy theory is a bit like digging a hole.  As you dig a hole, the dirt taken from it is piled up on the ground next to it.  So you actually get a hole and a mound.  Hence, no actual “new” space is created by the hole.  The space within the hole is offset by the space consumed by the mound.  Mathematically, nothing is created.  But in actuality, something has been created.  In fact, two somethings…a hole and a mound (or positive and negative energy).  Only a fool would say that the hole and the mound is ultimately the same as the original ground before digging started.  And even if one did take that position mathematically, they have done nothing to explain how the hole got dug!

Conclusion

After examining rationales for and against the Cosmological Argument, it still stands as powerful testimony for belief in God’s existence.  It is clear, logical, and both scientifically and philosophically sound.  And the arguments against it, while sometimes sounding impressive, are ultimately weak, self-defeating, and ad hoc.  They represent nothing more than attempts to find any answer other than God.

Further, the theories proposed to counter the Cosmological Argument are primarily theoretical, untestable, and must be accepted largely on faith.  One may argue that this is little different than Christianity in the end.  Except that both the Cosmological Argument and Christianity have a significantly greater factual basis for their believers’ faith!  The Cosmological Argument is rooted in sound philosophy and tested science.  And Christianity is rooted in strong, documented history.  So if you are going to put your faith in something, why not choose the more reasonable, rationale option?

Notes:

  1. Mills, David. Atheist Universe.  Berkeley, CA:  Ulysses Press 2006.  74
  2. Pg. 237
  3. Lennox, John C., PhD. God and Stephen Hawking.  Oxford, England:  Lion Hudson plc 2011.  30
  4. https://www.space.com/25238-dark-energy-quantum-vacuum-theory.html
  5. Turek, Frank. Stealing From God.  Colorado Sprints, CO:  NavPress 2014.  6-9
  6. https://www.astrosociety.org/publications/a-universe-from-nothing/
  7. Hawking, Stephen and Mlodinow, Leonard. The Grand Design.  New York, NY:  Bantam Books 2010.  180
  8. Pg. 180
  9. https://www.astrosociety.org/publications/a-universe-from-nothing/
  10. Cit. Lennox, John C.  Pg. 53
  11. Cit. Lennox, John C.  Pg. 55
  12. Cit. Lennox, John C.  Pg. 55
  13. Cit. Lennox, John C.  Pg. 59
  14. https://www.quora.com/How-is-the-zero-energy-universe-hypothesis-compatible-with-the-accelerating-universe (Answer provided by Wang, Joseph.  PhD in Astrophysics.  Chief Science Officer for Bitquant Research Laboratories at the University of Texas, Austin.)
  15. Cit. Lennox, John C.  Pg. 68
  16. Cit. Lennox, John C.  Pg. 32
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