Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Why I Believe The Cosmological Argument Fails

ExGH has decided to focus his blog on dealing with the issues of "truth." To start off he made a few arguments against the Cosmological Argument for G-d. To get us started, the Cosmological Argument for G-d contends that (to use ExGH's formulation):

1. Every physical thing has a cause.
2. The universe is a physical thing.
3. Therefore the universe has a cause.
4. It is impossible for there to be an infinite regress of causes.
5. Therefore there must be first cause which had no prior cause.
6. This first cause is also known as God (or is God).
7. Therefore God created the universe.

Put more simply since everything must have a cause, and we cannot have an unlimited chain of causes, there must be a first cause that is not bound by the rules of causality. That cause must be immaterial and outside of the SpaceTime continuum.

My biggest problem with this proof is the assertion that the Universe must have a cause; I basically argue against the first premise. Our experiences tell us that everything observable has a cause and using induction we can derive a principle that everything material has a cause. My problem is that our observations only take place within spacetime. It seems like faulty logic to presume that the same rules that apply to material items within spacetime also apply to the origin of spacetime itself. Sure, spacetime is material and probably bound by the physical laws of the universe, but when spacetime came into existence those rules could not have existed since spacetime itself did not exist yet. If the rules of the universe are contingent on spacetime's existence and spacetime did not exist, I fail to see why spacetime itself must have been caused.

Basically there are two ways to answer the infinite regress problem: 1) an immaterial object outside of spacetime created the universe or 2) the universe came into existence on its own. Supporters of the First Cause argument will tell you that (2) is a poor answer because the Universe itself is material and therefore is bound by the same rules as everything in it. I, as noted above, disagree. But here's the problem with (1):

Remember the original premise is that all physical objects need a cause (or stated more philosophically, all material objects must be caused). Why? Because everything we've ever encountered required a cause, so it seems plausible that even things we don't understand were caused. Ok that's reasonable. But why stop there? If everything we've observed could not have come into existence without a cause, then why don't we assume that immaterial objects too require a cause?

One possible response is that we have no experience with immaterial things so we can't apply the observable rules to them. But that's not a good answer. First of all that could mean that immaterial objects don't even exist. If we have no experience with them, how do we know they exist at all? But even if one concedes that they do exist, why do we assume they aren't bound by causality? If everything we know has a cause, and supporters of the First Cause proof are willing to apply that principle to the universe and then conclude it must have a cause, why not apply it to immaterial things as well?

Another response would be that the universe is sufficiently similar enough to the material objects we can perceive in order for us to justify applying the general principle of causality to it. Since the universe is material and everything else that we experience is material and caused, we can therefore assume that the universe, since it exists, must have required a cause. On the other hand, immaterial objects are so different from material ones that we cannot make the comparison. Why not? Because immaterial objects exist outside of spacetime, so causality doesn't necessarily apply.

But "before" spacetime existed, it also existed outside of spacetime. What that ambiguous sentence means is that at the time spacetime came into existence, spacetime did not yet exist and therefore the spacetime was created within the same conditions as immaterial things --outside of spacetime and causality. So I don't see the distinction.

Maybe I'm missing something, but I just don't understand how this argument substantiates anything. Why is the possibility that an immaterial object caused the universe more compelling than the argument that the universe caused itself?