Sunday, March 4, 2012

Sunday Counter-Apologetics: The Cosmological Argument

I thought it might be fun to do some counter-apologetics once a week here. My plan is to look at an apologetic argument and analyze it myself. I know that there are many deconstructions of these arguments on the web already, however, I am not going to look at those, it is more fun to do it myself. While I am not going to look at anyone else's work, I have probably seen the arguments at some point in the past, so I certainly don't claim that I came up with this stuff on my own. If my arguments look remarkably like anyone else's it most likely means that I have seen their argument and it made sense to me and I absorbed it.

Today I will be looking at The Cosmological Argument. Why did I pick this one? It is the first one on carm, that is where I will be taking the argument from that I will be working with. I will copy and paste their argument here:

The Cosmological Argument

1. Things Exist
2. It is possible for those things to not exist
3. Whatever has the possibility of non existence, yet exists, has been caused to exist.
3A. Something cannot bring itself into existence
4. There cannot be an infinite number of causes to bring something into existence
4A. An infinite regression of causes ultimately has no initial cause, which means there is no cause of existence
4B. Since the universe exists, it must have a cause.
5. Therefore, there must be an uncaused cause of all things.
6. The uncaused cause must be God.

My Response

I had a longer response to this typed out, but it got a bit confusing and convoluted so I started over and tried to simplify my arguments a little bit. I have 3 main complaints about this argument.

1. This whole first part of the argument is all built around proving that everything has a cause, and then at the end it just says that something must exist that doesn't have a cause and then calls it God. If something is allowed to exist that doesn't have a cause, why not just let that thing be the universe?

2. In the second part of the argument, it says that it is possible for things to not exist. To me this is confusing wording and I think it is how they are trying to get around my first complaint. What does it mean that it is possible? does it mean we can imagine that they don't exist? Does it mean that at one point in time they didn't exist?

3. This argument either fails or assumes what it is trying to prove. (actually, depending on what some terms mean, it might even be assuming a stronger statement than it is trying to prove) I will demonstrate this by asking the following question:
Is it possible that God does not exist?

If you say "yes, it is possible that God does not exist" then by assertion 3 God must either not exist or be caused and we can throw out the conclusion of the argument (6. God is the uncaused cause)

If you say "no, it is not possible that God does not exist" then you have actually assumed something stronger than what you are trying to prove in your argument. Think about that, we are trying to prove that God exists. Within the proof that God exists we have assumed that it is impossible that God does not exist, a much stronger claim. (I suppose it might be an equal claim depending on what is meant by "possibility of nonexistence")

One final thing I want to mention (that in all fairness is mentioned over on carm) is that even if you believe this argument, it says nothing about a Christian God. Suppose the argument were correct and we do have that God is the uncaused cause, this says nothing about the Christian God, it is just some mysterious being that got things started. None of the important aspects of God from Christianity follow from this argument.


  1. There is a more refined cosmological argument called the Kalam argument The Kalām cosmological argument: taken from ( It's been around for a long time and is pretty similar.

    1. Everything that has a beginning of its existence has a cause of its existence;
    2. The universe has a beginning of its existence;
    3. The universe has a cause of its existence.
    4. Since no scientific explanation (in terms of physical laws) can provide a causal account of the origin of the universe, the cause must be personal (explanation is given in terms of a personal agent)

    I agree with you completely though when you mention number three. A great response to the argument was written by Dan Barker

    I think that they both bring up pretty much the same problems. Not many theologians will use the cosmological argument in debate anymore since the infinite regression question kind of shuts it down. ie. “What created the creator?” You both bring up a great point about begging the question. If you don't give other possible explanations or alternatives, much less rule them out, you are assuming what you are out to prove. Even if this argument would hold weight, like you pointed out, you would have to prove what it was a Christian God, or a Muslim God etc.

    I would not rule out the possibility of a God, but in 2000 years of theology with the wisest of theologians, I don't think there's really been any convincing arguments to come my way.

  2. The variant you posted from wikipedia does something that I have seen a lot. the ending of point 4 is just out of nowhere. We have no scientific explanation so it has to be personal? No way. That is something that needs to be proven, not asserted.

    Also, I agree with what you said at the end, I wouldn't rule out the possibility of a God, but I don't think there is any good reason to believe in it either.

  3. I am almost finished reading a great book by Lawrence Krauss called A Universe From Nothing. A great read. I skimmed the introduction, but I think he said something about it being a response to a lecture he gave that got over a million hits on youtube by the same name. He fleshes out the physics more in his book. But he does a pretty good job explaining it for someone without a background in physics, like me. All that is required is minimal knowledge of high school science. Definitely an hour well spent. You might have seen it already, but I'll post the link for anyone coming across this blog:

    A lot of the more famous apologists in debates when bringing up this argument, seem to ignore the science that is out there and readily available. They seem to make purposeful ignorance their “religion.” The more that is figured out, the smaller the “God of the Gaps” seems to become. “We don't know X therefore, God.” They also seem to like to mess with logic that is great on the surface but the tiniest scratches and critical thinking and they fall apart so easily. I think that we really need to teach logic and critical thinking in school. I took a course in college as part of my GE and it's probably one of the most applicable things I've taken away form my experience there. Different logical fallacies like begging the question (here for example). It really made me look at my arguments for things I held “dear” and some held up, while others didn't.

  4. Thanks for posting this :) I havn't seen that lecture, I bookmarked it, I will watch it next time I get a free solid hour. I'll add that book to my reading list as well, but my reading list grows way faster than I can read so I don't know if I'll ever get to it. I guess it depends on how much the video catches my interest.

    I also took a philosophy of science class in college that focused a lot of critical thinking. It had a pretty big impact on my life, I remember even at the time being a little amazed that there was no such class in high school. Everyone should learn basic logic and critical thinking, and it should be as young as possible, not in college.

  5. My reading list seems to exponentially grow the more books I read as well. One of the more crazy things to be discovered relatively recently was that the energy in what we think of "the vacuum of space is not zero". Krauss makes the case that not only can something, it was inevitable.

    I also think comparitive religions should be taught in class as well. Religious people that want Christianity taught in school are quite often opposed to this notion. I think that when many children realize that their background story is not unique or the only religion that strongly believes unprovable things, they start to think. We really need to teach children to think for themselves, not as sheep, but individuals.

  6. I really like the idea of teaching comparative religion in schools, I bet in some places it would just be another place where they can teach their own religion, I really hate the thought of that.

  7. I had to take a comparative religion class in college as a requirement for GE. I'm really glad I did. I felt like I learned a lot about so many different religions, mainly the major religions. I felt like a lot of beliefs in certain systems were kind of "cool." Coolness doesn't translate to truth, but was still pretty neat.


    Why not watch a debate between Lawrence Krauss and William Lane Craig? I think the objections you raised are answered by WLC (in the debate and elsewhere) albeit you may not find them satisfying.

  9. And here is an article from a philosopher who has no theological axe to grind on Krauss:

  10. Doesn't have an axe to grind?

    "But all there is to say about this, as far as I can see, is that Krauss is dead wrong and his religious and philosophical critics are absolutely right."

    I haven't had the chance to watch the video yet but I will try to get to it today, it looks interesting. For anyone else interested here is a link to the playlist of the whole thing

  11. wow the audio on that is terrible, here is one where someone cleaned up the audio a bit, although there is not video

  12. Thanks for the link. I've been listening to the debate and am only twenty minutes in. Most of Craig's arguments have been answered elsewhere. I'm not sure whether I'm suprized that he still uses the same arguments. One example, "objective morality." I think the idea of objective morality is a false one. And it certainly does not come from the Bible. ~ about 18 minutes in: He uses examples like Rape  , cruelty (way too many verses to use here) and Child abuse . He says that they “aren't only socially unacceptable but moral abominations.” Obviously, we don't do any of these things anymore. Why? Not because the bible no longer says that stuff, but because we've grown as a society and have deemed these things to be horrible. My point is, I would definitely not base my “objective” morality on a christian god of the bible.

    Well, back to the debate =P

  13. I actually think only the beginning of the audio of the link you gave was poor, at some point I checked the one with video and it seemed fine.

    I'm just about done with the debate, thanks for the link. In my opinion, WLC got destroyed and Krauss did a great job, but given that you gave me the link, I'm guessing you thought roughly the opposite. I think the reason is the format of such a formal debate. One guy talks for a while, then the other guy talks for a while, back and forth a few times and it's over. I much prefer a more informal conversation as they do on the atheist experience /the atheist experience

    I have taken some notes and I think a fair bit of what WLC said will show up at some point on my blog.

  14. I want to add here that even if you take the cosmological argument to be a logical one, it doesn't seem like there is a way to know if its only one God. You could just as easily have a polytheistic system, the same way as when you see a house, there could have been one person that built it, but there was more likely a bunch of people that built it.

  15. Yeah, that is a good point, the cosmological argument definitely does not prove that the Christian God is the correct one. It aims to prove that some God or gods exist and then I think you are supposed to go to a different argument to prove that your particular God is the right one. Not that it matters much since it fails so spectacularly. I have been seeing this argument pop up in a number of places, and I am honestly surprised because as I see it, it is garbage. I think at some point I will do this again but start with Kalam as that seems to be the popular one.


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