The Cosmological Argument for God’s Existence

This post marks the beginning of a new series of posts about some of the more convincing evidences for the existence of God. Not all of the arguments lead directly to a Judeo-Christian God, but they will each support each other and paint a picture of what a “God” might be like. The principle of Occam’s Razor claims that the simplest explanation that has the most explanatory power is the best explanation. These posts will show that the Judeo-Christian God seems to have the most explanatory power for what we know of reality. These posts point to God, they do not prove God. I do not cover the breadth of philosophical thought about these arguments, but hope to give an introduction to the basic tenets of these arguments.

The cosmological argument has been articulated many ways for many years. My articulation in this post is meant to be an accessible summary of the argument as I understand it. None of these thoughts are wholly original, but I want to present this argument to you as it has encouraged my faith in a God who is the Logos, the grounding of logic and existence.

In the cosmological argument, you have a series of simple premises that lead you to some of the characteristics that may be attributed to a God. Aristotle’s “Immovable Mover” is a direct result of the cosmological argument in one of its earlier shapes. The first premise is that the physical universe (everything that physically exists) had a beginning. Scientists and philosophers have believed for a long time that the universe had a beginning. There are many, many reasons to believe that this is true. Below I will explore a few of these reasons very briefly.

First, if the universe is eternal, then we would never have arrived at what we call the “present.” If time did not have a finite beginning, then it would take an infinite amount of time to get to this point. The problem with an infinite universe is that you cannot have a real infinite in the time-matter-space bound universe. There is no possible way to traverse an infinite number of days. However, we can have a potential infinite. In the Christian worldview, the soul will continue to exist for eternity. That means that the soul has the potential to live from the point of its creation until infinity days. It will never “arrive” at infinity, because the very concept of infinity is endless. All of this suggests that time must have had a beginning. Now, in standard models of physics, you cannot have space without time, matter without space, or time without matter. There cannot be a material existence without the presence of these three things. Therefore, if time had a beginning, it seems to follow that space and matter also had a beginning.

Second, because the universe is expanding in all directions and there is only ever a fixed amount of matter and energy in the material universe, the universe had to have a beginning where time, matter, and space began to exist. This is a little more difficult to explain, but the basic ideas (as I understand them) are that there is only so much matter and energy in the universe. If the physical universe were eternal, then at some point in the infinite past we would have run out of energy. Because matter is neither created nor destroyed, there is no possibility of an ever-expanding or an ever-expanding and contracting universe. If you were to rewind time and watch the entire universe, it would all begin to shrink back into a single point where all the matter and energy in the universe began and exploded outward. This is the Big Bang Theory. The Big Bang is an unexplainable (scientifically speaking) event where all matter and energy began as a single point and exploded into existence. There are many ways of describing how this may have happened and theoretical physicists such as Stephen Hawking and Brian Greene have a myriad of fascinating explanations, but none of them account for the necessity of a beginning. Each theory attempting to account for the beginning of our universe merely pushes the problem back to an early point at which their theoretical “mutli-world generators” must have begun. I will address that again later. So, while there may be objections to this first premise, “the universe had a beginning,” I cannot address them all here.

The next premise is, “Everything that had a beginning had a cause outside of itself.” This is more of a simple logical argument, if a thing had a time where it did not exist, it could not cause anything during its state of non-existence. If a thing came into existence, it could not have caused its own existence due to the fact that it did not exist before. This does not say that something that exist can cause itself to change into a new thing. So if matter, time, space, and physical energy had a beginning, then before that beginning (excuse the time-bound language here) there must have been a Beginner that was outside of matter, time, space, and physical energy. Here is where we find our Immovable Mover. This thing has to have certain characteristics. It is possible that numbers exist outside of matter, time, space, and energy (henceforth referred to as MTSE), but numbers cannot cause anything. I know that the existence of numbers as a thing outside of our social constructs is challenged, but that is unimportant to this point. The point that is being made is that a Thing outside of MTSE must have existed and that Thing must also be a causal force. This Thing must have the ability to cause something to exist, and it must also have the power (some non spacial-temporal energy) to generate MTSE. So if we are accepting the steps so far, there must be a Thing, an Immovable Mover, that can cause MTSE to exist while being separate from MTSE.

The Universe began.

Everything that has begun had a cause outside of itself.

The Universe was begun by something outside of itself.

This is the basic formula for the Cosmological argument. As you can see, we have not gone very far in describing this “Immovable Mover,” but we can draw some indirect descriptions from what we have so far. Whatever caused everything to exist is timeless, creative (having the ability to create something different from itself), powerful, and willful (having the ability to act as opposed to numbers or raw energy). Here I exclude raw energy, because impersonal energy would have no ability to create unless directed into creation.

The multi-world hypotheses presented by theoretical physicists as a way to explain the energy in this world and complex quantum phenomena can seem to explain away the beginning of the universe, but, in fact, they just push the beginning of the universe back to a point beyond our physical reality’s Big Bang. There are explanations for physical generators of the Big Bang,  but they are subjected to the same dilemmas listed above. They still cannot have existed for infinity and they still cannot have an infinite amount of energy. The multiplicity of dimensions does not seem to solve any of these issues, but just continue to push back the problem to some origin of everything.

Overall, this is just the first evidence for a “God” and it is really a very small step, but it should at least get us from a materialist worldview to a worldview that accepts some thing that exists outside of MTSE. This is not to say that these arguments are fool-proof, but that they are evidence for certain worldviews and against other worldviews. That is a crucial first step in the journey.

14 Comments

  1. Your “necessity of beginning” is not scientific. It is theological at its very core. Cause is scientific. Necessity implies a mind at work, like an intellectual god creator.
    You claim we atheistic, scientific minds push back to a bigger problem. But do you not do the same? If you say your points lead to god, I counter that argument with the idea that your arguments lead away from god. For there to be a creator is one thing. Creator could be anything. But a god such as the Judeo-Christian one who was and is eternal creates a problem for your entire first (and well thought out) point. Point number one annihilates the possibility of the Judeo-Christian god and only allows for something else that also needs a beginning.
    Also at the end, you’re once again saying that our conclusions only push back the problem, but drawing your conclusions on the creator being timeless and creative and maker of our cosmos is putting a definitively described start point to something that there is no conclusive evidence for there being. Even those attributes listed are come to because of your putting the start point where you have.

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    1. I appreciate the thoughtful reply!
      Necessity of beginning would be a logical point for what I was trying to communicate. That beginning could take the form of anything that has the power to cause the time-bound physical universe to exist. You are absolutely right that it does not have to be a Judeo-Christian God; however, I do think that there is no scientific or logical reason to believe that the universe could have existed eternally. I would appeal to the scientific law that matter is neither created nor destroyed and that there is a finite amount of energy in the universe. The Big Bang is definitely scientific and I have not read of a current scientific theory that does not take into account some form of beginning. My whole point is that if there was a beginning (which the scientists I have read seem to imply there was one at some point) it must have been caused by something wholly “other” from the physical time-bound universe. This Creator from this argument could absolutely be anything as you stated, but I do not think it rules out the Judeo-Christian God who is “Spirit”(some form of non-physical being) and outside of time.

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      1. One last clarification: my first point applies wholly to a time-bound thing. If there was an energy or being or substance that could exist outside of time, we would not be able to conceptualize such a timeless existence but it would not be subject to the limitations of the infinity paradox (at least not to the temporal limitations).

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  2. The Big Bang theory isn’t about the creation of the universe, but rather about the early history of the universe and how it began expanding from a very small, dense point. How was the universe created? That question hasn’t been answered yet. Also, according to the first law of thermodynamics, energy can’t be created nor destroyed, therefore the point you’re making about energy running out isn’t a fact.

    “Everything that had a beginning had a cause outside of itself.” I agree with that, but we still don’t know how the universe came into being. If there was an immovable mover (to use your terminology), what was it? Was it negative energy, or perhaps an element we haven’t discovered yet? We don’t know. But we can’t assume that there was an actual being moving everything.

    Lastly, we can’t assume that this creator or immovable mover you’re talking about is the god of the bible. In a universe so vast, there are still so many questions to be asked and so many answers awaiting. It is very unlikely that the belief held by a small number of people that live on one small planet located in an enormous universe, is absolute truth.

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    1. Thanks for the challenging reply!
      I understand that the Big Bang theory isn’t about the creation of the universe. I reference it as a way to show that scientific theory supports a universe with a beginning. I totally agree that we cannot with any certainty answer how the universe was created; I merely sought to outline what might be a couple of logical necessities for whatever did create the universe (i.e. Outside of time, matter, space and physical energy). My biggest point that I hope was communicated was that these concepts do not rule out a Judeo-Christian God and I think they do rule out quite a few possibilities. I hope to write more in the weeks to come about what evidences might point more specifically to a “God” of some sort.

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      1. A “god of some sort” and the “god of the bible” are two VERY different things. And I do have to disagree with you here, I think there are many, many facts that DO rule out the Judeo-Christian god. Such as the fact that the two creation accounts in the book of genesis were taken and tweaked from ancient Mesopotamian myths. Or the fact that the worldwide flood never happened since there is not geological/geographical proof of that. Or simply the fact that we are able to measure the age of the earth and it’s way way older than what the bible suggests. Additionally, there have been findings of civilizations that lived in what is now Israel that lived there way way way before Adam and Eve were supposedly created. If you only look at science, a god is possible, but bringing history into the conversation eliminates that god from being the one of the Judeo-Christian faith.

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      2. Those are all fair critiques and, in posts to come, I hope to wrestle with some of those. This post, I hope I achieved the most basic first step towards the possibility of any god. Thanks again for the substantive engagement!

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      3. I know I’m a bit late to the party, but if I may:

        Karen King, the Christian Church has been open to a non-literal interpretation of Genesis’ creation story since it’s early days. Take Saint Augustine, writing in the early 5th century:

        “It not infrequently happens that something about the earth, about the sky, about other elements of this world, about the motion and rotation or even the magnitude and distances of the stars, about definite eclipses of the sun and moon, about the passage of years and seasons, about the nature of animals, of fruits, of stones, and of other such things, may be known with the greatest certainty by reasoning or by experience, even by one who is not a Christian. It is too disgraceful and ruinous, though, and greatly to be avoided, that he [the non-Christian] should hear a Christian speaking so idiotically on these matters, and as if in accord with Christian writings, that he might say that he could scarcely keep from laughing when he saw how totally in error they are. In view of this and in keeping it in mind constantly while dealing with the book of Genesis, I have, insofar as I was able, explained in detail and set forth for consideration the meanings of obscure passages, taking care not to affirm rashly some one meaning to the prejudice of another and perhaps better explanation.”

        And about 200 years earlier, Origen of Alexandria made this very good point:

        “For who that has understanding will suppose that the first, and second, and third day, and the evening and the morning, existed without a sun, and moon, and stars? And that the first day was, as it were, also without a sky?”

        So, as you can see, there is no conflict between the Biblical Creation account and science. They are simply two different ways of telling the same story.

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  3. Thanks for keeping this civil. One thing I’ll clarify is that I do not believe in an eternal universe. I also think there was a beginning. But from what I can see, that beginning is not as inferred as you see it in being directly before the Big Bang from the JC god. I am definitely more theological in nature though so I admit I am a little out of my depth here. I look forward to hearing what you have to say in future posts on the subject.

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