Against the Cosmological Argument: we are a rounding error in the universe

Everything the average person has ever observed about the universe is made from a very limited number of things. Everything the average person has seen is a mix of less than 100 elements from the periodic table: all the cars, the books, the DVDs, the air conditioning, people, animals and plants, planets and moons. Basically all the energy we see is from electrons and photons (else is kinetic). All of this constitutes less than 1% of a universe that is composed of 30% dark matter and 70% dark energy. Everything you and I observe is a rounding error in the universe.

With that in mind, we are in a very limited position to say what doesn’t exist. I want to turn this fact in on the cosmological argument. It has long been the purview of theologians to assert there was nothing before the Big Bang: there was no existence. That may be true, but cosmology is currently dealing with an idea taken from quantum mechanics, namely that nothing is unstable. Nothing breaks down. Nothing can and must become 1 and -1.

The Big Bang happened. Part of the detail of that claim is that space, time, energy and matter all came into existence at this point. To claim that there was nothing before this point is to claim the knowledge that space, time, energy and matter constitute everything. Maybe. But are you really happy to defend a generic God concept on a maybe?

Knowing that I am made up of a rounding error in the universe, I don’t have to have to be able to come up with an example of something that might have existed independent of time. Everything we know is based on a less-than-1% sample of stuff that is clearly an exception (in that you can see it). How do you intend to extrapolate from that knowledge?

Some variety of physical principles or elementary physics may always have existed. Principles like String Theory are in the subset of things that can exist outside of time (not least because it would, if true, explain something about the time dimension). Maybe time is a result of the physical principle that nothing has to break down. The Cosmological Argument rest on a Nothing that simply cannot be confirmed. It is a philosophical concept that only contrived intuitions can attempt to validate. The universe has not told us such a concept is permitted. Theologians can claim that if nothing has property and can break down then it’s not really nothing, but what they might be more honest in saying is ‘it’s not the nothing I am positing’ or ‘it’s not the nothing I need for my argument to work’*. Well, I’m afraid that such a nothing is not supported by the evidence.

*(because nothing panders to what you want, nothing won’t pander to what you want.)

And it certainly isn’t a theologian’s place to tell us the limits of what can exist with one hand, and claim a God with the other.

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13 thoughts on “Against the Cosmological Argument: we are a rounding error in the universe”

  1. I find that the most infuriating part of the cosmological argument as presented by the likes of Craig. He denies infinity, because he must. Without it his argument collapses. Despite all the information he demands that the universe has a beginning. However, while denying infinity (to suit his needs) he simultaneously affirms it by claiming his particular god is infinite. It’ maddening to the extreme.

    1. I do like that particular case of special pleading. But God is a case of special pleading beginning to end…
      I like the way that Craig tries to philosophically defend the idea that the universe had a beginning a finite time ago by citing the logical paradoxes of infinite time in the past because it ignores what we’ve been saying. If this universe was born from another universe then the logical paradoxes of time don’t apply because they are independent bubbles of time.
      I also like how he disagrees with Krauss’ “nothing” because it is not “nothing” the way he needs it to be (even though Krauss’ nothing is evidenced and the type Craig needs is asserted without evidence and contrary to existing evidence…).
      I like how God is limited by logical laws (can he make a boulder so heavy not even he can lift it?) when it suits the circumstance, but is not bound by other logical laws (how does One lie in a causal relationship with nothing and effect a result?) when it suits another.

      We could shoot fallacious holes into this argument with our Guns of Common Sense all day. And, in fact, I think we should.

        1. You’re invited to bring a feather duster and find out.
          (I’m not sure that can be said in a -completely- heterosexual way.)

    2. WLC’s denial of infinity drives me nuts. When he elaborates he really proves that he doesn’t understand how infinities work at all. The worst thing is I see other people repeat his arguments quite often. They are so terrible it’s painful

      1. Unfortunately, if one already believes any slick arrangement of words, regardless of whether they are consistent or make sense, will “convince” people… of what they already believe… and admit they won’t sway on… ever.

  2. This was a perfect post. 🙂

    The different cosmological arguments all fail at the same four things. First as you graciously pointed out, at the fact that they claim knowledge about things we do not know anything about, not even enough to make very good guesses. Second, that they succumb ot special pleading in gods, that are outside their own premises for what may, or may not exist. Third, that these premises are often just wordplay with nothing substantial to back them up. And finally, perhaps most importantly, from the position they claim to defend, in being able to provide any link between their cosmological excuses and the particular religion and it’s deities they supposedly are defending and positively making the claim their argument should work as evidence for the existance of their particular deities.

    Of course the other arguments, like the moral ones, get even sillier, but that really does not make the cosmological ones look like very clever at all…

    1. I’m glad I’m not alone in not seeing why apologists insist on dragging out then beaten horse of a defence.
      The poor thing has been humiliated, let it be…

      1. Yes,but is that not interresting? I find it curious, that the theists treat the dead horse of cosmological arguments as if it was something new, that they discovered. It is somehow schitzophrenic, because at the same time they seem to appeal to the idea, that these arguments are the works of ancient authorities and everybody should have found them convincing from the very early days of their own religion. Or, is it just that, that they think they themselves were clever enough to find the one good reason to believe what people have believed often for generations without the power of this “evidence” they offer. Or more likely it is about the fact, that there are actually no people who have faith in gods, because the cosmological argument. Rather, that it is just a technical reassuarance of something, they allready think they know for some other, less philosophical, reasons. That might explain why these people find these sad beaten arguments so compelling.

        Theology is a form of explaining and investigating the existance and intentions of gods to a limited set of people with access to theological arguments, when the same gods themselves seem to have done almost everything in their power to hide their existance and their intentions. Theological arguments are like personal revelations meant only for the select few. Now, if that does not flatter the theologians inner self, then what does?

        By the way, our buddy braudcj never published my final comment on his Thomistic argument post. He is within his rights, though I did not use foul language, or personal attacks, but I find it a bit unfair, for someone to take the last word in an argument by denying the other party liberty of expression. However, better yet, he did let you put in your piece though, and I am still interrested enough to see what he will answer to you, since you argued much better and in more compact form, than I ever did.

        This is a nother curious phenomenon, that the theists often ban atheists from conversations, not because of bad behaviour, but because, they are unable to argue their own issue. I wonder, if atheists ever do the same? I for one have never banned anyone because of that. Or is it because the theist allready thinks, that the atheist position is a personal attack on their personal god?

        1. I know PZ Meyers is accused of banning. I don’t know whether it’s true, but the simple fact that the accusation of banning is worth mentioning means it is rare in the atheist community.

          I was about to go hunting for that blog to see whether he’d made a reply.

          I see most theological arguments as an intellectual facade to justify believing something because they feel like it. But the cosmological is the weird one; everyone just re-words it a little “You’re talking about the WLC version, why don’t you look at my one?” — how about because it’s the exact same argument with the exact same errors with a fantastic new word in it?

          It is sweet of you to comment so my arguing ability. I got my head around the errors in the Cosmological argument about a year ago and now I basically trot out the same rebuttal, because it’s the same argument…

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