The Best Arguments for God’s Existence…and Why They Fail: The Cosmological Argument

Why is there something instead of nothing? This oft heard bromide is the most trivial expression of the cosmological argument. Not that the question isn’t worth discussing. So, why is there something instead of nothing?

For many the answer is clearly God. This argument has a long philosophical pedigree extending most famously back to Aristotle’s prime-mover. The mere existence of the universe — aside from the organization of the universe (something we will get to when we encounter the teleological argument) — is a contingent fact that is not required by any sort of logical necessity. But, the reasoning goes; the world cannot be a series of contingent, dependent facts, each relying on the previous one in a causal chain extending back infinitely. This would be an “infinite regress;” something that philosophers generally wish to avoid. So the buck must stop somewhere. That somewhere, or someone, is God.

Now this is a very simplistic overview of the cosmological argument. Modern philosophy — particularly since Leibniz and Clarke formulated the most popular version of the argument — now centers the majority of discussion on the principle of sufficient reason (PSR). Leibniz describes the PSR as follows; “no fact can be real or existent, no statement true, unless there be a sufficient reason why it is so and not otherwise…” Much of the debate now rests upon the significance, veracity and meaning of the PSR.

The principle of sufficient reason has been called, perhaps correctly, the founding tenet of reason itself. It does hold immense intuitive appeal when applied to the general, boring, everyday life about which we reason daily and unremittingly. However, in spite of its appeal to our ruminations about our little corner of the world, it remains to be seen whether or not that appeal can extend to questions of truly cosmic size, duration and importance.

The estimable William Lane Craig — who has done as much as anyone to push respectable Christian philosophy forward — has revitalized the cosmological debate with the Kalam Cosmological Argument. His argument is based on three very simple premises:

– Whatever begins to exist has a cause of its existence. (The PSR)
– The universe began to exist.
– Therefore, the universe has a cause of its existence.

This is the simplest and most compelling form of the cosmological argument.

I will not belabor the points made by many others on both sides of this millennia-old debate. For those interested, a quick Google search will reveal thousands of discussions on this issue that are more in depth than mine (the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a good discussion here).

Thanks in part to philosophers like Craig hanging their hats on the cosmological argument, a voluminous amount of arcane and specific literature — of the type that only academic philosophy can muster — is readily available. That is, if you wish to quibble over the details. But, the most important issues surrounding the cosmological argument are not the proper application of predicate logic or the meaning of “began.” You see, after years of thinking on the topic I have realized that I honestly do not care about the cosmological argument.

And this is the best response when you are asked the inevitable “well how do you think this all got here then?” I don’t care. In this short lifespan of mine I must choose my battles. Irrelevant cosmological questions that challenge the boundaries of human thought are an engagement I wish to skirt. The cosmological argument may provide good grounds for a first cause, and it may not. But my interest in the truth of any issue goes only as far as the relevance of the argument at hand. The serious problem with the cosmological argument is its complete irrelevance.

It is worth pointing out, because many seem to not realize this, that the cosmological argument works equally well in promoting any religion; from Hinduism to Satanism. The argument fails to establish, or even make probable, any characteristics of the deity that make him interesting or relevant — much less those that make Him Jehovah, Yahweh, or Allah. Omniscience, omnipotence, goodness, eternal; not one of these traditional qualities follows from the cosmological argument. If we accept the cosmological argument we can go no further than a belief that, in the beginning, some-thing was there. Aristotle found the argument compelling in establishing as much as it is able; the dry and boring “prime-mover.” What we are left with is no more than a force, a power, a cause; a dull fact that lacks any ethical or practical mandate and creates no pertinent issue.

I find it odd that any ethical monotheist would trot out this argument as relevant to their own position. The argument fails to even demand the existence of a single, monotheistic god. A deistic force, a committee of various intelligences, an eternal dualistic struggle (ala Zoroastrianism), an evil god, an insane god, a stupid god; any of these possibilities (and many more) fulfill the requirements of the cosmological argument. And Nietzsche could have been right; a god could have created the world and is now dead.

It may seem odd that I could so flippantly disregard a question of such seemingly magnificent importance as “why are we here?” And, it may seem particularly odd for someone who, personally, spends most of his time thinking about “big” questions. Part of this confusion may stem from an intrinsic bias imparted to us by living in the shadow of an ethically monotheistic culture. “After all, whoever created the world must be a being that loves us” is the stock position that leaps into our minds. But peaking out of that myopic shadow is vitally important to our awareness. Realizing that there is no necessary connection between a creator, or creative force, and a God who warrants grandiose temples and bleeding martyrs is an important step towards broadening our philosophical horizons. (It would also behoove us to learn that not all Christians have believed in a good, praise-worthy creator-God; i.e. Marcionism)

Also, there are big questions and there are BIG questions. The latter set contains such dingers as “what is the nature of time,” “what is beyond the edge of the universe,” “how do I know that other minds exist?” These questions — either because of the small scope of human action or the limiting effect of human nature (try not believing in other minds) — are made irrelevant by their sheer vastness. The big questions, however, concern the actions and opinions that affect the daily life and happiness of human beings. “Is there a God who deserves worship and rewards or punishes me accordingly” would certainly count as a relevant, big question. As we have seen the cosmological argument has nothing to say on this matter.

There is essentially no theist who believes in God because of the cosmological argument. They believe in God because of a religious tradition that imparts the deity with relevant characteristics. Some may wish to promote a constructive, rational, bottom-up approach to belief building; an approach in which first you establish that something is there (with the cosmological argument), then you establish its nature (with the teleological argument), then you establish its relationship to mankind (via revealed wisdom and scripture). This would be rational, but we all know this is a fantasy. Believers actually go through this process backwards; using the conclusions they reach due to revelation to inform all of their opinions about the previous (rationally primary) questions. I often wonder; if the cosmological argument is so unconvincing and unmotivating to them why do they feel it will be persuasive to non-believers?

Many of the traditional arguments for theism — including all that are found in this series — suffer from this problem of irrelevance. However, none are as inconsequential as the cosmological argument. In short, given the scope of the argument — the paltry “god” that even the best versions can establish — it simply doesn’t matter if the argument is true. And this is about all that needs to be said to eradicate it.

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28 Responses to The Best Arguments for God’s Existence…and Why They Fail: The Cosmological Argument

  1. Hector Plasmic says:

    In the context of the cosmological argument, the question is not “why are we here?” but “how did the universe get here?” It’s a silly question. The universe is where all the “heres” (that we can know about, at least) are.

    Why is there something rather than nothing? The universe has existed for all of time (time being part of space-time, the stuff of the universe). Therefore, there has never been a time when nothing existed. Again, it’s a silly question. Since something has always existed, why would anyone think that nothing existed was ever an option? There is something because there has never been nothing.

  2. eye-of-horus says:

    “I’d never join a club that would have me as a member.”

    That goes for any religion. And ditto, any possible world.

    eye-of-horus

  3. Math Rules says:

    The true idiocy of arguing Atheism is trying to prove a negative, which is impossible in the context. It’s really more Math than science. This is why there is a huge difference between agnosticism and atheism. Atheists aren’t a whole lot different than their religious foes in that they both believe something that cannot be proven. The other similarity is both sides are so full of themselves they can’t see the difference between agnosticism and atheism. I totally agree that Kirk Cameron and the like are imbeclies, and that religion is a waste of time for the most part. The best you can say about God is you don’t know if he/ she/ FSM exists. Sorry folks.

    Let’s put our time someplace useful, like getting religious nutjobs to learn the idiotic history of their own faiths.

  4. “But, the reasoning goes; the world cannot be a series of contingent, dependent facts, each relying on the previous one in a causal chain extending back infinitely. This would be an “infinite regress;” something that philosophers generally wish to avoid.”

    Could somebody explain to me why “infinite regress” is something that’s considered philosophically untenable? Why the universe had to have a beginning?

    The basic problem I see with the cosmological argument is that it doesn’t explain how the universe came to be, it just adds a step — God created the universe. The natural followup to that is “what created God?” And at that point, Christian apolgists typically reply that you’re just being snotty, or some variation on that. Or they argue that its unknowable (hence answering an unknown with another unknown) or that God is eternal (which begs the question as to why the universe requires causation, but not God).

  5. Trevor Burrus says:

    iamcuriousblue: All of those points are valid. There are, however, a lot of philosophical argumentation devoted to all of the points you mentioned. Craig’s book spends a lot of time discussing “actual infinity” versus “potential infinity” with respect to his first to premises. This is why his premise is “everything that began to exist had a cause.” This excludes God, at least in his mind, from the child’s simple yet germane retort, “if God created the universe who created God?” As I stated, getting into this type of quibbling seems to ignore the issue that, even if I grant the truth of the cosmological argument, it is irrelevant.

    Math Rules: For an answer to many of your questions there needs to be a clarification of the terms “atheist” and “agnostic.” I direct you to the article of mine that will appear on the site in a few days.

  6. J. K. Jones says:

    God is eternal. He has no beginning and no end. This is foundational for a very reasonable argument for His existence:

    http://www.souldevice.org/Courses/sample_longpaper.pdf

    Something in the past must have always existed. It is not possible to move through an infinite series of moments of time. For example, if time extends forward out to infinity then it is obvious we will never reach the end of it. Reversing the process, if time extends infinitely into the past, we could never have moved through time from the past to get to this moment.

    Similarly, we cannot expect that an infinite regress of finite causes exists either. That is, if we move backward from ourselves to the things that caused us, then backward to the things that caused them and so on, we must find something that did not have a beginning. Otherwise, we would never have moved through the infinite series of finite causes to get to ourselves. The infinite regression cannot exist in reality. Whatever the first cause was, it must have always been (it is “eternal”) and it must have the power to bring about all we see in the universe (a part of “omnipotence”). We know something of God’s “eternal power and divine nature” from the world we live in.

    Evidence of rational design found in the universe makes belief in God reasonable, especially since the universe as we find it already requires something that has always existed and was powerful enough to bring it about. Ultimately, the historically reliable accounts of Christ’s life found in the New Testament provide enough evidence to be convincing.

  7. JK —

    I’m sorry, but your arguments make no sense. They strike me as simply a series of unsupported assertions and non-sequiturs.

    Small example:

    “if time extends infinitely into the past, we could never have moved through time from the past to get to this moment.”

    That statement doesn’t even make any sense.

    And this coda:

    “Ultimately, the historically reliable accounts of Christ’s life found in the New Testament provide enough evidence to be convincing.”

    That’s a fantastically poor argument for the truth of the Christian faith, even if the cosmological argument is accepted.

  8. J. K. Jones says:

    Simply put: you cannot move through infinity. You can’t count to the end of the numbers. You can always go higher.

    The infinite series cannot be moved through. You never reach the end. If the series of causes started in the past and was infinite, you could not move through it to get to us.

  9. Who is this constant “you” that must move through the infinite series?

    What I’m not seeing is how this is an argument against the idea of an infinite series (or infinite cycle) of causes going back into infinity. I don’t see how the argument you’re presenting even addresses that idea.

  10. Trevor Burrus says:

    J.K. Jones: I understand the point you are trying to make but you are approaching it from the wrong angle. You are making, essentially, a Zeno’s paradox analogy of time; Zeno’s paradox being the claim that movement is impossible because traversing a distance requires going through an infinite amount of divisions of space. But, we still move. An infinity of time does not preclude movement within that set. One could move to a higher place in the set or a lower place in the set. Mathematics shows this to be unquestionably true.

    There is a line of argument to approach on infinity – one of which can be found in Craig’s book – that is provocative. However, things get pretty absurd when we start trying to seriously talk about something like “infinity.”

    This shows through in your posts which reek of the type of theological goldbricking that makes me wonder if you are listening to what you are saying. You confidently and understandingly talk about an Eternal God and an impossible infinity in a manner that is nearly glib. I would assume that you would counter this with clarifying that you are talking about an infinite series vs. an eternal presence. These distinctions dance around a gray area. I need only to redefine the set of the infinite series as an eternally existing set to dodge your objections. This redefinition is also not spurious or disingenuous.

    Again, however, these type of arguments – arguments about things which humans are congenitally unable to speak – are totally meaningless. As I stated in my essay, you don’t believe in God because of the cosmological argument so why would you expect me to? Furthermore, this debate is meaningless unless you can honestly tell me that you are willing to give up your belief in god if the evidence calls for it. I am certainly willing to believe in God if the evidence warrants it. Hell, I’m begging for Him to exist. But many, if not most, Christians will willingly say that they are not willing to accept a world in which God doesn’t exist. Of course, this only goes to show that theism is a psychological disposition rather than a rational response. After you believe in God and his superhero son for irrational purposes you will go back and rationalize your decision ex post facto. Humans are not rational creatures, we are rationalizing creatures.

  11. Trevor Burrus says:

    Oh yeah. You should go live in the Sudan, the slums of Bombay, or as a 12 year old girl locked in her basement and raped nightly by her father before you confidently spout this drivel: “We know something of God’s “eternal power and divine nature” from the world we live in.”

    If your statement is true than God is an asshole. This would be obvious to anyone not clouded by incense, blinded by martyrs and and kowtowing to resurrections.

  12. SmellyTerror says:

    Oh yeah – if god exists he’s not worth worshiping. He’s either poweless or sadistic.

  13. J. K. Jones says:

    Iamcuriousblue, pardon me for using the first person in my comments. Beyond that, if you are questioning your own existence as some are prone to do, I am referring to the you that must exist for you to think up and place posts on this page.

    Trevor Burrus, the analogy with Zeno’s movement paradox breaks down. I am using time as an analogy here. (The proper notion of time is a different matter, which we can discuss if you want.) In an infinite series of finite causes, we are dealing with discrete elements. No one can put an infinite number of discrete points along a line of motion. No one can move through an infinite number of discrete points, either.

    The analogy I have heard from Dawkins in The God Delusion is that the series is like cutting a side of beef into very small sections. Sooner or later, we cannot cut the sections any smaller. That’s exactly my point, except that we would have to note that in your idea of the universe, the side of beef has no end on either side. We could cut sections forever in both directions.

    “Again, however, these type of arguments – arguments about things which humans are congenitally unable to speak – are totally meaningless. ” Did you just try to use words and sentences to explain to me that words and sentences are not meaningful?

    Also, I feel that faith is an area in which logic and rationality apply. If convinced that God does not exist, I will abandon my faith.

    If “theism is a psychological disposition,” then so is atheism. An atheist does not want to believe in God because then he or she might have to answer to Him. Why would I make up a God that requires me to follow laws and threatens me if I do not follow them?

    “Humans are not rational creatures, we are rationalizing creatures.” Did you just used a rationally constructed sentence to explain to me that we do not construct rational sentences?

    On your next post, why do we both think that the situations you describe are intolerable? Why do we both think that wrong is being done and that it matters? More importantly, is there anything that I can personally do to change the situations mentioned!?!

    “This would be obvious to anyone not clouded by incense, blinded by martyrs and and kowtowing to resurrections. ” You can insult me all you want. Ad Hominem arguments are fallacious.

    Smelly Terror, why do you reach that conclusion? Are you saying that there are some things in the universe that are wrong or evil? If so, where do you get the idea of evil from?

  14. I’m not disputing my own existence when I ask about the “you” that you say cannot move through an infinite series. I’m just not clear at all what this self or object is that you say cannot move through an infinite series and how, in any event, that’s a meaningful refutation of the idea of an infinitely receding chain of causality.

    “An atheist does not want to believe in God because then he or she might have to answer to Him. Why would I make up a God that requires me to follow laws and threatens me if I do not follow them?”

    An aside from the question about God’s existence — even if you believe in a God like this, how could one love a God like this. A threatening, wrathful, all-powerful God is certainly worthy of fear, but wholly undeserving of love.

  15. J. K. Jones says:

    Iamcuriousblue,

    Cool, we don’t have to debate the existence of the self. I got tired of doing this on another blog.

    No person or thing can move through an infinite series. But what I was really trying to say was we cannot logically decern how to move through one. Logically, finite things cannot be stringed into one that you can reach the end of.

    You imply that wrath or anger is an evil thing. How do you know that? Is wrath against a thing or a person who is evil wrong?

  16. My point is, to say that a discrete thing cannot move through an infinite series is not an argument against an infinite chain of causality.

    You imply that wrath or anger is an evil thing. How do you know that? Is wrath against a thing or a person who is evil wrong?

    First, I think there is a huge difference between justice and wrath. I think any person with even a basic degree of ethical development can understand that. I would expect a great deal more still from an entity that is supposed to be so much more than a flawed human being.

    Secondly, I don’t expect that somebody who is the target of wrath or punishment to love the entity that is threatening them with punishment, even if that person is “evil”.

  17. Trevor Burrus says:

    J.K. Jones: “Again, however, these type of arguments – arguments about things which humans are congenitally unable to speak – are totally meaningless. ” Did you just try to use words and sentences to explain to me that words and sentences are not meaningful?

    Evidentially you are not aware of the human ability to make syntactically meaningful sentences that do not refer. My point is very simple; we don’t understand infinity. This lack of understanding is a congenital condition. The word itself is simply a negative concept. “Finite” is viable and we certainly understand it. However, although negating the word produces a bonafide word it does not necessarily produce a bonafide concept, much less a bonafide reality.

    I don’t even wish to respond to your points on an infinite series. This is partly because I can’t discern if you are talking about mathematical divisions or physical divisions. Partly it is because I don’t know what you mean by “move through points.” And it is partly because I don’t care. The discussion gets absurd and unwieldy. View this as a retreat if you desire. If you remember from my essay, I don’t care about the cosmological argument. And I meant every word of it.

    “Humans are not rational creatures, we are rationalizing creatures.” Did you just used a rationally constructed sentence to explain to me that we do not construct rational sentences?”

    Again, evidentially you are not aware that constructing “rational” sentences (a concept that itself doesn’t make sense but I’ll go with it) is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for being rational. And, again, I guess must fill you in. Rationality has traditionally been defined by philosophers as “the characteristic agents exhibit when they adopt beliefs for appropriate reasons. ” It is in this sense I claim that humans are not so much rational but rationalizing. Humans excel at adopting beliefs for irrational reasons and then, when asked to explain themselves, retroactively account for the rationality of their decision.

    If you, for example, were born into the faith (and if not then anyone who was) then you clearly did not adopt Christianity for rational reasons but for environmental reasons. Those born into and educated with a faith end up defining themselves as one of the faithful and believing that it is maximally important before they are able to formulate any reasons for belief. As soon as a belief becomes intertwined with self-definition the believer will go to huge steps to maintain their self-image. Anything can be rationalized and countenanced in the name of preserving the self. If you were born into the faith then you will take umbrage towards this comment, and you well should. But, this observation is true even if those in question are fundamentally unable to believe it. If there is one thing that we must believe it is that our beliefs are rational. But, for every human, including me, most of them are not.

    If you were not born into the faith then I doubt that your conversion was a cold, unfeeling act of belief calculus. You tried on Christianity and it fit. Then you went about the act of explaining the rationality of your actions.

    If “theism is a psychological disposition,” then so is atheism. An atheist does not want to believe in God because then he or she might have to answer to Him. Why would I make up a God that requires me to follow laws and threatens me if I do not follow them?

    The first sentence obviously doesn’t follow. A good rule for straight thinking is to be wary of any belief that makes the world a rosier, happier place and/or lifts your status in the world based on a presumed “objective” standard. These are the types of beliefs we are most wont to manufacture due to our psychological bugaboos. Despite your claim, I am honest in saying that I would love to believe in a God that would give purpose and grounding to this purposeless, empty existence. Instead, I must give my life purpose and meaning. Although this is certainly liberating it would be nice to hand the wheel over sometimes.

    As for your last post, you didn’t “make up” God, you were told about him. Secondly, discipline and direction actually make people happier. People spend a lot of time manufacturing reasons to give away their freedom in exchange for security and direction. But, seriously, would you honestly say that being a Christian doesn’t make you happier than if you believed in a Godless universe? If it doesn’t then you are the first Christian I have ever met who would say this. If it does then you answered your own objection.

    On your next post, why do we both think that the situations you describe are intolerable? Why do we both think that wrong is being done and that it matters? More importantly, is there anything that I can personally do to change the situations mentioned!?!

    Don’t try to bring up the argument from morality. I addressed this issue in my previous essay. I’ve read my C.S. Lewis too. And the last sentence is inconsequential. The point is that your God let’s these things happen in the world. It takes a mountain of delusion, explanation and equivocation to explain these events away (and yes I am painfully familiar with theodicies).

    As for the “ad hominem” attack: I honestly believe that Christians are blinded by the pomp and circumstance of their religion and its history. Yes it is an attack and yes I believe it is true.

  18. J. K. Jones says:

    Iamcuriousblue ,

    “My point is, to say that a discrete thing cannot move through an infinite series is not an argument against an infinite chain of causality.”

    If you start at zero and try to count to the end of the numbers, you will never get there. By analogy, this is what I mean when I say you cannot move through an infinite chain of causality. If the chain started now, the end of the chain of causes would never be reached. If there were an infinite chain of causality prior to the point in the chain we are now in the chain would have never reached this point. There must be an uncaused cause at the beginning of the chain of causality or we would never have moved to this point in the chain.

    Infinity is a strange concept when you try to fix it in reality. An infinite chain of causality tries to do this.

    “I think there is a huge difference between justice and wrath.”

    I agree. It just so happens that someone who is truly just must be angry with evil people.

    “I don’t expect that somebody who is the target of wrath or punishment to love the entity that is threatening them with punishment, even if that person is “evil”.”

    I agree. I don’t think we have to like it.

    Trevor Burrus,

    “Again, evidentially you are not aware that constructing “rational” sentences (a concept that itself doesn’t make sense but I’ll go with it) is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for being rational. And, again, I guess must fill you in. Rationality has traditionally been defined by philosophers as “the characteristic agents exhibit when they adopt beliefs for appropriate reasons. ” It is in this sense I claim that humans are not so much rational but rationalizing.”

    I am glad we agree that we can communicate rational, logical, coherent truth in sentence form. Rational sentences are sentences that convey truth claims that correspond to reality.

    “If there is one thing that we must believe it is that our beliefs are rational. But, for every human, including me, most of them are not.”

    If your beliefs are not rational, why are you trying to communicate them to me?

    “But, seriously, would you honestly say that being a Christian doesn’t make you happier than if you believed in a Godless universe?”

    But seriously, wouldn’t you honestly say that being a non-Christian doesn’t make you happier than if you believed in Christianity? Everyone always does what they want to do given the options they have. Everyone always does what makes them most happy in the situation they face. That includes you.

    “Don’t try to bring up the argument from morality. ”

    I didn’t; you did. You still didn’t tell me how I could help. Did you bring these things up just to argue about them?

    “The point is that your God let’s these things happen in the world. It takes a mountain of delusion, explanation and equivocation to explain these events away (and yes I am painfully familiar with theodicies).”

    Yes, He does let these bad things happen in the world. Yes, He created a world in which these evil things could happen. And He did all this to display His own glory. And no it is not immoral or indecent for Him to do this. He is the first and best of all beings. He can display His wrath on some evil persons and His mercy on other evil persons. That’s His prerogative.

    I welcome the personal attacks that I am sure will follow. I pray God’s blessings on you all.

  19. Trevor Burrus says:

    Rational sentences are sentences that convey truth claims that correspond to reality.

    Again sentences aren’t rational, agents are. What you are describing is the correspondence theory of truth. Re-read the definition of “rationality.”

    If your beliefs are not rational, why are you trying to communicate them to me?

    Again re-read my discussion of rationality. We all adopt beliefs for irrational reasons and then attempt to explain their rationality after we believe. This is true of all beliefs about, say, morality (I don’t want to get into a long and pointless debate on this). I didn’t say that every belief we hold, or I or you hold, is irrational.

    But seriously, wouldn’t you honestly say that being a non-Christian doesn’t make you happier than if you believed in Christianity?

    I told you that it would make me happier to be a Christian. There are a lot of possible beliefs I can imagine that would make me happier about me and my place in the world. Christianity is one of them. I also wish that beanies made me fly. Both are ridiculous.

    Everyone always does what makes them most happy in the situation they face. That includes you.

    This is not true. This is what insane people do. There are many possible beliefs that no one believes. There are basic levels of reasonableness and veracity that any belief must pass. Christianity passes the “happy test” but fails the reasonableness and veracity tests.

    “Don’t try to bring up the argument from morality. “

    You certainly intimated this argument at least three times (i.e. “why do we both think that the situations you describe are intolerable? Why do we both think that wrong is being done and that it matters?” and “Are you saying that there are some things in the universe that are wrong or evil? If so, where do you get the idea of evil from?”). I was trying to head you off before you started.

    As for your last paragraph…spoken like a true Southern Baptist.

  20. J. K. Jones says:

    Trevor Burrus,

    You like to argue as much as I do. Cool!

    There will come a point soon that I will have to be absent from the discussion for a while. My father in law has fallen very ill. He is a pastor of a church in Japan, and he is hospitalized in that country. I will need to minister to the needs of my family as the situation unfolds. I will return, assuming of course that I am invited back.

    “I told you that it would make me happier to be a Christian. There are a lot of possible beliefs I can imagine that would make me happier about me and my place in the world. Christianity is one of them. I also wish that beanies made me fly. Both are ridiculous.”

    I don’t believe for one minute that you have chosen any path that does not make you happier for choosing it. Maybe not accepting something you perceive to be wrong makes the world a “rosier, happier place and/or lifts your status in the world based on a presumed “objective” standard.” The objective standard being that there is no objective standard for morality or rational discussion on morals.

    How do you know that Christianity is ridiculous? You have said :

    “We all adopt beliefs for irrational reasons and then attempt to explain their rationality after we believe. This is true of all beliefs about, say, morality (I don’t want to get into a long and pointless debate on this). I didn’t say that every belief we hold, or I or you hold, is irrational.”

    You think that some of your beliefs are rational, and you argue for them in a passionate manner. What is the basis for rationality in your view of the world? How does one decided whether his beliefs are true or false or just the beliefs he has adopted for irrational reasons? In my view of the world, God made me in His image, and He gave me the power to think, to make rational decisions based on objective standards of truth that are logical (coherent) and correspond to reality.

    “Rationality has traditionally been defined by philosophers as “the characteristic agents exhibit when they adopt beliefs for appropriate reasons. ” It is in this sense I claim that humans are not so much rational but rationalizing. Humans excel at adopting beliefs for irrational reasons and then, when asked to explain themselves, retroactively account for the rationality of their decision — If there is one thing that we must believe it is that our beliefs are rational. But, for every human, including me, most of them are not.”

    You must borrow part of the Christian view of the world in order to think that any of your beliefs are rational. Otherwise the view of the world you hold does not allow for any of your beliefs to be rational. In it we are all just organisms that react to our surroundings in ways prescribed by our environments, genetics, etc.

    The notion that God exists must be presupposed for any logical or rational thought to be. And I fully agree with you that “If there is one thing that we must believe it is that our beliefs are rational–” This is a proof of God’s existence because the world is incoherent without the framework God has provided. And the world we find is at least sometimes coherent. You did say, “I didn’t say that every belief we hold, or I or you hold, is irrational.” So at least some of them are.

    I think you will find that I am not the typical Southern Baptist. I am not a philosopher by training, so I will have to learn more of the technical way you all seem to speak. I would ask that you be patient. You are sharpening my understanding, and for that I thank you.

  21. JK Jones writes:

    “If you start at zero and try to count to the end of the numbers, you will never get there. By analogy, this is what I mean when I say you cannot move through an infinite chain of causality. If the chain started now, the end of the chain of causes would never be reached.

    Yes? And? Of course the end of the chain wouldn’t be reached, that’s what makes it infinite, by definition.

    Is there a point to your argument?

  22. SmellyTerror says:

    “Smelly Terror, why do you reach that conclusion? Are you saying that there are some things in the universe that are wrong or evil? If so, where do you get the idea of evil from?”

    Where do I get my concept of wrong and evil? Empathy and culture. Where do you get it?

    If you see something terrible happening and have the power to stop it, but don’t, then I’d have a pretty poor opinion of you, too. Either the all-powful god doesn’t exist, or he chooses to do nothing in the face of terrible suffering. Either way, he’s not worth worshipping.

    Imagine a god that’s actually pretty sadistic, but not terribly powerful. He’s perfectly capable of lying, and creating the idea of a good god simply to taunt humanity, for his own amusement. Doesn’t this god seem to fit this world better than a compassionate one?


    Iamcuriousblue: I gather he’s saying that the universe must have a start, since if it’s infinitely old we couldn’t get to this point in time. So he’s saying (I think) that something must exist outside of time, not bound by the causality that we are, that was able to start the universe.

    I guess he doesn’t realise that time is part of the universe in the same way space is. There was no time when the universe did not exist. There’s no “before” the universe any more than there is a “next to”. Time is finite but boundless.

  23. J. K. Jones says:

    Iamcuriousblue,

    “Yes? And? Of course the end of the chain wouldn’t be reached, that’s what makes it infinite, by definition. Is there a point to your argument?”

    If the infinite series cannot reach an end, how could the series reach this point if it is infinite before this point (never had a beginning). If the series cannot reach the end of the chain, positive infinity as a convention, how can it reach the middle of the chain from negative infinity? The chain must be at a point in the middle of the sequence to move, and then we would have to logically account for why the thing started in the middle. The chain must have a beginning.

    “I guess he doesn’t realize that time is part of the universe in the same way space is. There was no time when the universe did not exist. There’s no “before” the universe any more than there is a “next to”. Time is finite but boundless.”

    Time was brought up in the original post as a analogy. That’s why I used the word “if.” The argument is about a series of physical things (a discrete series, not a continuous one). I am trying to explain by analogy using most people’s understanding of time.

    By the way, the last issues of “Discover” magazine had a brief article on some physicists that are working on a unifying theory (bringing together quantum mechanics and general relativity). If they are right (and they may not be), time falls out of their final equations. Time may just prove to be an abstraction after all. We’ll have to wait and see.

    SmellyTerror,

    “Where do I get my concept of wrong and evil? Empathy and culture. Where do you get it?”

    Let’s pretend for a minute. It’s 1930s German. You are a Jew. I am a Nazi. I have a gun pointed at your head in an attempt to exterminate you and your race. My culture is telling me that I should kill you. What do you say? Should I just feel sorry for you? Why should I empathize with a person who has no value and not pull the trigger? My culture and my sensibilities tell me to destroy you. What do you say?

    Another short but pithy comment overheard by a friend of mine: “In my culture it is taught that we should love our neighbor. In other cultures it is taught that we should eat our neighbors. Do you have a preference?”

    The thing that most atheists don’t realize is that the arguments for God’s existence cannot be separated. They must be addressed all at once. If there is a logical argument that requires an absolute standard of wrong and evil, that standard must be accounted for.

    I am not smuggling in the moral argument for God’s existence. You are.

    “If you see something terrible happening and have the power to stop it, but don’t, then I’d have a pretty poor opinion of you, too. Either the all-powful god doesn’t exist, or he chooses to do nothing in the face of terrible suffering. Either way, he’s not worth worshipping.”

    You are assuming that God will not do anything about evil and that He will not reward good in the future.

    “Imagine a god that’s actually pretty sadistic, but not terribly powerful. He’s perfectly capable of lying, and creating the idea of a good god simply to taunt humanity, for his own amusement. Doesn’t this god seem to fit this world better than a compassionate one?”

    Then why are we not all in hell right now? If God is powerful enough to bring about and uphold the existence of the universe and sadistic, he would have the power to torment us much more than he does now.

    You also have to deal with the teleological argument now. We have established that God exists from the cosmological argument. The teleological argument now requires that we attribute all perfections to that perfect being, including righteousness and goodness, but you may have another post for that discussion.

  24. SmellyTerror says:

    “My culture is telling me that I should kill you. What do you say? Should I just feel sorry for you? Why should I empathize with a person who has no value and not pull the trigger? My culture and my sensibilities tell me to destroy you. What do you say?”

    …but then YOU KILL ME! Where’s God? If people’s morality is God-given, why aren’t you following God’s will? Where’s your guilt? Why is this Nazi doing something he feels is perfectly correct and good, when I think it’s bad? Where is god’s guiding hand?

    Rather than show some unifying morality, your story is an illustration of how humans make up their own morality. You, personally, might like one more than another, but why does your preference mean that it must be the best, or that it must be god given? How do you know the Nazi’s morality isn’t god given? He’d probably think so.

    Similarly with the cannibals: they might just as easily argue that their own morality is god-given. They would be just as certain as you. You believe that their morality was granted by their culture rather than god, don’t you? So what on earth makes you think yours wasn’t?

    Because it’s yours???

    If morality comes from god, then why do different cultures have different moralities? Hell, different CHRISTIANS have different moralities.

    “I am not smuggling in the moral argument for God’s existence. You are.”

    I’m not aware I accused you of smuggling anything. You asked where I get my morality from, and I answered. Were you merely curious? Who knows! But I am an accommodating fellow.

    “You are assuming that God will not do anything about evil and that He will not reward good in the future.”

    Oh, the FUTURE! Fear not, baby being tortured! I will eventually punish the evil doer and alleviate your suffering! I mean, not right now, of course. Only after you’re dead.

    Yeah, I’d really respect the hero that said that.

    What on earth makes you believe that anything will happen to anyone after death? A book written by goat herders? Seriously, I’ll write you a book that says it’s from god, and that says murderers all go to valhalla. What’s to choose between them?

    “Then why are we not all in hell right now?”

    By the same reasoning, why aren’t we in heaven right now if god is good?

    “If God is powerful enough to bring about and uphold the existence of the universe, he would have the power to torment us much more than he does now.”

    Again, by the same reasoning, wouldn’t a good god have the power to make the world better than it is now? So why doesn’t he?

    So your argument proving the non-existence of a bad god can be applied equally to a good god. Did that occur to you? That you have just (by your terms) disproved a god that is either good or evil? Are you joining us atheists now?

    Even if there was a god, what on earth makes you think he’s good? Because a book tells you so? Even assuming this book really is from god, what makes you think he’s telling the truth?

    “We have established that God exists from the cosmological argument. ”

    What? When did that happen??? Here you are in a thread about how the argument fails, and you suggest it’s actually be proven. Can you point to this proof? I missed it.

  25. J. K. Jones says:

    “If people’s morality is God-given, why aren’t you following God’s will?”

    This is where we get into sin. Please take the time to read the fourth comment (most of the rest of the dicussion on that post does not apply to our discussion yet) at:

    http://jkjonesthinks.blogspot.com/2007/05/linear-argument-showing-bible-to-be.html

  26. Jake Lyman says:

    If something dies, and it is full of disease, what is the best way to be rid of that disease? What is the best way to ensure that the disease will NOT infect another living thing?

  27. TyberiusMax says:

    I do not see how people can forget about info that disporves infinity and go back to believing it
    ————————————————————–
    The universe cannot be infinitely old because that would mean that matter or energy has been here forever
    But where did that matter or energy come from, since it cannot be created.
    Did it just appear out of nothing!?!?

    Yet we know “pure nothing” cannot exist, there is always matter or energy, and that if there is matter or energy where did this matter or energy come from?

    Also:
    I quote Professor Paul Davies
    “One evasive tactic is to claim that the universe didn’t have a beginning, and that it has existed for all eternity. Unfortunately, there are many scientific reasons why this obvious idea is unsound. For starters, given an infinite amount of time, anything that can happen will already have happened, for if a physical process is likely to occur with a certain nonzero probability-however small-then given an infinite amount of time the process must occur, with probability one. By now, the universe should have reached some sort of final state in which all possible physical processes have run their course. Furthermore, you don’t explain the existence of the universe by asserting that it has always existed. That is rather like saying that nobody wrote the Bible: it was. It was just copied from earlier versions.”
    I quote Keith Mayes who uses info from Stephen Hawking:
    “I understand that many people have a problem with the idea of our universe being finite, that it has an ‘end’ to it, a boundary. They ask what this boundary would be physically like, as though it were some form of partition that we couldn’t get through. However, there is not a particular direction that we could set off in our warp speed space craft that would lead us to a boundary, no matter how far or fast we travelled. The explanation for this seeming impossibility is that space-time is curved, thus you would be travelling in a circle that only appears to be a straight line. If it were possible to direct a laser beam from here through the centre of the universe it would not hit the other side of the universe, it would eventually hit the back of your head (metaphorically speaking). Einstein demonstrated how matter in the universe distorts the space-time continuum by accurately predicting how much our Sun distorted local space. He used a total eclipse of the Sun (as the only time that stars and the Sun can be seen at the same time in close proximity) to demonstrate that a star that was behind the Sun, and therefore not visible from our line of sight, would in fact be visible (in the darkness of totality) because the Sun warps the space-time around it and thus curves the light beam around the Sun, enabling us to see the star. Strictly speaking, the Sun does not actually curve the light around itself, the entire space-time continuum is curved, the light is still travelling in a ‘straight’ line.”
    “I do not believe that infinity exists in our universe.”
    END QUOTE
    The last part is what it all comes down to. Even after this, there is still no way yet of explaining what created our “curved space-time universe” This is why infinity cannot be applied to the universe.
    The question once again goes right back to “but how does this curved space-time universe” in which infinity does not exist relate to what could be outside of it. You cannot because it is curved and we are bounded by this.
    We cannot yet explain how a universe that has no infinity could have come to existence in the first place because that would contradictorily require something to be infinite to create this finite universe.
    It is simple as that, an unresolved question, there truly is no answer yet to how the universe could come to be when it itself requires something infinite

  28. Pingback: Science Ouch » The Best Arguments for God's Existence: The Cosmological Argument

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