Apr 25, 2011

Exploring Paradoxes: A Refutation of the ‘Cosmological Argument’ for existence of God: Part 1

A Rational View: Unbegining Unending Universe
  •   Objects and Purposes

The objective of this post is to posit and hopefully establish a distinction… that between what I call a ‘cognitive paradox’ and what is popularly understood as a ‘logical paradox’. This I will undertake to do within the larger context of rendering bare some shortcomings of the oft proffered ‘Cosmological argument’ for the existence of god which maintains god as a logical necessity insofar a first cause or a prime mover is a logical necessity in explaining the existence of the universe. Concomitantly, we will consider an alternative view, that of an unbegining unending eternal universe and, most importantly from my standpoint, undertake to tackle in a novel manner some of the apparent paradoxes that arise whilst considering such a view, by considering them as either of the kind Logical or the kind Cognitive.

In the first place, it will be in order to disclose as to why is it that of the myriad philosophical constructions that attempt to rationalize the idea of a god, I chose the Cosmological Argument(henceforth CA) to be the subject of my considered rebuttal. The answer lies in the erotics of Cosmological Argument! It’s sheer simplicity, semblant sufficiency and most of all its psychological self-evidence is what has made CA perhaps the most profound mass-misunderstanding that underpins a belief in god. To the philosophically insensitive the CA, or some plebeian variation of it, is what most ordinarily secures a belief in a god. Even amongst the ones in the habit of thought, there is a considerable faction that lends its credulity to the CA without any significant reservations that I contend are to be unmistakably felt. It has been a part of classical natural theology since at least the ancient Greeks and even Islamic theology has had its discourse on the CA. I should proceed with a brief introduction to the CA. Some of the prominent philosophers who've made the Cosmological Argument in their philosophies are: Plato, Aristotle, Avicenna (Ibn Sina), Gottfried Leibniz, Thomas Aquinas, San Bonaventure, Samuel Clarke and many others.

  • The cosmological Argument:  A Primer

As someone describes it fairly well(for our purpose) on Wikipedia:

                                       “…The cosmological argument is an argument for the existence of a First Cause (or instead, an Uncaused cause) to the universe, and by extension is often used as an argument for the existence of an "unconditioned" or "supreme" being, usually then identified as God.
                                         It is traditionally known as an argument from universal causation, an argument from first cause, the causal argument or the argument from existence. The basic premise of all of these is that something caused the Universe to exist, and this First Cause must be God..."

To reiterate, the basic reasoning embodied in the CA (at least in the popular imagination) is roughly outlined below.

Ahem… there is a universe > it is ordered by cause-effect relationships > all that is there must have been caused by something before it > there must be a long cycle of causes that run back to the beginning of the universe > there needs to be a prime cause or a first cause that set in motion the subsequent cause-effect chain(s) > Voila … that must be god!!!

  • My Cogitations

To begin with, lets turn over in our minds the structure of the logic embedded in the CA. It is presumed, with much justice, that the universe is ordered by causality.  That things, or more precisely the arrow of time, unfold from cause to effect… giving rise to an interlocking web of causation that constitutes the universe. Fair Enough so far!!!
The next step of ratiocination consists of imagining the unfolding of the universe in reverse… to imagine time reversing… the cosmos folding backwards form effect to cause.
It is now claimed by the protagonists of the CA that at some point the antipodean progression from effect to cause will indeed culminate… and do so till such time as is reached some first cause. A first cause which by the virtue of being the first cause is also an uncaused cause. (while every subsequent cause is an effect of an earlier cause and thus a ‘caused’ cause). It is now deemed necessary by the protagonists that it is only God that can grant this cosmogonical formulation a satisfactory closure.
At this point… I’d predict that (for a majority of readers) the cosmological argument as explained above does indeed seem satisfactory and coherent.  We’d now consider it critically!!

  • A case of internal inconsistency

The very chain of logic, that was traversed to reach the penultimate logical step wherefrom the next step is supposed to be an inference to the existence of god, is actually dis-integrated at that last logical step.
The very logical operation of inferring god as the first cause actually violates the premise that was used to reach that point-of-inference.
Put plainly, to assert that there is an uncaused cause, a first cause without any cause... is destruction of the premise that universe is ordered by causality(that each effect is preceded by a cause, which in turn was the effect of another cause and so on)
Premise: All causes lead to their respective effects
Premise 2: All effects are preceded by their respective causes.
Now it is these two premises that allowed us to trace causality backwards and form a chain of logic that apparently led to the point of inferring the ‘first cause’.  Whereupon to assert a ‘first cause’ is to DENY the premise 2 above.
Ergo, to assert a ‘first cause’ in this argument is a contradiction of its own premise! A good old-fashioned logical paradox  ……………… (Paradox 1 or P1)

  • A case of circularity

Now one could set aside the contradiction pointed out above and still attempt to carve out a logical space for god by claiming that the ‘first cause’ be accepted as an axiom, as a first principle, as an explanatory necessity … that is to say as a separate ‘category of being’ exempt from logical rules and formal attributes applicable to other ‘categories of being’.
This approach is equivalent to presuming the existence of a god instead of proving it. It is deducing the same fact in conclusion from the very same fact in premise… i.e. it is a contemptible circular argument of the general form.
Premise: There is a first cause (god) exempt from normal rules of logic
Conclusion: There is a god.
It only restates the premise as the conclusion. This of course fails to prove the existence of god. (Apart from being a travesty of reasoning)

  • The alternative view - Unbegining  Unending Universe (UUU) (& the Case of Infinite regress)

In my opinion, the only way to do away with the problems outlined above (and many not outlined above for the lack of space time and motivation) is to accept an unending chain of cause and effect… ad infinitum. What I advocate here is for the case of ‘infinite regress’. There are good reasons to suppose this to be so.  

To begin with we examine the irresistible logical dictum bequeathed upon humanity by the great Greek philosopher Parmenides… that said “Ex Nihilo Nihil Fit” which is to say that “nothing can come out of nothing”. 

TAKE A MOMENT here to carefully imagine the full logical extent of this dictum!!

Nothingness means NO-THING-NESS. Statelessness itself conceived as a state of being. Nothingness can not contain within itself the possibility of Something-ness or even Anything-ness. Anything that contains within itself a possibility of Anything is NOT Nothing. Thus nothing can really come out of nothing. If there IS… there must have BEEN.  Thus if there is a universe, it always must have been. It can not come out of Nothing.  If the universe does come out of some primordial emptiness… then it can ce concluded that that emptiness contained the potentiality of a universe and thus was NOT nothing.  In effect, an eternal unbegining unending universe neatly fits our logical percepts.

Then of course, we have basic physics to corroborate out case. I take it to be well understood that mass and energy or more precisely mass-energy equivalence can neither be created nor be destroyed… only transformed continuously.  

To aid faster absorption of the import of this tenet into one’s mind… one may undertake a simple but revelatory thought experiment. Now this thought experiment can be as useful with energy as the object of experiment as with matter, but for the concreteness of the imagination let us take the case of matter. All ordinary matter is composed of atoms. Now imagine the matter of any substance in your environment… be it the matter in an atom of your body, an atom in the bottle of water in your fridge, an atom in the chassis of the automobile on the road.. whatever works.. Just LOCK your imagination on this atom. Holding this atom at the center of your field-of-imagination, depict to yourself the ‘life history’ of this atom.  If you have considered an atom in your body then its autobiographical montage may appear somewhat like hereforth…  it may be taken that the carbon atom is currently a part of your bicep muscle. It may have come there from a polypeptide broken from food in your  intestine. There it may have got from the beef stake in the supermarket shelf. Which might in turn have got this from the cellulose in the grass that the cow feed contained. Which in turn might have been in the atmosphere as a carbon oxide before it was incorporated into the vegetation by different life processes.  It may have come in the atmosphere from geological processes of the earth… where it may have been synthesized from smaller atoms by nuclear reactions involving removal/addition of subatomic particles….. so on and so forth we can keep on going… what is apparent (I hope) is that there is no end to this constant materialization-dematerialisation of the matter in question!! ALL matter and energy (mass-energy equivalence) can neither be destroyed and nor be created …. but can only be continuously transformed!! This again reinforces the idea of an unbegining unending eternal universe (UUU) and does away with the need (in fact the possibility) of a divine creator.

I take it that the alternative presented hereinabove is a much more satisfactory view of the existence of the universe than the problem-ridden formulation that flows from the Cosmological Argument.

But our problems do not end here.

  • The Problem of Non-Intuitiveness

(Despite impeccable logicality, to the unbelieving..) it may be unsatisfactory that one should have to imagine an unending chain of cause and effect as the ontological foundation of the universe. It just does not make sense to many that the causes and effects can be traced on backwards endlessly without ever coming to a culmination into something. Quite simply, it is just irreconcilably absurd to many observers that this should be the case as it seems to violate one of the foundations of our intuition i.e. that all things have a beginning and an end!!! Many would call the case of ‘infinte regress’ too as a paradox just as problematic as the one incorporated by the case for ‘first cause’ ………………… (Paradox 2 or P2)

The existence of a paradox in the view emanating from the CA, i.e. P1 and the appearance of a paradox in UUU view, i.e. P2 ….. is sufficient grounds to claim that none is the better of the two and that we cannot assert one over the other with any merit.  

In addition to the general logical superiority of the UUU view over the CA view, even a comparison of the paradoxes (P1 and P2) that inhere in both reveal a fundamental qualitative difference in the nature of the said paradoxes.  It is my contention that the P1 is qualitatively different from P2 and that P1 undermines the CA view quite fundamentally while P2 actually is an artifact of human cognition that does not, as a mere cognitive illusion, impinge upon the tenability of the UUU view.

    End of part 1

    Part 2 can be viewed by clicking here 


    Anonymous said...

    I have not read part 2 but this is what I got from your post . You align yourself with UUU which calls for a never beginning and never ending universe , this also comes from the fact that matter and energy cannot be destroyed only converted from one form to another , okay given .
    Your intelligent self might be aware of a phenomenon known as Browninan motion , where gas molecules constantly move , bumping into each other and objects around . But , these collisions are taken to be perfectly elastic , otherwise it seems the molecules would lose their average energy upon collision and hence come to a liquid state . So , there is a clear indication of a mechanism being in place , a mechanism which ensures the collisions are perfectly elastic , look around you and you would find other such mechanisms all around you . So , given that mass and energy cannot be messed with since it was always there and always will be :
    a) How did the mechanisms come in place ?
    b) Did they evolve over a period of time ? If they did then wouldn't that be against the characteristics of a UUU ? Since , a UUU would be devoid of any such parameters which would lead it to a beginning or an end ?

    Siddharth Kaushal said...

    that is a well considered question!!

    On the origins of physical mechanisms.. keep in mind that 'perfect elasticity' of collisions is only theoretical... there are certain degrees of freedom along which they can oscillate and shake without translating the collision energy to kinetic motion. More so none of the volumetric fluid systems are completely closed and thus there is always a net exchange (gain or loss) of energy from the system to its surroundings which maintains a homestatic equilibrium. (for the atmosphere as a whole you can imagine the insolation from the sun as the primary source of energy)

    But how did brownian motion evolve in the first place? well that is easier to understand with the simplest possible example.. an isolated system of just 2 gas atoms. now given that the individual atoms approximately follow the Classical/Lagrangian mechanics it is but natural that they behave and collide with each other in the manner that they do. If you now add a third atom to this.. it will behave just as the other two and if you keep adding N more atoms you will get the familiar brownian motion as a result of the forces at work and spatial probabilities of the different states of the system.

    if the question is as to where did the Lagrangian mechanics come from... then it is equivalent to asking where did Laws of Physics come from.. and i have no answer to that!! neither does anyone else im sure :)

    but that does not dilute the point.. that wherever the laws of physics come from... it is NOT nothing. Physicality has to be by necessity permanent. The fine constants of the universe may have been different, same or of a different kind before or outside of our universe.. but in any of the cases.. the point stands that it did not begin 'ab intio' or 'ex nihilo'

    it's a little like quantum entanglement.. we can see it, measure it, we know it is true.. but DONT know how it works or how it came about!!


    ruggles said...

    "if the question is as to where did the Lagrangian mechanics come from... then it is equivalent to asking where did Laws of Physics come from.. and i have no answer to that!! neither does anyone else im sure :)"

    My exact question , where did laws of physics come from ? Did they appear out of nowhere , Why and not how does the gravity work just the way it does and in an uniform fashion as well . So what is wrong in assuming a God for laws of physics or a God of Laws of Chemistry , biology . But not a religious god , a omnipresent god but not omnipotent . Bound by the laws created by self this god ensures maintainability of rules created . You can choose not to call him god , call him something else . Let's think beyond the religious/spiritual definitions of a god .

    And if such a god exists I am pretty sure he would have nothing do to with dipshits like us , he would be more concerned with somebody trying to hack the law of gravity or worse still make photons follow the laws of thermodynamics for once . Human beings need to get over this constant mode of self importance that they are in .

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