The Cosmological Argument

The cosmological argument, first formalized by the ancient Greek philosophers, Plato and Aristotle, and later expanded upon by the thirteenth century philosopher and Saint, Thomas Aquinas, posits that all things natural are the result of a cause, of which could either be kinetic or the result of a universal force, that is, gravity, electromagnetism, the strong nuclear force, or the weak nuclear force, and holds that therefore, because an infinite number of causal predecessors would mathematically negate the present time, a being of supernatural existence, that is, one that exist separate from and is therefore not bound by the laws of physical existence, must be the original cause of physical existence.

Understanding the cosmological argument requires a sufficient knowledge of the meanings of the terms it uses. To begin with, it must be known that “cause” here does not refer only to kinetic causes, but also to what will be here referred to as “force causes,” or the causes that are one of the four universal forces, such as the electromagnetic force being the “force cause” of the spontaneous creation of matter and antimatter. Secondly, it must be known what is meant by the terms “natural” and “supernatural.” Here “natural” refers to anything in existence which has the potentiality to be fully described in mathematical or physical terms. Essentially, this encompasses all matter and space. Conversely, “supernatural” is used to refer to anything which does not posses the potentiality to be described in mathematical or physical terms, as both physics and mathematics are studies of the natural world. Supernatural existence essentially encompasses all things not matter or space. Finally, it must be known that here “being” refers to a conscious existence capable of some form of thought.

The universe is a domino effect, having everything being set into motion by a predecessor. An electron repels away from another electron which was hurled toward it when it was repelled by a third electron which in turn itself was repelled by yet another electron, etc. Eventually, when traced back far enough, it will be found that the initial electron came into existence via spontaneous creation by the electromagnetic force alongside with a positron. Here, many claim, is where the cosmological argument breaks; however, as I have previously pointed out, the “causes” in the cosmological argument do not refer to only simple kinetic causes, that is, the interaction of matter, but also to causes of force, which therefore includes the need to trace the cause of the force’s existence. It must not be assumed that these forces have always been, for there is no evidence to suggest they exist outside of a universe, therefore they may only be as old as the universe they occupy, or, possibly, the respective aspect of the universe which they govern. This leaves the possible cause of the universal forces as either the creation of the universe itself or the creation of the aspects within the universe which they govern. In both cases, this raises the need to trace the cause of the universe. While there is no formal name given to the conditions at which physical existence operates on outside of our own universe, here it will be called “physical law” for the sake of simplicity and brevity. Physical law allows for universes to exist and/or come into existence. It is the preexisting law which now itself begs to be examined for a cause.

Physical law can not be eternal, as it restricts itself from being so. Nor can physical law be one cause in an infinite number of preceding causes, as again, it restricts itself from being so. Should a chain of reactions be infinite, the present would not exist, as an infinite number of preceding reactions await before it to be tripped, with another infinite number of preceding reactions between each one of them, with yet another infinite amount of reactions between those, etc. Much in the same way, if one continually adds dominoes to a chain, the final domino, representing the present, will never be tipped.

The domino chain requires a finite length with a defined beginning; however, as it has been shown, all physical things, that is including forces and physical law, are contingent upon a cause. Therefore, as it has been here shown that an infinite amount of preceding causes is a mathematical impossibility negated by the existence of a present, the initial cause, the first domino, must be supernatural, or, in other words, not bound by physical law.

From this, one may fall into the heresy of reducing God to a mere non-sentient existence, rather than a being. However, this view stems from an attempt, usually subconsciously, to ascribe physical or natural traits to a non-physical or supernatural being. To begin with, to reduce God to non-sentience requires a cause outside of God’s self for the inception of God’s act of creation, thus ascribing physical law to a non-physical being, which therefore makes this reduction invalid. A non-sentience requires the cause of another non-sentience to act, therefore this reduction causes a return to the domino effect which by necessity fails to posses the ability to be applied to the first cause and therefor renders this heresy logically invalid. If such a cause of the inception of God’s act of creation is found inherent in God Himself, it therefore is a non-physical act of God Himself, who is non-physical, rendering this action a thought, therefore requiring a mind, and therefore sentience.

Thus we must conclude that God has four essential traits in common with the God of Abraham which are not shared among other supposed deities. Chiefly, He exists. Secondly, He is eternal, existing outside of and independent from time. Thirdly, He is not physical, acting by sheer will, rather than labor. Finally, He is omnipotent, being able to create universes by willing it alone. In totality, the cosmological argument presents us with an important yet incomplete description of God.

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31 thoughts on “The Cosmological Argument

  1. Your premise that all physical things require a cause fails. The radioactive decay of a heavy nuclei, for example, resulting in the ejection of a neutron or an alpha particle (both physical things), is entirely a chance event.

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    1. The process is contingent upon the existence of matter in the first place. Like I stated in the article, “cause” here is not limited to kinetic cause, but also the results of the conditions of the universe.

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      1. My example goes to “kinetic cause” as you noted, but quantum electrodynamics also features the spontaneous, uncaused creation of pairs of particles from the void which very rapidly annihilate themselves, restoring the books to zero. This phenomenon has been detected experimentally (review the Casimir effect), which is why the arguments of the Schoolmen or the Greeks such as “First Cause” are taking on an antique flavor.

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      2. I hope this doesn’t come off as an insult, but you’re entirely ignoring or misunderstanding the main point offered in the article, that those are contingent upon the preexisting conditions of physical law. In fact, I even specifically talk about the creation of paired particles.

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      3. You seem to insist on an unbroken chain of cause-and-effect, and you think your innovation is that you apply this rule to the regularities of succession as they are traced back (biology to chemistry to physics, etc)…but my point is that the existence of entirely chance phenomena (virtual particle creation, radioactive decay) falsifies the basic claim that there must be an unbroken audit trail in the first place.

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      4. I never claimed to make an innovation, I’m presenting the argument as Aquinas presented it, with clarifications and modern applications being made due to there being limitations in translating philosophically used Latin into modern English. Furthermore, I believe your misunderstanding is actually rooted in the limitations of the English translation of such terms, though I did attempt my best at providing accurate definitions and replacement terms of how Aquinas used the them and what they would have meant in Latin. Essentially, the word Aquinas used (sorry, it escapes my mind at the moment) which has been translated to “cause” meant anything along the lines of “cause, reason for existence, conditions allowing existence” when used in Midevil Latin for philosophy. So, in the case of the phenomenon which you’ve called to attention, “cause” is used to refer to the conditions required for the phenomenon to take place, namely a universe.

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      5. When people set forth to argue about the chain of cause-and-effect it seems to me that they have embarked completely on the wrong track, sort of like when the Earth was said to be supported on an infinite stack of turtles, when in fact the question of what supports the earth isn’t even the correct question to ask. To put forth a cause as a required pre-condition for any effect only applies within the venue of time, which both theists and atheists agree does not extend to the infinite past, but rather terminates with the condition of infinite density at the singularity, when no motion was possible. The word “pre-condition” simply doesn’t apply before time.

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      6. “Precondition” as in existing before the resulting cause (Technically “before” isn’t the right term, I know, but again, this is a lingual limitation), in this case the universe & time within it. I’m using this to refer to the physical qualities of existence which allow for a universe to exist. We don’t have actual scientific terms for this, because we can’t study it (yet). And yes, you are correct in saying motion does not exist at that point, which is why the article makes a point of stating that if there is a God, he does not perform physical labor.

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      7. Linuxgal:

        You write, “To put forth a cause as a required pre-condition for any effect only applies within the venue of time, which both theists and atheists agree does not extend to the infinite past, but rather terminates with the condition of infinite density at the singularity, when no motion was possible. The word “pre-condition” simply doesn’t apply before time.”

        Did nothing cause the Big Bang then?

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      8. I think what you are saying (and correct me if I’m wrong, please), before there was a house (universe), there was a blueprint (Logos?). This means the Cosmological Argument ultimately rests on the Teleological Argument, at least for the theist. An atheist like myself would invoke Occam’s razor and perhaps the Anthropic principle and say the blueprint (the laws of regularities of succession) is simply an empirical fact of reality with no deeper explanation, much like the distribution of primes. To introduce a blueprint drafter would be to multiply entities without need.

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      9. That’s close, but not quite what I’m trying to say. The preconditions are not quite a blueprint, but a stage for a universe, similar to, but not exactly like, how the universe is a stage which allows for radioactive decay. Think of it like this, the universe is a restrictive stage which only allows for certain things to exist or take place within it; accordingly, the “preconditions” is a far less constricting stage, thus allowing multiple and characteristically different universes. Alternatively, it’s a slightly restricted (either by chance or design) canvas to draw a universe on. Or, using your analogy, It’s the land the house was built on.

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      10. “the land the house was built on”

        Then I see why you think that infinite regress is a problem (the same trap that people used to fall into when they tried to imagine how an infinite series of supports could hold up the Earth without a Prime Foundation). It has long been a discredited view that time and space are absolute “stages” on which things move and events play out. Rather, they are emergent concepts that rely on matter to define them. For instance, we see the gap between four particles, and their position relative to one another, and we say there is space. Take away one of the particles and space is replaced by a plane. Take away another and all we have is a line. Leave only one particle, and there is no space at all. The same applies to time. If there are two particles spinning around each other once per second, how do we know unless there is a third as a reference to measure that rate? We cannot. Space and time are properties inherent in the patterns and movement of matter, not a pre-existent arena.

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      11. You’re taking the analogy too far to the point of it breaking. I’m not claiming it’s a literal physical “space” for it to take place, which is why I also offered the analogy of a canvas, but it is the “something else,” if you will, which allows for and places limits upon the ways a universe may exist, possessing very lax rules (EG: allowing the existence of up to 11 dimensions within a universe before collapsing). In this case, Im referring to the multiverse model derived from String Theory, M-Theory.

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      12. Then I I think you have found the sharp line demarcating physics and metaphysics. You propose “something” that you can hold analogous to a canvas, and propose this undefined something places limitations on the possible regularities of succession in a subsequent universe. Whereas physics attempts to the actual regularities of succession as they presently exist in the present universe. So we have a person who is asking “Why?” attempting to use apply the mind tools of the person who only asks “How?” It is not clear that such tools operate over that sharp line.

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      13. The “multiverse” remains speculation, and a “law” is an exceedingly successful theory, such as general relativity, that makes astonishingly precise predictions of future observations, of which M-Theory makes none.

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    2. Linux,

      Probability has nothing to do with cause.

      That something happens now and then simply means that the cause may be complex.

      Probability can help measure the event in some way that helps scientists understand it.

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      1. Quantum systems demonstrate an inherent uncertainty as a fundamental property, without regard to the ability of current technology to measure it. The standard deviation of the position of a particle times the standard deviation of the momentum of that particle equals a constant. So the randomness is built right in.

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      2. Linux,

        Again, uncertainty does not invalidate cause.

        Science is based on the understanding that all things are caused.

        And we are nowhere near understanding quantum mechanics.

        The universe of particles, matter and energy that we know either nothing or very little about, just keeps growing.

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      3. In the same post that you state we do not understand quantum mechanics you deny that some quantum evolutions have no cause. And so I have an answer to my unspoken question as to whether this blog is indeed “Rational Catholicism” as advertised.

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      4. Please quote where I stated that we don’t understand Quantum Mechanics, furthermore, once again, “cause” here is facing lingual limitations of translating philosophical Latin as used in the 13th century, as it here may also refer to prerequisites, such as there being space for paired particles to occupy when spontaneously created. Also, really? An ad hominem? That was neither needed nor does it help in any way to advance the conversation. And the mathematics of M-Theory is entirely sound and generally accepted, given that supersymmetry models are being heavily doubted.

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      5. “Please quote where I stated that we don’t understand Quantum Mechanics,”

        Did you realize there is another commentator on this blog, James?

        Silence of Mind just said: “And we are nowhere near understanding quantum mechanics.” He then proceeded to dismiss my claim that some quantum events have no cause with an unsupported hand-wave. From that I drew my conclusion.

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      6. Linux,

        I dismiss your claim because it is unscientific.

        Science teaches that all things have a cause.

        You don’t understand something, therefore it has no cause, is the claim you are making.

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  2. This is presented in a very interesting way. My only quibble is with your use of the word “universe” as a generic term, either by using it in the plural or by using it with an indefinite article (“a universe”). First, you don’t define “universe”, and second, you seem to assume there is more than one. However, if “universe” is defined as “all that exists”, then there can’t be more than one.

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    1. Ah, you’re right. I should have specified. I’m using the term “universe” at is used in M-Theory (part of string theory), that is, essentially, a bubble of space and time. When referring to all of physical existence, I will use the term cosmos.

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      1. I see. In that case, will you change any of your uses of the word “universe” in your post, or do they stand as is?

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  3. I didn’t mean that I wanted you to do it right away. : ) I was just asking the question, whether you always use the word in the sense of “bubble of space and time” throughout your post, or if you sometimes use it to mean “cosmos”. If the former, then I can re-read the post with that in mind right now. But if your meaning changes, then I will have to wait until you have corrected it.

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