Debunking the First Cause argument

First Cause is an argument that often comes up and only today I came across a Muslim making the claim. I also found a chap called Matthew Warner babbling about it on the Catholic Register. Here is how Mr Warner makes his case ...

Atheists belittle beliefs that are based on faith. Yet when I look around the world, I find atheism requires much more of a leap of faith than my Christianity.

When I come across a finely prepared meal on a table, it would be quite a leap of faith to believe that nothing put it there. And it would be far more reasonable to believe that something must have put it there. So it is with all of creation.

Yet, somehow these days believing (the obvious) that somebody put it there is seen as just a bunch of hocus pocus mumbo jumbo unscientific nonsense. After all, when we arrived, the meal had already been prepared. Did you see somebody prepare it? Do you have any scientific evidence to support your claim? No. Therefore, (so goes the popular illogic) it is much more reasonable to conclude that nobody prepared the meal until such proof presents itself.

Let me tell ya. That’s faith alright. It’s also irrational faith.

Ah yes … sorry about that … I should have warned you that you were about to facepalm. It is of course another first cause claim, but he spices it up with the claim that rejecting first cause requires “faith”, and yes he really is being daft enough to actually claim that the null hypothesis is a statement of faith.

So lets now take a quick look at the “First Cause” argument. It comes in various flavours that include:

  • in-esse: God is like a candle and everything else is like the light coming from that candle, so we exist because god does.
  • in-fieri: God set everything in motion. Most popular variations take this form including the famous kalam variation which is islamic in origin, but popularised by William Lane Craig.

If you boil it all down to the basics, the claim is essentially that something caused the Universe to exist, and that this First Cause must be God. Often by extension, the claimed god is not any old anonymous god, but is usually the specific god concept believed in by the claimant. What an amazing coincidence – of all the thousands of gods humans have believed in, theirs turns out to be just the right one and all the others are just myths. For example Mr Lane Craig deploys the Islamic kalam argument, but asserts that it proves his specific Christian god concept and not the Islamic variation.

OK, so what are the problems with this argument?

Problem 1 – It introduces utterly pointless layers of complexity

    • A rule is assumed that everything has a cause, including the universe
    • Since something must have caused the universe … god did it.

The most immediate and obvious reply is to ask, “But what caused God?”. The standard answer is, “Ah, but God has no cause, god is an exception to that rule”. So essentially, an entire layer of pointless complexity called God is invented and then declared to be an exception to the rule that everything has a cause. If you want to get into the game of deciding that there is no cause for the first cause, then it would be far simpler to simply decide that the universe itself has no cause, there is no need to invent additional and utterly pointless layers of complexity, especially when there is no credible objective evidence that can justify such a leap.

Problem 2 – The assumption that causality applies to the universe may not be true

Clearly causality applies to the known world but we have no evidence to verify that it applies to the universe at large, that is simply an assumption. When we think of the big bang, the rapid expansion of the early universe from the singularity, we think of that as the start of both space and also time. The thought that something causes something else describes a sequence of events one after the other in space-time. If you then ask questions such as what caused the big bang, the start of space-time, you are in fact asking a meaningless question. It is perhaps akin to asking what is south of the south pole.

Problem 3 – It is a modern variation of palaeolithic thinking

Once upon a time our ancestors faced deeply mysterious things, lights in the sky, thunder, wind, and so as an attempt to grasp meaning they attributed these to be manifestations of supernatural entities. We now know a lot more and understand all these to be quite natural – no gods required. Our current knowledge and understanding has an ever-expanding boundary, but right now the origin of the universe is still a mystery. There are of course many avenues of research and also thoughts regarding possibilities such as multiple universes, but so far no conclusions .. yet. Right now, when faced with this unknown the “god caused it” claim is simply a reversion to our earlier palaeolithic approach of attributing supernatural entities to the things we don’t understand. This is indeed an answer, and as in every other instance of its deployment, it is not the right one.

Problem 4 – The leap from deism to theism

Even if you accept the premise, which I don’t for the reasons above, it is at best a deist stance and is not in any way a theist stance.

The First Cause claim is not a credible answer and does not withstand factually based criticism, so don’t let others attempt to fool you with it. The problem with invented answers is that they hinder real progress and stop people from seeking the right answer.

Creation science is an attempt to give credibility to Hebrew mythology by making people believe that the world’s foremost biologists, palaeontologists, and geologists are a bunch of incompetent nincompoops.” – Ron Peterson

15 thoughts on “Debunking the First Cause argument”

  1. Nice try…but Something cannot come from nothing and every cause has a cause, which brings us to first cause. First Cause by it’s logical nature is infinite and eternal. All of the scientific hocus pocus you conjure will never change that fact. The Creator is saying, I made this simple enough for the average person to understand. The Creator is laughing at you. As am I.

    • Claim: “Something cannot come from nothing” … and your evidence for this is what? In fact, what exactly do you mean by “nothing”, how would you define that?

      Claim: “every cause has a cause” … but you then go on to claim that there is a first cause that has no cause. That conflicts with this claim. So how does that work?

      What does the term “scientific hocus pocus” even mean? Remind me again who is asserting a claim that a supernatural entity did it all via “hocus pocus”?

      Claim: “The Creator is saying, I made this simple enough for the average person to understand.”
      – How exactly do you know this, are you hearing voices by any chance?

  2. Problem 1: It is generally accepted that anything which begins to exist naturally has a cause, and I can’t really believe that anyone could logically deny that (I’d be please to hear it though). And while it may not be entirely satisfactory, it is perfectly logical to assert that IF god never began to exist, then he doesn’t need a cause. Thus, god is not an exception to the rule, but rather doesn’t fall under its precepts in the first place.

    Problem 2: Of course the assumption MAY not be true, its possible. But the personal explanation of the start of the universe offered by Kalam is better the non-answer offered by science “it simply happened, no explanation needed”. What an unscientific attitude.
    Furthermore, if one properly understands the places of science and its limitations (there, I said it. Science has limits) then it would be clear that we must take some things by ‘faith’. For example, its perfectly logical, rational, and scientifically based (in this case) to believe that the law of gravity is true. Why? Not because I can prove it, because that would entail testing every location in the universe to make sure that somewhere there isn’t a place where the laws of gravity don’t apply, I have to have FAITH that its correct. Plus the word ‘faith’ is not simply a religious word. It simply means to have trust or confidence in some person, entity, or concept (i.e. anyone who believes that apes overtime became humans without actually seeing it happen).

    Problem 3: The God of the Gaps fallacy is certainly a problem for some theists, and one that should be avoided (as should all ad hoc arguments). However, in the case of the beginning of the universe, its perfectly natural to postulate a cause (since science cannot) and even if scientists should some day arrive at a ‘natural’ answer for the beginning of the universe (i.e. explain the mechanics) that simply pushes the bar back a little, and an answer is still required for that specific event which led to the Big Bang. Since there is little rational reason to believe in a Infinite Regress of Causes, eventually there must be an Uncaused Cause (which theists, deists, etc, call God).

    Problem 4: This applies to Craig. Craig uses the Kalam cosmological argument as an argument for the Existence of God alone. He does not use it to define attributes or characteristics of God. (Craig vs. Hitchens So, Craig does not assert that Kalam proves his Christian god, and not the Islamic one, he simply asserts it proves A god. This one is painfully clear if you A) Read his books or B) Watch his debates.

    In addition, its unfair to apply/attach Craig’s arguments to Warner’s position, as they are two separate thinkers and therefore have different views.

    • Mark;
      1. We don’t know if everything needs a cause or not, whether it’s illogical or not, because logic is subjective, and facts are not dependent on that. For example, if we talk about logic, according to my logic, if God never began to exist as you claimed, then it never existed in the first place.

      2.There is absolutely no faith in science. Science has limits, that’s true, but when we refer beyond the limits, we simply say ‘WE DONT KNOW’. And it is a perfectly honest answer. When we start saying I don’t know but I have faith in… It is not a scientific answer anymore.
      Also, Gravity is a theory, and a theory is the highest statement in science you can ever achieve. If we ever discover somewhere in the universe that gravity doesn’t apply, then we are more than happy to change our current theory. We do not have to believe it happens everywhere in the universe of we can’t test it.

    • For every physical thing, there is a cause. That is true as we all see in our daily life. But this logic can not be applied to something which is non physical. God is not physical hence there can not be a cuse for the First Cause. Unfortunately, we believe in things because we can prove with our 5 senses. We forget that these 5 senses can sense only the physical things. Since God is not physical, we can not prove existence of God by testing it with 5 senses. We can prove existence of God only through a non physical way, ie thinking process. Thinking if done unbiasedly, can lead to the proof that God ( we may like to name Him by any word) does exist.

  3. When the claimant speaks of a meal he is talking about something that was re-ordered, not created. The atoms of the meal existed for billions of years before an agent reassembled those atoms into a meal. Everyone acknowledges that living things are agents and so the claim of ‘nothing’ ‘making’ something like a meal is disingenuous, as are most arguments put forth by believers. But let’s play along for a minute and ask the believer “What did God make the Universe out of? 1) Himself? 2) Something other than himself? or 3) Something conjured?” This quickly leads the believer down three possibilities 1) God is something energetic or material and not supernatural (the universe is just part of God’s makeup) 2) Something exists outside of God (the material God chose to make the Universe out of) or 3) Something can indeed come nothing, whether by divine or accidental means (God conjured the Universe from nothing). The arguments put forth by the William Craig’s of the world have all been shot down a long time ago. The problem is believers will never budge on exceptionalism. Their God is the exception to all rules, all morality and all logical and illogical possibilities. Their God is the exception to contradiction and on and on. It’s over. Atheists won and believers lost. If, incredibly, some day we discover a God-like entity creating Universes then that entity will only be God-like, relative to humans. That entity will still be unable to transcend the laws of the realm it exists in. Almost everything modern believers hold dear (afterlife, heaven, being re-united with dead relatives) is a relatively modern invention intelligently designed to keep a human in a state of perpetual childhood so that they can be exploited.

  4. being the “devil’s advocate here”…I don’t believe that adding in God to the mix causes pointless complexity. I also don’t think that the creationist above was implying any unstated rule that there had to be a cause of the universe, and the God was the exception to that rule. In it’s simplest form, I think he was saying “it’s harder for people to accept that nothing created the universe(i.e. that there was no cause), than for people to believe that God made it” In truth, what you should argue is that we don’t know *exactly* what made the universe, but we’re pretty darn sure it’s not God(because of other atheist claims).
    The problem I have with your problem two is that it is not a meaningless question, science is the very essence of that question. “What caused it?” is the reason why we are atheists today. The problem is that, currently, our level of technology is limiting in regards to the origin of the universe.
    the problem I have with your problem 3 is that many Christians(maybe not this creationist, but many) still approve of science. They are as ready to ask the same questions atheists ask in saying “what caused it” because they hope (and even believe) that at the end of it all, we will prove the existence of God. The pitfall of every christian, theist and other religious follower is stopping when you don’t find an answer instead of continuing on.
    in essence, while your response to the creationist’s first-claim is emotionally charged(appealing to some), stronger evidence to invalidate the message is needed. Another idea that would battle the creationist’s claims is this: in his example the meal is already there and prepared for you, and to question that someone prepared it would be foolish. But he doesn’t know that is because we have seen people prepare meals. If we were to never have seen someone prepare any meal in our lifetimes, and come upon that meal already made, we would come to some very weird conclusions. In that sense, the creationist actually agrees with the scientific method. If we see something, and don’t know the cause and automatically assume that it is a god and never question further, we become like the atheists he describes. But if we actually seek knowledge, we become the creationists he describes.

    • The connotations are very different. Deism is the idea that a god does not care about human interests at all. God is aloof and no longer involved. Theism is usually about god being active in human life and having a vested interest in our affairs. They are very different. They both believe in a god but that’s where the similarities end.

    • My Friend, Theism is the concept of a single personal deity. But Deism is the concept of a single but distant and impersonal deity.

  5. A very good analysis, I would and the problem of use-mention error in the phrase “created from nothing”. When the speaker says ‘created’, the are clearly referring to the creation of real things — energy or matter, but they invoke the concept of ‘nothing’ as a basis. This is a categorical error of logic. The speaker must first define ‘nothing’ as a real thing, which I have never heard anyone do in this context, for the phase to have any meaning.

    Categorical errors might appear to be profound statements of reason, but they are not.

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