XFiles Friday: Time for the Cosmological Argument?

(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 3)

We’ve made it to Chapter 3, and it only took 19 weeks. My, how time flies! Having addressed the philosophical question of whether truth exists and is knowable (it does and it is), Geisler and Turek are ready to dig into some serious apologetics. They start off with the Cosmological Argument.


…[T]he Cosmological Argument is the argument from the beginning of the universe. If the universe had a beginning, then the universe had a cause. In logical form, the argument goes like this:

1. Everything that had a beginning had a cause.

2. The universe had a beginning.

3. Therefore the universe had a cause.

The remainder of the chapter consists of citing the evidence that suggests the universe had a beginning, and using that as a basis from which to argue that the cause of the universe must be something very much like God. Along the way, we’re treated to a series of quotes-out-of-context that make it sound like atheists are running around wringing their hands because they know the evidence “contradicts” their beliefs, plus a few anecdotes about theists feeling like they got the best of the exchange in their debates with atheists. But they overlook a very fundamental and important flaw in their reasoning.

Geisler and Turek cite five lines of evidence that support the idea that the universe had a beginning. They even have a handy acronym to make it easier to remember what those lines of evidence are: SURGE.

  • S — Second Law of Thermodynamics (if the universe existed forever, it would have run down by now)
  • U — Universe is expanding (i.e. it’s not steady-state, but is changing in ways that require a definite starting point)
  • R — Radiation from the Big Bang (Big Bang asserts that the universe had a beginning)
  • G — Great Galaxy Seeds (another consequence of the Big Bang, aka Beginning of the Universe)
  • E — Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity (shows that time, space, matter, and energy are all “co-relative”)

Most of the chapter elaborates on these five ideas, interspersed with comments about how the Big Bang poses serious problems for atheists. What Geisler and Turek fail to do, however, is make any distinction between a “problem,” in the sense of a scientific problem (i.e. “Wow, there’s still a lot we don’t yet know about the universe”) and a problem in the sense of something that’s undeniably true even though it’s a contradiction of one’s beliefs. They also fail to think through what they themselves are saying. For example:

Why couldn’t natural forces have produced the universe? Because these scientists know as well as anyone that natural forces–indeed all of nature–were created at the Big Bang. In other words, the Big Bang was the beginning point for the entire physical universe. Time, space and matter came into existence at that point. There was no natural world or natural law prior to the Big Bang. Since a cause cannot come after its effect, natural forces cannot account for the Big Bang.

Geisler and Turek think this is proof of the supernatural, but what they don’t realize is that this completely demolishes the Cosmological Argument. To see how, let’s look at how they address the question of God’s existence.

As we have seen, the Law of Causality is the very foundation of science. Science is a search for causes, and that search is based on our consistent observation that everything that has a beginning has a cause. In fact, the question, “Who made God?” points out how seriously we take the Law of Causality. It’s taken for granted that virtually everything needs a cause.

So why then doesn’t God need a cause? Because the atheist’s contention misunderstands the Law of Causality. The Law of Causality does not say that everything needs a cause. It says that everything that comes to be needs a cause. God did not come to be. No one made God. He is unmade. As an eternal being, God did not have a beginning, so he didn’t need a cause.

Ironclad, right? Nope. What Geisler and Turek manage to overlook–even though it’s right there in their own words–is the fact that the Law of Causality is one of those natural laws that proceeds as a consequence of the Big Bang. Causality is a time-based process, a law that is only meaningful under conditions where time already exists. As Geisler and Turek themselves point out, “a cause cannot come after its effect,” because there is a temporal relationship between the cause (which must occur earlier in time) and the effect (which must come later in time).

It’s easy to see why Geisler and Turek fall into this trap, and even some scientists do as well. Time is such an all-pervasive and fundamental part of our experience that we can’t really conceive of its absence. Naively, we speak of “before time,” even though the word “before” expresses a chronological relationship that requires time to already exist. That is, time has to exist first, and then we can speak in meaningful terms about one thing being before another. Thus, there’s no such thing as “before the Big Bang.”

What this means is that “eternity”–a word describing a certain quantity of time–does not refer to an infinite past, because time itself does not stretch infinitely far back. At most, “eternal” can only refer to something which has existed ever since the Big Bang, because there’s no such thing as “before the Big Bang.” The physical universe, therefore, is indeed eternal. It’s counter-intuitive. We can’t help thinking of eternity as being an expanse of time stretching back to before the Big Bang. But our naive perceptions are like arguing that the world must be flat because if it were round people would fall off the sides and bottom.

Because of the temporal nature of causality, the universe not only does not need a cause, it cannot have one. Because it is meaningless to speak of any time before the Big Bang, there was no time in which any event could have happened which would have caused the universe to come into existence as a consequence. (Even the word “consequence” is based on an implicit assumption that time exists–the “sequence” is a chronological sequence, cause first, followed chronologically by consequence.)

Consider Intelligent Design: before you can create a design, you need a design goal. Having a goal means that you’re thinking of how you want things to be different at some point in the future compared to what they are at the current point in time. Chronology again. At some point in time after you’ve decided on your goal, you must then decide how you’re going to achieve that goal. Thus, the creation of your design is going to require that some amount of time pass after you’ve chosen your goal. And then you need to implement your design, which requires still more time. Even if you’re a magical superbeing and can do all of the above instantaneously, that instant is still a point in time. Time must first exist, in order for some pre-existing cause to produce the effect of the creation of time. But the term “pre-existing” requires that time already exist. Nothing can pre-exist the beginning of time, by definition.

The cause cannot occur after the effect. Time must exist before God can create time. And even if God somehow, miraculously, could create time before time existed, His own chronological existence would coincide with that of the universe. God would indeed have a beginning, in exactly the same sense as the universe did, because that’s when time itself started. The earliest moment at which God could have existed is the earliest moment the universe could have existed, which is the earliest moment–period. If the universe had a beginning (i.e. an earliest point in time where its existence was true), then God did too; if God did not have a beginning, then neither did the universe.

There has never been a time when the physical universe did not exist. In that sense, the universe indeed does not have a beginning and cannot have been caused. Time has a finite minimum value, and does not extend infinitely into the past, which seems to contradict our naive perception of time as being limitless, but that’s our own perceptual frailty at work. It does not change the fact that the physical universe has existed for all of time and is, in the only meaningful sense of the word, eternal. There has never been any time for any deity to create the world–the time literally did not exist. The cosmological argument, therefore, is worthless.

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One Response to “XFiles Friday: Time for the Cosmological Argument?”

  1. XFiles Friday: What we “learn” from the cosmological argument « Evangelical Realism Says:

    […] of all, as we saw before, the cosmological argument is not a valid argument. If time and the material universe both had the […]