XFiles Friday: What we “learn” from the cosmological argumentApril 25, 2008 — Deacon Duncan
(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 8 )
Chapter 8 marks a major turning point in the book, as Geisler and Turek begin to assume that from this point on they can take God’s existence as a given. They begin the chapter with a quick review of all the things they think they’ve accomplished so far.
From the Cosmological Argument we know that God is:
- Self-existent, timeless, nonspatial, immaterial (since he created time, space, and matter, he must be outside of time, space, and matter). In other words, he is without limits. That is, he is infinite.
- Unimaginably powerful, since he created the entire universe out of nothing.
- Personal, since he chose to convert a state of nothingness into the time-space-material universe (an impersonal force has no ability to make choices).
Wow, eh? How can two men get so much wrong in such a short space? We may be in this chapter for quite some time.
First of all, as we saw before, the cosmological argument is not a valid argument. If time and the material universe both had the same beginning, then the material universe has existed for all of time, and there has never been a time when the material universe did not exist. The universe was not caused because there was no time prior to the beginning of time in which a cause could have happened. So the cosmological argument is bogus, a mere reflection of our limited ability to comprehend the beginning of time and what it really means.
Even if the universe did have a cause, though, look at the train wreck of “logical” conclusions Geisler and Turek draw from this one simple premise. “Space and time cannot create themselves, therefore God created space and time, therefore God is outside of space and time, therefore God has no limits, therefore God is infinite.” Four conclusions, only one of which is actually reasonable and meaningful.
If space and time did have a cause, then yes, that cause would have to be outside of space and time (ignoring for the moment that causes cannot exist outside of time). However, even if the universe did need a cause, that would not mean that the cause would necessarily have to be God. In fact, of all the causes and effects we can actually observe, none of the effects can be shown to be caused by God. If Geisler and Turek want to assume that God is the cause in this one case, they’re entitled to make that assumption, but it is an assumption entirely without real-world justification.
Secondly, if God is outside of space and time, that means He has no spatial or temporal limits, but that’s the most we can say given the premise. To assert that He has absolutely no limits at all, of any kind, is an unwarranted conclusion. For example, suppose He had moral limits, such that He would not be able to commit sins. Could we still say He had no limits? That would be a non-temporal, non-spatial limit. And there may be any number of other limits that were similarly non-spatial and non-temporal.
Thirdly, if God has no limits, then He is infinite. Logically, that seems sound, but in practical terms it’s largely meaningless. Infinite with regards to what? Infinitely large? If He exists outside of space, then size is meaningless; you might as well call Him infinitely small or infinitely diagonal or infinitely donut-shaped. Infinity is meaningful only with respect to some well-defined context in which some things can be greater or lesser than others. Is God infinitely powerful? infinitely evil? infinitely butter-flavored? Geisler and Turek do not say. It’s a meaningless superlative, a kind of anti-Zen that uses nonsense propositions to achieve a faith-friendly lower consciousness.
Moving on, Geisler and Turek conclude from the cosmological argument that God is “unimaginably powerful, since he created the universe out of nothing.” But again, that’s more than we can really conclude based on the evidence given. The cosmological argument does not say anything about the universe being created “out of nothing”–that’s a Biblical concept that Geisler and Turek are sneaking into the discussion without acknowledging it.
In fact, the cosmological argument does assume that something existed prior to the universe: some kind of non-spatial, non-temporal context in which God could be said to exist. Merely asserting that the universe had a cause says nothing about how much “power” would be needed to produce that cause. You can cause an avalanche that moves thousands of tons of snow with just a little nudge in the right place at the right time—an infinitesimal fraction of the power that would be needed to move that much snow back up the mountain.
Likewise, even assuming that God created the universe, and that there existed some kind of environment in which He could exist and could do His work, we have no way of knowing what conditions would exist in that environment, or what effort would be required, under those conditions, to create a universe. The Bible tells us that God created the heavens and the earth by an exercise of divine power, but the cosmological argument says nothing like that, either for or against the idea. Geisler and Turek are claiming cosmological justification for conclusions that are actually mere dogma unrelated to the evidence.
Lastly, I would love to know how Geisler and Turek get from “the universe had a cause” to “God chose to convert a state of nothingness into the space-time-material universe.” Where is the justification for such biased speculation? Do we never see major events happening in the universe apart from personal choices? Do stars only go nova if they make a personal choice to create a bright light source in the night sky? Do volcanoes only build islands out of the sea when they choose to raise a new land mass in the middle of the water?
This last point is the most blatant example of Geisler and Turek’s habit of reaching their pre-determined conclusion regardless of evidential support, but it is by no means the only example. Though they want to claim, later in this chapter, that they’ve “discovered” God purely by scientific means, without referring to the Bible, it’s plain that they know exactly what they think the Bible wants them to find, and are bending every argument to that end.
This brings us only as far as the end of the first page of Chapter 8—and the top half of the page is mostly taken up by the chapter title and a quote from C. S. Lewis. At this fallacy-per-page ratio, we’re going to be spending a lot of time in this chapter. And it’s not going to get any better when we turn the page. On the other hand, this easy stuff is kinda fun, especially since Geisler and Turek seem to think it’s the most solid foundation they can offer for their apologetic. So stay tuned! Next time we’ll look at what they think the teleological argument proves.