8/28/2008

Cosmological Argument Restated – Why I am Here

Conversations with Kevin over at HeathenZ inspired me to write this post. I have tried to expand the comment I posted at HeathenZ and make it a little more understandable. It is a cogent argument for God’s existence from God’s creation, a cosmological argument.

I exist. I must exist in order to deny my own existence. This may seem an obvious point, but some make much of the idea that everything we see is an illusion. Even if that is the case, I must exist in order to have the illusion.

I was caused. There was a time when I came to be. My own self-awareness and the empirical evidence that I find support this.

There must have been a cause of my existence. Something must have existed before me in order to bring about my existence. Out of nothing, nothing comes. There is something now, so there was never nothing. Remember this is about causing to be. It is about existence itself.

If I trace back from the cause of my existence to the cause of the cause of my existence, and so on, I must arrive at something that never came to be. The series of causes cannot go back without end. Some examples follow.

It is not possible to count to the end of the series of positive real numbers when you start at zero (0, 1, 2, 3, 4…). You can always count one more. It is, in one sense, an infinite series of discrete things. You cannot count to the end of the string of positive numbers; it has no end. Starting from zero, you cannot count to the beginning of the string of negative numbers; it has no beginning (0, -1, -2, -3, …). We go endlessly in either direction. We cannot count either up or down through an endless series of numbers. If we count forward to zero, we must start counting from a particular negative number, or we will never count to zero.

It is similarly impossible to move through an infinite series of discrete moments of time. For example, if time extends forward endlessly it will obviously never end. Reversing the process, if time extends endlessly into the past, time would never have arrived at this moment because an endless number of moments of time would have elapsed to get to now.

Going back to the series of causes leading up to me, this series cannot contain an endless number of causes in the past because I would then be the end of an endless series of causes, which is impossible. There must have been a first cause to begin the series of causes that lead to my existence. This first cause must have always existed in order to give a starting place to the series. If there was a time when it did not exist, there would be nothing now.
This first cause must always exist because it has the power of being in itself. Again, it existed before everything else, so nothing else could cause it to be. It’s being is not caused by anything but itself.

This first cause must have the power to bring about everything else. It was the only thing that existed at the time of creation, so everything must have been a result of its action. If it has the power to cause everything to be, it must have the ability to cease to cause everything to be. It can create or destroy.

This first cause must be able to cause itself to act to produce everything else. The first cause existed before everything else, so there was nothing else to cause it to act. This ability to act or not to act implies something like the freedom of choice. Free choice is a key element of personhood.

So the argument has arrived at a being that has always existed and cannot cease to exist (what Christian theology has called being ‘eternal’). This being has the power to bring the universe into existence or take the universe out of existence (what Christian theology has meant by omnipotence; the power to do anything with the creation that is possible), and has the power to cause itself to act (this is part of the foundation for personhood).

What if the universe has some element in it that has always existed? Then that element must have always existed and cannot cease to exist, has the power to bring the universe into existence or destroy it, and has the power to cause itself to act. Now we are just arguing about the name of the first cause, not its essential nature.

This eternal, self-existent, omnipotent, personal First Cause is remarkably similar to the God of Christianity. Other evidence from our universe leads us to other attributes. Design requires an intelligent designer (see search label “Teleological Argument”). Morality requires something to be good (see search label “Moral Argument”). Reasoning abilities require a ground in an unchanging logical being (see search label “Presuppositionalism”). This First Cause has communicated with us in the Person of Jesus Christ (see search label “Argument from Scripture”).

This is my best shot at arguing for God’s existence from the fact of my own existence. Please pardon my limited language skills. (I am, after all, an engineer.) It should at least be a conversation starter. I have tried to state the argument using what I have learned from Norman L. Geisler, R. C. Sproul, and J. P. Moreland. Of course, if I have misunderstood something they wrote or said, it is not their fault.

6 comments:

Moody said...

The argument you here employ for a "First Cause" or "Prime Mover" goes back to Thomas Aquinas. Positing a transcendent cause for the universe is problematic insofar as whatever is posited is also trapped in the parameters of the argument which it is supposed to answer. Hence, your statement that "For anything or anyone to create itself, that thing must exist before it exists. ...[It] is not logically possible to exist before you exist" applies to any supposed first cause.

The Kalam Cosmological Argument fares no better.

Further, your qualities defining "God" (omnipresent, omnipotent, eternal, etc.), which you say indicate the Christian "God", do not only or exclusively indicate such. To take but one example, the Hindus have Paramatma, their "Supreme Being". Your choice of belief is just that: a choice; in other words, it is not a necessary conclusion.

Just because we do not understand or know everything there is to know about the nature and origin of the universe, there is no excuse or reason to leap to the conclusion that "God" exists at all or in any particular way. What you seem to be unable to see is that you have made choices and thereby come to conclusions in your beliefs that suit you but that do not exist as falsifiable truths. Your personal anecdotes do not amount to empirical evidence for your assertions. It seems to me that you do a great deal of work to ensure your continued belief and to reassure yourself that it is right. But still, this does not amount to empirical evidence of the veracity of your claims. There are others equally passionate and thoughtful about their religions, equally as self-assured, equally as convinced, yet you refute them with your anecdotes and personal findings even as they do the same to you.

You asked for people to come to your blog and read for themselves what your arguments are because, you said, your arguments were here expressed more clearly and were ineluctably conclusive in favor of your "God". This does not seem to me to be the case (vide supra).

Finally, I must take exception to your statement that "if time extends endlessly into the past, time would never have arrived at this moment because an endless number of moments of time would have elapsed to get to now". In a space without boundaries, there is no circumference. If there is no circumference then the center is wherever you are (because the space goes on infinitely from wherever you are). This applies to time as well, insofar as one may say that whatever moment you are in is "now", and all time stretches infinitely from where you are. However, one could easily rebut this with the observation that time is not a known infinite; it may end, and it appears to have begun. Time and space are inextricably linked (as we know from physics); they are properties of the known universe that are paired as yin and yang. Before the universe existed, there was no time. There was no time because there was no-thing. This does not (and in fact cannot) speak to what else there might have been or what else there might still be. Put another way, our universe may be like a bubble of sea foam within which we exist, unable to perceive the sea or the other bubbles or whatever else there might be. There is no way (at least presently) for us to know.

J. K. Jones said...

Moody,

Thank you for taking the time to read my post and comment on it.

I think that the "unmoved mover" argument goes back to Aristotle, but I might be wrong about that point of history.

That something must have always existed is the point of the argument. By nature of eternal existence (in the sense of having no begining, the something is not bound by tv only thing that matters to the argument: causation.

The reference to time is an atempt to explain myslef using the common understanding of time. I do not hold that view. I acctually think of time as a perception of a series of causes with a fixed reference point in view. Time is just an abstraction. That's why I uase the word "if" so many times in that paragraph.

The argument is based on causation, and philosophical discussions of "time" are not relevant to it.

Lastly, this argument does not exist in a vacuum. There are other arguments that go along with it, so to speak. Taken as a group, these arguments rule out all god's except one: the God of Christianity.

You might try the search label "Nine reasons why..." where I string them together.

Thanks again for your comment.

J. K. Jones said...

Moody, one other thing.

You insist on the emperical method as the only way to know truth (or at least you imply that).

The emperical / scientific method depends on a whole host of assumptions that cannot be emperically verified. You can't use the scientific method to prove the scientific method works.

Please see the search label "Presuppositionalism."

Moody said...

The method of science is the best method for discovering the facts and their relations. That which is falsifiable and (ipso facto) testable gets beyond the personal biases of any one person. Those hostile to a theory are perfectly capable of testing it for themselves, and frequently do. The ideas of presuppositionalist apologists are only appealing to firmly believing Christians.

Your "Nine Reasons Why" convinces you. It did not convince me. I've heard and read all that before in many other places and the one obvious thing about such anecdotes and thinking is that it is the fruit of a believer's beliefs.

I am not interested in philosophical discussions of time. Use "if" all you want, but you only muddle the conversation with the word if you do then state plainly what you mean. The fact is, you have a baseline in belief that presupposes you are right. You assume, based on your sui generis personal experience and what your books say, that you know the Truth. I don't assume that I know the Truth. I only know what works for me. I can only support what I can test; the rest is hypotheses awaiting testable proofs or disproofs. Regardless, I find nothing in Christianity to convince me. Theistic ontology is, to me, so much foofaraw at best. It makes no difference to me what you or some Muslim or Sikh or Hindu or Jew believes because it has no real bearing on my life. I don't believe what you believe; I don't have faith in what you have faith in; and of paramount importance, I have no need.

I have perused your site and have not seen anything to move me. I am happy for you that you have beliefs that make you feel better or fulfill you as a person. All I'd ask of you is to please not attempt to force your morality/beliefs on me in any way. I prefer the constitutionally protected pluralism of US democracy to any theocracy, and will continue to fight to protect it.

Moody said...

Eratum: "but you only muddle the conversation with the word if you do then state plainly what you mean."

Should read: "but you only muddle the conversation with the word if you do not then state plainly what you mean."

J. K. Jones said...

Moody,

Wheter you admit it or not, the arguments do not assume belief at the on set. You have not and cannot explain why they are circular because they start with basic, undeniable assumptions.

How do you emperically prove that science can be expected to work? Hown can an abstract principle like "nothing can be asserted a true which is not falsifiable" be falsified?

Science assumes that things will behave acording to universal, abstract laws like the laws of logic. It assumes that the future will be as the present is as the past has been, else we cannot learn by experimentation. It assumes that evolution gifted us with the ability to reason to abstract truths that corespond to reality.

Science, by it's very nature, must assume these things because it cannot prove them. They must be assumed in advance before the method can even begin to be used.

Whether you believe the facts the arguments I have given has no bearing on their truth or falsehood. You are simply wrong.

Of course I will not use political power to force my beliefs on anyone. The seperation of church and statevwas a Baptist doctrine long before the US was a nation. Of course, that does not mean I will not try to persuade. To tell me I can't speak freely is in-american.

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