Don’t Take It Personally

If the Universe has a beginning, it must also have a cause, and I believe it can be argued successfully that both are true; which I believe entails  a personal immaterial cause; one which is un-mechanical and not determined by physical laws.  We know scientifically and philosophically the universe is not infinitely old, it has not simply existed forever.

It is important to realize that the impossibility to attain an infinite number of things or events has nothing to do with the amount of time allotted and no matter how much time is available; obtaining an actual infinite is not possible.  This soon becomes obvious (depending how determined you are!) to anyone trying to count to infinity, no matter how high one counts you can always add one more.

This is equally true for one who claims that there can be an infinite past ending at the present.  Starting at zero and counting back, -1, -2, -3… but you can always subtract one more thing or event, except you will find that this results in never having a starting point.  This concept somehow escapes those who claim the universe has always existed, overlooking the fact that time and space never could have started.  This is the problem of traversing the infinite; having to pass through an infinite amount of events in order to reach the present event. So before the present moment can exist, the previous moment would have to occur, and so on.

Therefore, the universe being a series of time and events cannot be an infinite collection of events; since in order to reach the present point in time, the universe would have to traverse an infinite amount of time, which is impossible. If the universe did not begin a finite time ago, then the present time would never arrive, which it obviously has.  Therefore, we know the universe is finite, and did begin to exist.  If someone were to deny the beginning of the universe both arguments from philosophy and science need to be defeated, not simply dismissed.

There needs to be an explanation of the universe’s beginning.  Nothing can bring itself into existence, the universe needs an external cause.  As the cause of space and time, this entity must transcend space and time and exist atemporally and non-spatially.  The transcendent cause must therefore be immaterial and changeless, since timelessness entails changelessness, and changelessness implies immateriality (entropy).  This cause must necessarily be without a beginning and without cause, since there cannot be an infinite regress of causes as shown above.

There are two types of causal explanations: scientific explanations in terms of the laws of physics and initial conditions, or personal explanations in terms of agents and their volitions.  For example, if I come upon a campground with a camp fire burning, I may ask why is there a fire burning, I may elicit two responses.  The first account of the fire being a description of the flammable or combustible material, and its relation to the fuel and heat source and physical causal conditions of the flame.  I may also get a response like “We are planning on roasting marshmallows”. 

The first response is scientific, and the second is personal in regards to the explanation.  The scientific explanation cannot be used to describe the first cause of the universe since before the universe there was nothing and cannot be accounted for in scientific terms.  There was no material prior to the Big Bang with no laws of physics.  It must therefore be a personal explanation accounted for by an agent with volitions.

The universe exists contingently, the universe does not have to exist.  There must be a reason that it does now exist.  Because the universe is contingent, its beginning must be a personal agent who freely chooses to create the universe in time.  If the cause were purely material and naturalistic, then as soon as the sufficient and efficient causes were in place, the universe would then automatically be forced into existence.  This would have had to happen an infinite time ago, which again is impossible.  We must conclude the universe had a changeless, timeless, immaterial, agent as the cause of the universe.  Theists describe the cause as God.

Comments

  1. This begets several questions. Why must the universe require a beginning? Could it not have always existed in varying forms? We have far from sufficient knowledge of the universe to say that this is impossible. In fact, there are theories which postulate this idea. Through implication, you seem to accept that God just happed to always exist. And you make this assumption without one iota of proof that God even exists, much less that he always existed.

    • Unfortunately every question and point you offer was addressed in the article. Why does the universe need a beginning? Because an actual infinite cannot exist, either into the future or into the past, it is philosophically impossible. The laws of entropy dictate that if the universe were infinitely old, it would have already suffered heat death. There are no reputable astronomers who would hold to the steady state theory of the universe today, the Big Bang is the current best attested model in place. Multiverse and oscelating universe theories do not have any actual evidence in favor of them, but rather rely on hypothetical information, i.e. use formulas which do not represent the laws of physics as they actually are.

      It is not simply that God happened to always exist. An eternal, non-physical entity which is powerful enough to bring into the existence of the universe must exist. Here is the classic evasion. Its not that there is not one iota of evidence that God exists, you simply dismiss out of hand the evidence. The cosmological arguments in all its forms, the ontological argument, the axiomatic argument, the teleological argument, to name a few philosophical evidences. You dismiss out of hand any claim to miracles, you are doing exactly what naturalists do. You define (arbitrarily) out of the discussion what counts as evidence, then claim there is none.

      Next time you reply, offer a refutation. Please dont come back and offer (as you did this time) questions and statements which the article already addresses.

      • The big bang does not exclude any of these other theories – multiverse, holographic, or universe from nothing. In fact, these other theories attempt to explain what the big bang does not explain – before the bang the end(if there is one). There is no single universe ending theory which holds sway today. Clearly, the universe is not steady state, and none of these other theories propose such. Your description above also takes a very linear and assumed use of time. While relativity has issues, it is correct as showing time as relative, this we can prove. Thus, all of your counting forwards and backwards as evidence for a beginning and lack of infinite is also based on lack evidence. We know time is relative, how does time look in the absence of matter? How does it look in the absence of a universe? We have no idea about this, yet you fill in your beliefs as if you do know. That is quite disingenuous.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multiverse
        http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/04/100409-black-holes-alternate-universe-multiverse-einstein-wormholes/
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holographic_principle

        There is a tremendous amount that we do not know of the universe. Your summation of it is a loose description of many theories, all of which are known to be incomplete and with big gaps. You then take the white space of the unknown and say “God.” I could equally fill in the whitespace with whatever I wanted. The universe has attributes that we have not yet discovered which allow it to exist outside of time and space under certain conditions. Your theory of God as the source is no more valid than my theory. There is no proof of either. Take all the attributes that you think god needs to exist and apply them to some property of the universe. Again, just as valid as your theory.

        Which brings us to proof of god. I am no philosopher. And while enjoy the mental exercises of philosophical debate, that is not what I am referring to when I say that there is no proof of god. Just as your above theory where you take the unknown and answer it with god, so to with miracles. You cannot just take something that is not understood and inject anything you want as the answer. When you do this, all answers become equal, with none being sufficient.

  2. grizzlybaker says:

    [What shows in “awaiting moderation” lacks where I’ve use quotes, so assuming it chooses to stay that way, I’ll repost what I just said with asterisks in place of blockquotes.]

    *”Because an actual infinite cannot exist, either into the future or into the past, it is philosophically impossible.”*

    Until you special plead your god into that position, right?
    Your argument amounts to
    1) Everything that exists must have a cause.
    2) The universe exists.
    3) Therefore, the universe must have a cause.
    4) God is that cause.

    PROTIP: If God exists, then God must have a cause, and thus you’ve managed to refute your own argument. Your logic is unsound. If 4 can be true, then 1 isn’t. Or is it turtles all the way down?

    Moreover, you fail to make the leap that every theist seems to fail. Assuming even that your logic were sound, you established a force. Not even a god, until you define exactly what one of those is. All you’ve (failed to) show(n) is that there is a “something” that started the universe. Judging from the state of the world, my money is on Loki creating us as a joke.

    *”You dismiss out of hand any claim to miracles, you are doing exactly what naturalists do. You define (arbitrarily) out of the discussion what counts as evidence, then claim there is none.”*

    Those mean ol’ naturalists. How dare they ask for evidence. If there were any evidence for miracles beyond anecdotes, please provide them. The absence of evidence is one of the reasons I left religion. Please also explain the equally-credible “miracles” found in other religions if your deity is the right one.

    *”There was no material prior to the Big Bang with no laws of physics. It must therefore be a personal explanation accounted for by an agent with volitions.”*

    I’m surprised to hear that you know what existed before the Big Bang, because actual cosmologists don’t. Please show the experiments you’ve done on the topic.

    *”The universe exists contingently, the universe does not have to exist. “*

    Prove it. Show your work.

    • Here’s our problem. Atheists routinly, and you are no exception, misunderstand the argument. I will start with:

      ***”Because an actual infinite cannot exist, either into the future or into the past, it is philosophically impossible.”

      Until you special plead your god into that position, right?
      Your argument amounts to
      1) Everything that exists must have a cause.
      2) The universe exists.
      3) Therefore, the universe must have a cause.
      4) God is that cause.

      PROTIP: If God exists, then God must have a cause, and thus you’ve managed to refute your own argument. Your logic is unsound. If 4 can be true, then 1 isn’t. Or is it turtles all the way down?”***

      Your first objection seems to be that you believe on one hand I claim an actual infinite cannot exist, but then attempt to make this claim for God. Unfortunately you are equivovating “infinite”. God is not an infinite quantity, God is of infine quality. There is a difference. It is this difference that leads to the rest of your argumentation. Your sylogism is also a misrepresentation of the cosmological argument. It is not “everything that exists must have a cause” but rather everything which begins to exist, must have a cause”. So since you have both misunderstood and misrepresented the argument, you’ll need to start again.

      ***Moreover, you fail to make the leap that every theist seems to fail. Assuming even that your logic were sound, you established a force. Not even a god, until you define exactly what one of those is. All you’ve (failed to) show(n) is that there is a “something” that started the universe. Judging from the state of the world, my money is on Loki creating us as a joke.***

      Again, you are addressing an argument I am not making. The cosmological argument, and my argument above is not an evidence per se for the God of the Bible, but rather that a “something” is responsible, and I argue that it must be a “personal something” which started the universe. And I suppose your last sentence of mockery is thrown in for good measure?

      ***”You dismiss out of hand any claim to miracles, you are doing exactly what naturalists do. You define (arbitrarily) out of the discussion what counts as evidence, then claim there is none.”

      Those mean ol’ naturalists. How dare they ask for evidence. If there were any evidence for miracles beyond anecdotes, please provide them. The absence of evidence is one of the reasons I left religion. Please also explain the equally-credible “miracles” found in other religions if your deity is the right one.***

      I’m not sure what you would consider evidence, probably nothing, so I don’t know what it is you want me to say here. But just for your future reference, biblical miracles by definition are very rare, of a supernatural origin, and happen in a context as evidence the person claiming to speak for God was truly speaking for God. Furthermore, miracle claims of other religious systems do not disprove or undercut the veracity of miracles as recorded in the Bible. Each claim must be judged on its own merits.

      ***”There was no material prior to the Big Bang with no laws of physics. It must therefore be a personal explanation accounted for by an agent with volitions.”

      I’m surprised to hear that you know what existed before the Big Bang, because actual cosmologists don’t. Please show the experiments you’ve done on the topic.

      ”The universe exists contingently, the universe does not have to exist. “***

      Cosmologists have for quite some time held that at the Big Bang the universe came into existence. That it was the beginning of matter, time and space. I do not need to be a cosmologist in order to read and understand what cosmologists have to say about the issue, as I’m sure you do not need to be a theologian in order to comment on the work of theologians, do you? But, yes, the universe is contingent. I have never come across an astronomer or cosmologist or physicist who posits the universe has qualities which make its existence necessary.

      As an fyi, I rarely if ever entertain comments which contain mockery and derision such as yours, and I won’t again. I did feel a need to show where you were not understanding the argument and the points at which you misprepresented it.

      • As I pointed out, you not only failed to show that the universe must have a beginning and that an infinite must exist. Two of the main points of your entire post are incorrect.

        What cosmologists have held for some time is that the big bang is he point where the universe AS WE KNOW IT came into existence. Cosmologists and physicists have posited numerous theories about what things looked like before the big bang. I posted links to a few of these already. This is a deeper explanation of why your first point of the universe requiring a beginning is so incredibly flawed.

        I already described why your concept of infinite is already flawed in my first post. Our concept of infinite, in regard to time, is meaningless. Time is relative and we have no concept of what time looked like before the big bang. And without even knowing if the universe had a beginning this is an entirely moot point as well.

        Lastly, you continue to do what theists have done since the dawn of man. If we do not know the answer to something, you say god did it. If any mode of operation can be shown as flawed, it is this one. 2000 years ago, earthquakes, volcanos, storms, etc. etc. were all chalked up to god. And science has been destroying those assertions on an ever increasing rate. When you inject whatever unsupported answer you want as the answer, then all are equal.

        • You are just talking past my article and comments. What you keep missing is that there cannot be an infinite regress into the past. Whether time is relative or not, you cannot simply go back forever, you would never be able to start without a beginning.

          Before the Big Bang, there was no time, what you either arent reading or understanding is all the scientists who speculate about “before” the big bang, is that they are doing just that, speculating with theoretical equasions, not using the actual physical constants of the universe. There is no evidence of a “before” the big bang, in fact the actual evidence, not theoretical evidence, says there was no before.

          The mantra of “god of the gaps” assertion is growing tiresome. No one says “we dont know, so it must be God”…NO ONE, so lets not play that strawman.

          If you want further interaction from me, you’ll need to start offering arguments for the possibility of an actual infinite, the ability to traverse an infinite, and how the universe does not have or need a beginning.

          • I am sorry if you feel that I am talking past your article, that is not my intent. I also happen to feel that you are talking past me. Let me try this a different way. You are claiming that infinite cannot exist. I disagree with that assertion. Here are two links to credible sources which disagree with you and claim that infinite exists, in mathematics, set theory, and physics.

            http://www.math.toronto.edu/mathnet/answers/infinity.html
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infinity#Physics

            The rest of your argument is contingent upon your infinite assertion, but I will address pieces of it also because there seem to be flaws that are worthy of note. You claim that the universe MUST have had a beginning and an end and thus needed a first mover. Please watch the video from Lawerence Krauss that I posted above. It is a bit long, but gives a decent layman explanation of a universe from nothing. The crux of the piece being that we know that quantum fluctuations occur from nothing observable in dead space. There are other theories which also try to explain the universe before the big bang, which simply express the universe in vastly different terms. There is no current theory of the preuniverse which holds sway. But these two theories I am listing have a strong mathematical basis and align with the big bang.

            http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/news/2008/02/qa_turok

            Another item that I find objectionable is what seems to me to be a discrepancy in your logic. I realize that someone asked this above, but the quoting makes the follow on post very cumbersome to read. You say infinite cannot exist, they say that god can exist because it is an infinite quantity. Why could you not take any attribute that you use to claim that god is infinite or an infinite quantity and say exactly the same thing about the universe. You are speaking in unknowns about god, why is it not then just as fair to speak in unknowns about the universe. I do not think that there was any misunderstanding at all of what you wrote above. You seem to simply desire to not express to the universe the same attributes of god.

            The last item of debate is still the “god of the gaps.” As I said above, I reject your claims, and so does science, that infinite cannot exist. If I did accepted those claims, then the universe AS WE KNOW IT, would indeed require a beginning and a cause. But knowing that cause, is unknowable. (Actually, it is not, if you watch/read Krauss’ theory). You say “Theists describe the cause as God.” This is a god of the gaps explanation. We do not know, you say god. This makes ANY reasonable hypothesis just as valid – with no hypothesis really being valid.

            • Neither of your links for defending the possibility of an actual infinite defend your position. Ok, infinity is possible in theory. Math uses it, physics has descriptions of it, but it is all theoretical. It does not exist in reality, with real objects.

              I also see you say scientists are using theories to try to explain what was before the big bang. Do you see that is what I am saying. There isnt evidence for it, they use hypothetical equasions, and philosophical reasonings to suppose what might be, but not that any evidence suggests there is.

              • Even if you assume that the links supply only a theoretical basis for infinite, that is enough. You are asserting that infinite is impossible, you do this from a philosophical perspective. I disagree with your assertion and provided links that show that the infinite does indeed exist in mathematics, set theory and physics. I am unsure how to resolve the discrepancy, but I do not need. It seems at least as possible that infinite exists as does not, and the rest of your theory is contingent upon infinite.

                The theories I presented do more than use just philosophical reasoning and hypothetical equations. There is a lot of real math and actual experimentation behind their claims. Particularly Krauss. But it is, just theoretical. I am not trying to claim any of these theories as robust (yet). You claimed the universe must have had a first mover, and you supplied no evidence of such. I disagree with that assertion and supply the theory of a flat universe from nothing (Krauss). And while his theory is far, far from certain, it is backed by mathematics and experimentation, which makes it at least as valid as your theory. I find it odd that you are complaining about these theories as not containing enough evidence. Do you feel that the theory you posited has any more evidence? It seems to me that at least these theories have a moderate amount of evidence, which I do not see in your theory.

              • How should I interpret your lack of response on this thread?

              • It stems from you not being able to distinguish between a theoretical infinite, and an infinite in reality, I don’t see how to proceed if you think an abstract idea is the same as the real world.

                If we can see the difference, then we can continue with a discussion which is based on the way things are and not how hypothically and theoretically.

              • That is interesting. The links I posted did not mention “theory” anywhere. They answer the question that infinite does indeed exist. But, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that they do not. How do you KNOW that infinite cannot exist? You are making this assertion, please back it up with hard evidence. So far, all you have posited is your opinion.

                Beyond even the infinite argument, I have presented to you with other theories that do show a universe springing into existence without a creator: Krauss video. And examples which show that we do not know what existed before the big bang. That what you call creation is more likely just transition. These other theories have both math and experimentation behind them. Your theory has only opinion.

                The two major points of your entire piece are shown as highly disputable, at a minimum.

  3. grizzlybaker says:

    The Bible is as much evidence for Yahweh as the Odyssey is evidence for Poseidon. So, no, the miracles in the Bible count for squat, because the Bible is a book, and books can say lots of things that have no bearing on reality.

    Moreover, we’ve seen throughout history that supernatural explanations are overturned by natural explanations that describe the world better, and no movement in the other direction. In other words, the Bible as proof is further removed from the discussion.

    I will take your response as, “No, I have no evidence of any miracles.”

    //Furthermore, miracle claims of other religious systems do not disprove or undercut the veracity of miracles as recorded in the Bible. Each claim must be judged on its own merits.//

    No. You are asserting a hypothesis that God is the explanation for a number of facts. The God you assert exists alone (although your actual argument doesn’t preclude 2, 3, or more gods). A theory must explain all of the available evidence. If you see a flash of light and assert that it is the God of the Bible, then it would not make sense for a Hindu to see Krishna in a flash of light. Your theory is then falsified, for it cannot explain all of the data.

    And you keep missing the point, that you have shown no evidence about what started the Universe, and yet repeatedly talk about “God,” by which you can only mean the Christian God. So please, stop with these games of “I’m not asserting any particular god, a force works too,” and then immediately start talking about the traits of your particular deity.

    Furthermore, you mention that you have argued that this “totally NOT God” god is “personal”. No you haven’t. Never do you mention how you ascertained that quality in your essay, or even defined what “personal” means.

    Moreover, as has been repeatedly brought up, we don’t know what existed before the Big Bang. The term itself refers to the expansion of energy, and then matter, from some previous state. Unfortunately, relativity doesn’t work before this, so, no, not even cosmologists know what existed then. Certainly it was the beginning of *our* universe. But what existed before? What does “before” mean when there is no time? Who knows. You certainly don’t.

    This isn’t going to go anywhere before you begin to understand cosmology.

  4. Once again, Mr. Barron applies his tactics and tries to muddy the water.
    You expose the flaws in his argument, then he tries to redefine the argument.
    He makes assertions he cannot possibly prove.
    You point to evidence, he chooses to ignore it.

    You can’t fight illogic with logic.
    You can’t fight unreason with reason.

  5. I’m with god.

    We must conclude the universe had a changeless, timeless, immaterial, agent as the cause of the universe.

    I conclude nothing of the sort, and have been given no reason to. Truth is found by discovery, not by “must concludes”.

  6. It’s not necessary for me that the universe has an explanation. I believe very little is understood about the earliest moments of the universe, and what preceded it – if it even makes sense to think in this way – is even less understood. I can accept this and don’t demand an explanation. I’m glad that there are still things left to discover and some things that will never be known. That said, I am very curious and enjoy the discussions of learned cosmologists who are studying these things. I’m amazed that they have determined with a high degree of confidence what the conditions of the universe must have been like mere fractions of a second after the big bang. Nothing of what I have read or heard from these brilliant scientists leads me to believe there is any need for an “agent” as the immediate cause. Could there have been one? I don’t see why not, but I don’t see the need either. The universe is a strange and wonderful place, whether I understand it or not. It’s got a lot of amazing tricks up its sleeve.

    It appears to me that you, John, and many who think like you, do have a need for an explanation. I re-assert that this is an emotionally driven need. I don’t think it is something you are necessarily conscious of, but I think it does strongly affect your predisposition to believe certain things that you are in no position to know. I’m glad you are open to engaging with those of us who are lacking the same emotional need for an explanation. We have other emotional needs that affect our thinking, and perhaps our perspective can some day be of some value to you.

    • The reason it “needs” an explanation is because it has tremendous philosophical and worldview impact, not because I am emotionally tied to a need. Perhaps you are comfortable not wanting to know is because you might be intellectually forced to make a paradigm shift? I also get the impression that you reeeaaallly want me to acknowledge an emotionally driven thought process.

      But as far as agency is concerned, if the universe and literally everything in it didn’t exist until the singularity then a physical or natural cause is out of the question, it could have only been invoked by an agent.

  7. I didn’t say I didn’t want to know. I said I’m quite curious about these things. What I said is that I’m comfortable with the knowledge that I don’t currently know and, in all probability, never will know. I’m also comfortable as I can be with paradigm shifts. I think a major shift in intellectual perspective is one of the most exciting things that can happen to one. I don’t want to be stuck with rigid views and try to be vigilant about avoiding such traps.

    if the universe and literally everything in it didn’t exist until the singularity then a physical or natural cause is out of the question, it could have only been invoked by an agent

    First, we don’t know that nothing existed prior to the singularity. Perhaps nothing as we are familiar referring to thing-ness. I assume some condition existed which led to our universe as we know it. Everything we know about our universe is that all conditions are caused by some other condition (physical and natural would both seem to be words for the same thing in this context and perfectly applicable). Even those conditions “invoked by an agent” are, in a sense, physical and natural. Perhaps our universe is the plaything of a colossal entity beyond my capacity to imagine. If so, I hope he or she takes good care of his or her toys. I suspect, though, that if such an “agent” existed or exists, it’s not likely to be something modeled after human beings in the imagination. That’s really my biggest disappointment with religion. The Gods we invent are just way too boring.

  8. I deleted it because it has nothing to do with this post. It would be better served on the Hitchens post. Here, it is off topic, a pet peeve of mine. Copy and paste this comment on the Hitchens post so I can also delete this one.

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