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Category: The Cosmological Argument

A discussion with Randal Harrison about the cosmological argument and its validity and reliability for holding a belief in a divine creator.

Nothing Doesn’t Exist

nothingHow did the universe emerge from nothing? It is irrelevant to the cosmological argument whether the universe is expanding, cyclical, oscillating, or suspended on the back of an immense turtle hurtling though space. The premises of the argument address what occurred before the Plank epoch. They are not so much concerned with the nature of the universe but its genesis.

The expanding universe in which we live is contingent upon a cause but that contingency does not necessarily apply to the fabric of the universe itself. Hubble’s observations indicate an expanding universe and from this we can extrapolate an ever shrinking universe into the past until we arrive at what?

Nothing: What does it mean?

The indefinite pronoun is usually defined as “the absence of anything.” It is an indefinite pronoun that refers to something. The proper noun Santa Claus pertains to a jolly, bearded, rotund man with an ability to annually pervert time but it does not follow that the referent exists. The sentence “there is nothing in the room,” posits not that there is no air, photons, or quantum particles in the room. In this sentence “nothing” refers to a mutually understood absence of a particular property–namely furniture. It is not meant to signify true nothingness.

Particles and antiparticles spontaneously form and annihilate each other while maintaining the first law of thermodynamics through quantum fluctuations. The Quantum Electrodynamic vacuum contains no matter particles and no photons. Throughout the vacuum, the average value of electric and magnetic fields are zero but the individual fluctuations are not. There is a temporal change in the energy at a given point in space, allowing the creation of particle/antiparticle virtual pairs which are measurable in the charge of the electron. Quantum processes can inexorably drive an empty universe into one that is dominated by matter. The Quantum Electrodynamic vacuum is perhaps as close as we can get to the abyss, but it cannot be described as nothing.

The particular configuration of the universe in which we live may not be necessary. It is contingent upon numerous events taking place, but it does not follow that the same can be applied to the energy that makes up that universe or to the quantum vacuum from which it might have begun its expansion.

If the universe is defined as “everything that exists”, then it must include the quantum vacuum that exists independently of planets and solar systems etc. The quantum vacuum arguably exists independently of space and time which were both created in the early stages of expansion (if General Relativity is correct.)

This is of course theoretical.  My point is not to argue that this is definitively the answer to the origin of the universe. My knowledge of physics is inadequate to understand it, let alone defend it. My interest is only in showing that the premise “the universe does not exist out of necessity,” rests upon numerous presumptions and is, at the very least, questionable. It is certainly not certain enough to function as an adequate premise.

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Finite Universe – Exploring the Origins

finite universeHello again, Neil! I hope you are having a wonderful weekend. So, we begin with Premise 3 of the Cosmological Argument which states the universe does not exist out of necessity of its own nature. Your question, and perhaps your position, is how do we know the universe does not exist necessarily? For clarification, if something exists out of necessity of its own nature, by definition it is impossible for it NOT to exist. This would imply, that is not a finite universe.

Let’s look at the options.

  1.  The universe is eternal
  2.  The universe is finite

I think you will agree these are the only two possibilities. If one is falsified, the other is confirmed. Since my position is option 2, I will attempt to falsify option 1.

Finite Universe – Counter Arguments

What are the options for an eternal universe? I trust you will accept that our universe is expanding as shown by the red shift observations of Edwin Hubble.

  1. If the universe is eternal and expanding, it could be experiencing a past eternal state of stasis and then at some finite time in the past, this cosmic egg, if you will, cracked and the universe began expanding.
  2. If eternal, the universe could be in an infinite series of expansions and contractions, a so-called cyclical universe.

Let’s look at Option 1, the Cosmic Egg idea. Cosmologist Alexander Vilenkin of Tufts University in Boston along with his graduate student Audrey Mithani, demonstrated that quantum instabilities would cause the “egg” to crack after a finite amount of time thus preventing it from being eternal. The crack would have occurred an infinitely long time ago instead of the approximately 13.7 billion years ago commonly accepted.

Option 2 – Oscillation Theory. If one were to assume an infinite series of big bangs/big crunches, with each cycle the amount of disorder would increase. If this had been occurring eternally in the past, there would be no useable energy in the universe as it would exist with maximum disorder. Obviously we do still have useable energy.

There is a third option, that of eternal inflation. The basis here is that the expansion of the universe is not constant and that “bubble” universes in a multiverse environment are created. Further these bubble universes can go backwards and forwards in time allowing for eternal existence. In 2003 Vilenkin and Guth demonstrated the one of the constants in the mathematical formulas for the expansion of the universe, the Hubble Constant, has a lower limit which prevents inflation in both time directions.

Given this, it is my position that the universe can not be eternal and by falsifying Option 1, the only remaining option is a finite universe, which does not have to exist, and thus does not exist out of necessity of its own nature. As Alexander Vilenkin stated,

“All the evidence we have says that the universe had a beginning.”

Therefore, I maintain that Premise 3 is confirmed.

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[avatar user=”Neil Brown” size=”thumbnail” align=”left” /]

Sorry Randal, perhaps I misunderstood your position. Are you saying that the cosmological argument does not function as an stanchion for your belief but it may do so for others?

If not, I think your scenario illustrates my point. Losing that sniper might not have been sufficient to alter the overall outcome of the conflict, but it would have had some (perhaps infinitesimal) repercussions pertaining to the certainty of that victory. It is perfectly reasonable to sustain confidence in the capacity of the remaining forces to ascertain supremacy. It is however–and I choose my words carefully–intellectually dishonest to assert that it would have absolutely no affect on the certainty of that victory. To do so, is to reveal that the sniper had no influence on the certitude to begin with.

Regardless, shall we put a pin in that and proceed to the cosmological argument itself? Prior to our epistemological meanderings you outlined the reasoning as follows:

Premise 1-Whatever exists does so either out of necessity of its own nature or contingently upon a cause.

Premise 2 -The universe exists.

Premise 3-The universe does not exist out of necessity.

Conclusion-Therefore, the universe exists contingently upon a cause.

 

The premises of this argument contain many presuppositions. Lets begin with premises three.

How do you know that the universe doesn’t exist out of necessity?

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[avatar user=”Randal Harrison” size=”thumbnail” align=”left” /]

And good evening to you, Neil.

I completely understand your position about how the refutation of an argument should increase doubt/decrease confidence. But I refer you back to my last post in which I indicated that one cannot quantify ones belief as you have tried to do. At least I can’t quantify mine. Also, I refer you to the statement I have made several times, for this specific discussion, the Cosmological Argument, it’s refutation might significantly affect others confidence. And like your example of evolution wherein you provided evidence which would reduce your confidence, there are evidences which would affect my confidence such as irrefutable evidence that the body of Jesus had been identified. But hopefully for the last time, refutation of the Cosmological Argument would not reduce my confidence.

Take for example a marine sniper in the Iraq War. As a huge fan of Carlos Hathcock, a single, well-trained marine sniper is deadly. The effects of this single individual against the enemy is compelling indeed. However, if that one sniper had been killed, would that have affected my confidence in the outcome of the war? Not at all. Why? Because while his actions are compelling acting alone, the strength of the army which remains makes that one individual insignificant in the overall case.

I really can’t explain my view any better than this, my friend.

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[avatar user=”Neil Brown” size=”thumbnail” align=”left” /]

 

If a person’s belief in God is located within the category of proof beyond a shadow of a doubt (for perspicuity lets envision them as 100% certain.) That assuredness is corroborated by three pieces of evidence: a personal encounter with God (60%), scriptural prophecy (30%), and the cosmological argument (10%). Taken together, these substantiations culminate in a 100% certainty in the existence of God. If the cosmological argument were to be conceded as unequivocally refuted, should not the sagacious conclusion be that certitude declines to 90%?

I believe in evolution. One attestation of that belief is the fossil record. If homo sapien remains were discovered and dated to the Precambrian era, approximately 530 million years before the first emergence of mammals, my belief in evolution would be reduced (if not eviscerated.)

So when you say that the cosmological argument is evidence for your belief in God, yet its refutation would not affect your certainty, I find myself perplexed.

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[avatar user=”Randal Harrison” size=”thumbnail” align=”left” /]

Hello Neil,

I must say you are persistent! Lol! I suppose I should have explained my position on proof and evidence. With regards to a belief in the existence of God, “proof” can be defined as the sum of all the evidence which convinces a particular individual of a particular assertion to a particular degree of certainty. I classify degrees of certainty into five groups as follows:

  1.  Air of Reality – There is enough evidence that a person believes there is a possibility that the assertion is true.
  2. Preponderance of the Evidence – The sum total of the evidence in support of the assertion is greater, even if a minute amount, than the evidence falsifying the assertion.
  3. Clear and Convincing Evidence – There is significantly more compelling evidence supporting the assertion than evidence falsifying the assertion.
  4.  Proof Beyond Reasonable Doubt – The sum of the evidence supporting an assertion is so compelling that any evidence attempting to falsify the assertion is not reasonable to consider.
  5.  Proof Beyond a Shadow of a Doubt – The evidence supporting an assertion is so compelling there can be absolutely no doubt as to its truth.

This is where we diverge from the murder scenario. What degree of certainty is required for a person to claim belief? That is completely dependent on the person. As I stated before, some people will believe with an Air of Reality. Others will remain atheists even with Evidence Beyond a Shadow of a Doubt, if it existed.

I agree that there are no clearly distinct lines of demarcation for each of the levels I described. Two individuals can claim belief based on preponderance of the evidence, but the belief of one may be greater than that of the other. In addition, one person’s belief can vary from stronger to weaker and vice-versa over time. It’s impossible to quantify a person’s belief and how various evidences affect it. So generally speaking, falsifying the Cosmological Argument might would affect the beliefs of some, it would not for me. As previously stated, that doesn’t mean falsification of other pieces of evidence would not affect my belief.

Hopefully an individual would research available data, consider each piece, and form an opinion. As I said, as time passes this opinion could change either way depending on additional data considered. So to answer your question, yes, I do think this is a sincere way to find the truth.  I hope we can stop beating this “dead horse” now and move on.

Before I close I want to make a statement. I’m sure you realize that no matter what evidences are available, it is impossible to determine the validity of the existence of God or an assertion that no god exists to a level of certainty Beyond a Shadow of a Doubt. Therefore, our discussions will be limited to belief or disbelief. As previously stated, it is my desire as a Christian to provide evidence that there is good reason to believe that the Christian God exists.

Have a blessed day, my friend!

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[avatar user=”Neil Brown” size=”thumbnail” align=”left” /]

Hi Randal. I apologise for the tardiness of my response. My evenings of late have been dominated by a battle with a pair of swallows who wish to construct their nest directly over my front door. I have to open an umbrella before braving the front porch….

You stated that the “jury convicts due to their certainty.” While I am largely ignorant of the minutiae of judicial proceedings, I believe certainty to be extrinsic to them. I am unclear as to what degree of assuredness might constitute reasonable doubt. I suspect it is subjective.

Can we legitimately claim that the murder weapon’s possession (or lack there of) forensic evidence does not sway the jury on their confidence scale. If the murder weapon were covered in fingerprints, if the prosecutor were able to present it, in addition to the video surveillance, would it not increase the level of certitude, would it not strengthen the case? If so, the absence of forensics must diminish (to some extent) that level of assuredness.

You defined evidence as “anything that influences an individual to believe that a particular assertion is true or false.” You explained (rightly so) that the more evidence we have the more confident we can be and that the cosmological argument constituted evidence for God. Yet should that evidence which originally bolstered your confidence, be refuted, your confidence would persist, unmolested, at its lofty locale.

Pardon my bluntness, but do you think that this way of coming to truth is a sincere one?

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[avatar user=”Randal Harrison” size=”thumbnail” align=”left” /]

Good evening to you, Neil.

Perhaps I should provide a definition of evidence from my perspective. I think evidence is anything that influences an individual to believe that a particular assertion is true or false. In the murder scenario, video recording showing the accused committing the murder would be evidence supporting the belief the accused committed the murder. On the other hand, video recording showing the accused somewhere other than the crime scene at the time of the crime would be evidence the accused did not commit the crime. No kidding???

Now, let’s assume the video recording showing the accused committing the crime is presented, the murder weapon was presented but had no fingerprints to tie it to the accused, and the jury convicts due to their certainty beyond a reasonable doubt. Was the murder weapon that was presented evidence? Yes. Was it compelling to those considering it? No. Did it weaken the prosecution case? No.

Is the Cosmological Argument evidence supporting the existence of God? Yes.  Is it compelling? Perhaps to some, to others not so much. If it’s shown to be false does that fact weaken the case for God’s existence? Maybe for some. Not for me. Should one consider it as evidence? Each individual will decide that for oneself.

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[avatar user=”Neil Brown” size=”thumbnail” align=”left” /]

I understand. Even if you were to accept that the cosmological argument were false it would not affect your belief.

Continuing with your murder scenario, if a piece of evidence was revealed to have no significance on the suspects culpability can it be regarded as evidence at all?

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