Reflections on the cosmological argument
This morning at the RZIM Summer School we heard a presentation by Vince Vitale on the Cosmological argument. He posed the question, which do you see as we observe the universe? A universe as Richard Dawkins sees: without design, nothing but pitiless indifference, or a universe as the Psalmist sees, ‘declaring the glory of God’ (Psalm 19)?
Vince Vitale proposed four reasons cosmology pushes us to believe in God:
- The universe had a beginning
- The universe is comprehensible
- The universe is regular
- The universe is fine-tuned for life
I won’t go into too much detail on what was said as the presentation was a fairly standard defence of the cosmological argument. I wanted instead to spend a little time reflecting on Vitale’s presentation of the first of those four reasons, i.e. ‘the universe had a beginning’ and to respond to some criticisms of this argument that I’ve heard, namely it is a form of ‘god of the gaps’.
Vitale proposed three options for positing why the universe is here now:
- God created the universe
- The universe popped into existence from nothing
- The universe has always existed (which isn’t really an explanation of why there is a universe at all).
Vitale demonstrated quite convincingly (to me) that through the concept of entropy that the third of these options is unviable i.e. because if the universe was infinite then we should already be at entropy, therefore because the universe still has usable energy that it must have had a beginning. Even Stephen Hawking acknowledges that the universe had a beginning.
Hence the question then revolves around the best explanation for the beginning of the universe. Vitale provided two options – that either the universe was created by God or that the universe popped into existence from nothing.
I wonder if these are really the only two options available? I know I’ve discussed this with some atheists who challenge the first option by suggesting that you have assumed God. They suggest that agnosticism may in fact be the best conclusion. So I wonder if it might be better to rephrase the alternatives on the origin of the universe in a slightly different way:
- The universe began as the result of the work of a personal agent
- The universe did not begin as the result of the work of a personal agent.
I think this is tighter and better expresses the nature of the options. The universe MUST have begun with either of these options. Either the universe began through the will and work of an agent or not. I think this absolves the argument of relying on any form of a ‘gap’ to solve the argument because there can only by two answers to this question. It’s not, ‘I don’t know therefore God’, it seeks to say that something comes into existence via an agent or not.
The difficulty of the argument is that we can’t quite know the answer for certain. It seems far more reasonable to suggest that the universe was caused by an agent rather than the universe coming into existence without agency i.e. the universe popped into existence by itself. Vitale points this out and that the atheist must assert that nothing made the universe and this turned into dinosaurs.
This is where the kalam cosmological argument becomes helpful as it assumes that everything that comes into existence comes so with a cause (to dispute this would require some carefully articulated evidence). Hence the cosmological argument helps to point out that it seems reasonable to believe that the universe began with an agent (but it must be acknowledged that this can’t be proved).
Once establishing that it seems likely that the origins of the universe were the result of an agent, the question then follows, which agent? As Vitale pointed out in his lecture, the agent must be outside space and time, be powerful and creative – these are characteristics which we would normally associate with ‘God’. So I think the cosmological argument can be used as some form of evidence for the existence of God.
As I pointed out before, I don’t think that the cosmological argument is a form of ‘god of the gaps’, because it assumes that the best explanation for things coming into existence is through an agent. And he best ‘agent’ to explain the beginning of the universe is ‘God’.
Keen to hear some atheist reactions to this? Where have I gone wrong here?