Cosmological argument

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Thomas Aquinas argued "Nothing is caused by itself"
For more information, see the Crash Course video:

The cosmological argument is an argument for God based on the principle that everything has a cause. The argument is also known as the first cause argument, uncaused cause argument, argument from existence and the causal argument. One of the most influential statements of the argument was by Thomas Aquinas:

"Nothing is caused by itself. Every effect has a prior cause. This leads to a regress. This has to be terminated by a first cause, which we call God."

There are some popular variants of the cosmological argument, including:

Typical statement of the first cause argument[edit]

"We can know that if that our universe had a beginning it must have also had a Beginner. Creation always implies a Creator. Effects always have causes. We should know that nothing cannot produce something.[1]"
"Would you agree that nothing cannot produce something? If so, then if the universe did not exist but then came to exist, wouldn’t this be evidence of a cause beyond the universe?[2]"
"Do we agree that this is a creation? Or do we accept that nothing came out of nothing to form this entire universe? This is a very clear message from Allah, in the Quran. Something does not come out of nothing. So, there must be something in existence already which created all that we know to exist.[3]"

Formal Argument[edit]

The first cause argument runs like this:

  1. Everything that exists must have a cause.
  2. If you follow the chain of events backwards through time, it cannot go back infinitely, so eventually you arrive at the first cause.
  3. This cause must, itself, be uncaused.
  4. But nothing can exist without a cause, except for God.
  5. Therefore, God exists.

A close variant is the argument from the Big Bang:[4]

  1. The universe began to exist at the Big Bang.
  2. Something apart from the universe caused this.
  3. Therefore, a creator exists.


Many of the criticisms of the Unmoved mover argument apply here.

Infinite regress[edit]

Main Article: Infinite regress does not occur

The most concise answer to this argument is: "Who created God?", which in turn raises the question "Who created God's creator?", and so on ad infinitum. This is known as an infinite regress or "It's turtles all the way down".

It is not necessarily impossible for there to be an infinite chain of causes and effects. Among scientists, it is widely agreed that our universe began with the Big Bang. But we don't know what occurred in the first split second after the Big Bang, nor can we comment on anything that came before it, as no experiments have yet been devised that could test any hypotheses about these early moments.

Some have claimed that with an infinite past, we could never get to now. Flip the infinity: does an infinity of seconds not stretch forward into the future, eternally? Starting from an infinite future, can you go a second before that, and a second before that, ad infinitum, and get to now?

Possible response: Second law of thermodynamics implies the universe is of finite age

Why assume the first cause is god-like?[edit]

Main Article: The first cause implies God exists

Natural processes and multiple creators are not ruled out. This makes it an argument from ignorance.

Even if we grant that a first cause exists, it makes no sense to assume that it is any kind of god, let alone Yahweh. The idea of an intelligent, universe-creating god "just existing" is far more difficult to explain than the universe itself "just existing". Intelligence is one of the most complex things we are aware of in the universe. To assume the existence of a being who is so intelligent that it can design an entire universe, as well as micromanage the personal lives of billions of people on earth through prayer, would require an enormous amount of explanation.

MW: The false dilemma you are making is because you can't have an infinite regress, and you can't have something coming from nothing, therefore the only other possible option is, not just an uncreated creator, but the uncreated creator that specifically happens to be the biblical God. How do you know that?
Caller: The reason you know it is the biblical God is that you personally cannot find a natural explanation for the origin of the universe.[5]

This is also a false dilemma and shifting the burden of proof.

Special pleading regarding God existing outside of time[edit]

There is a contradiction between the first statement and the second statement. If "everything that exists has a cause" then there cannot exist anything that does not have a cause, which means that there is no first cause. Either some things can exist without causes, or nothing can. It can't be both ways. God is considered to be exempt from infinite regress by special pleading.

Changing "Everything that exists has a cause" to "Everything that begins to exist has a cause" produces a variant known as the Kalam cosmological argument.

Christians try to avoid regress of God by saying "God does not need a cause because He is outside of time." This is a glib non-answer. If all that is required to get around the first cause argument is an entity that exists outside of time, then all we need to do is postulate a single particle that exists outside of time and triggered the Big Bang. It need not have any additional powers. Besides, this particle might even exist, depending on how you define "outside of time." Photons (light particles) do not experience time, since they move at the speed of light. Therefore, according to this argument, light can pop into existence without cause.

Theists will object that this particle should have a cause. But they have already refuted this argument by granting that there exists an uncaused cause in the first place. If God can exist without a cause, why not a particle? Why not the universe? It may be the universe is the necessarily existent being and it is impossible for it to be in any other state.

Not all events necessarily have causes[edit]

Main Article: Not all events necessarily have causes

The argument asserts that "everything that exists has a cause". However, this is arguably a false statement and a hasty generalization. It is possible that some events, particular on the quantum scale, do not have causes (or at least we do not fully understand the cause at this time).

Some versions of the cosmological argument rely on chains of explanations starting from observed phenomena. However, no such explanation may exist and the phenomena might be a "brute fact". This is known as the Glendower problem.

The cosmological argument has had little impact on Islamic apologetics because causality was already in doubt and it was unwise to base an argument on this uncertain foundation.

"The main reason why the cosmological argument was thus rejected out of hand by both the [Islamic] philosophers and the theologians was the fact that the concept of causality upon which it rested had been exposed to doubt since the beginning of Kalam [Islamic apologetics]. [...] the alleged necessity of this principle is a mere illusion; because it is unwarranted inference, based on observation from the correlation of events. Observation, however shows simply that the alleged effect happens alongside the cause rather through it [...] and accordingly, such a correlation is not logically necessary but is rather the outcome of a correlation is not logically necessary but is rather the outcome of mere psychological disposition or habit.[6]"

Unparsimonious explanation[edit]

Main Article: Ultimate 747 gambit

The God hypothesis is not only unnecessary, it is not parsimonious. In order to explain something apparently designed and which cannot create itself, a being is conjured into existence which would require even more unlikely explanation.

By the same reasoning, God created evil[edit]

"[While evil exists at all], it will very much puzzle you Anthropomorphites, how to account for it. You must assign a cause for it, without having recourse to the first cause [God]. But as every effect must have a cause, and that cause another, you must either carry on the progression in infinitum, or rest on that original principle, who is the ultimate cause of all things... [i.e. God]"

David Hume

A-priori arguments cannot establish matters of fact[edit]

Main Article: Proof by logic

Overall, this argument is an example of a proof by logic, where philosophers attempt to "demonstrate" god with a logical syllogism alone, devoid of any confirming evidence. This is arguably inappropriate for establishing matters of fact.

Cause and effect do not necessarily apply to the entire universe[edit]

We have experience of cause and effect in recent times, at low energies and on small scales. It is inappropriate to apply this concept to the universe as a whole because we have no experience of cause and effect in that circumstance and cannot be sure it still applies.[4]

"causality is extendible beyond the universe, and we do have a clear idea how to use it.[7]"

Having a clear definition does not make the concept automatically applicable to a universe that is in a very different state or age. The definition for causality often relies on other human invented concepts such as "entities", "existence" and "non-existence" which also may not apply to the early universe. The only way for apologists to know if causality applies to the origin of the universe is to have direct experience of the origin of the universe. Frequently, cosmology does not conform to notions that humans find intuitive. Without direct observation, causality of the universe is mere speculation.

Premise rules out God[edit]

"If nothing comes from nothing, then God cannot exist, because God is not nothing. If that premise is true, that 'nothing comes from nothing' and God is something, then you've just shot yourself in the foot."

Dan Barker

The universe is causeless[edit]

If God just exists without a cause, then so can the universe.

"To say, that the different ideas which compose the reason of the Supreme Being, fall into order of themselves, and by their own nature, is really to talk without any precise meaning. If it has a meaning, I would fain know, why it is not as good sense to say, that the parts of the material world fall into order of themselves and by their own nature. Can the one opinion be intelligible, while the other is not so?[8]"

Claiming that this possibility is only allowed for God is special pleading.

"Yes, it is logically possible that the universe is eternal and therefore didn’t have a cause. In fact, it is one of only two possibilities: either the universe, or something outside the universe, is eternal. [...] When you get right down to it, there are only two possibilities for anything that exists: either 1) it has always existed and is therefore uncaused, or 2) it had a beginning and was caused by something else (it can’t be self-caused, because it would have had to exist already in order to cause anything). According to the overwhelming evidence, the universe had a beginning, so it must be caused by something else—by something outside itself.[9]"

How do you know that is true? What evidence have you that something can "always exist" including at time "before" the Big Bang? How does this address the evidence that not all events necessarily have causes?

God does not create from ex nihilo nothing[edit]

According to Genesis 1:1-10 Bible-icon.png, God started with pre-existing materials and "created" by separating materials into various groups: "Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep". Therefore, God did not create ex nihilo. God does not explain the existence of the universe, only the organization of it.[10]

Further arguments[edit]

No one really uses the premise that "everything has a cause"[edit]

"The problem with this refutation is that no version of the cosmological argument found in the works of its chief proponents affirms [everything that exists must have a cause.]"

William Lane Craig [7]

Actually, this premise is widely used as a basis for the first cause argument, particularly among popular apologetics (and less so among experts).

"Everything that exists has a cause.[11]"


See also[edit]

v · d Arguments for the existence of god
Anthropic arguments   Anthropic principle · Natural-law argument
Arguments for belief   Pascal's Wager · Argument from faith · Just hit your knees
Christological arguments   Argument from scriptural miracles · Would someone die for a lie? · Liar, Lunatic or Lord
Cosmological arguments   Argument from aesthetic experience · Argument from contingency · Cosmological argument · Fine-tuning argument · Kalam · Leibniz cosmological argument · Principle of sufficient reason · Unmoved mover · Why is there something rather than nothing?
Majority arguments   Argument from admired religious scientists
Moral arguments   Argument from justice · Divine command theory
Ontological argument   Argument from degree · Argument from desire · Origin of the idea of God
Dogmatic arguments   Argument from divine sense · Argument from uniqueness
Teleological arguments   Argument from design · Banana argument · 747 Junkyard argument · Laminin argument · Argument from natural disasters
Testimonial arguments   Argument from observed miracles · Personal experience · Argument from consciousness · Emotional pleas · Efficacy of prayer
Transcendental arguments   God created numbers · Argument from the meaning of life
Scriptural arguments   Scriptural inerrancy · Scriptural scientific foreknowledge · Scriptural codes