spark4

In a reply to my Adults Only post Joshua Erlien put forward a syllogism that is often used as evidence of God. A syllogism is 2 statements that result in a sound conclusion.

  1. All men are mortal.
  2. I am a man.
  3. Therefore I am mortal.

The conclusion reached is a logical extension of the first two statements and is not predicated on them being true.

  1. Politicians always wear green ties.
  2. Tony Abbot is a politician.
  3. Therefore Tony Abbot always wears a green tie.

This is a sound conclusion even though it is wrong, because the first statement is incorrect. Also, syllogisms are only useful if they encompass the entirety of the subjects being examined.

  1. Most people like oranges.
  2. John is a person.
  3. Therefore John probably likes oranges.

As you can see this doesn’t tell us anything concrete and cannot be used as evidence. The last thing that needs to be taken into account is the connectedness of the first two statements. If the two things are not actually connected there can be no conclusion drawn from them.

  1. Tomatoes are red.
  2. My car is red.
  3. … so what …

So the downfalls of any bad syllogism are inaccuracy, generality and the lack of a connection between the first two statements. The syllogism put forward by Joshua is a centuries old one and goes like this.

  1. Everything that BEGINS to exist needs a cause.
  2. The space/time universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore The space/time universe needs a cause.

Joshua then makes the following addition to his conclusion.

This cause must be other than the space/time universe because it cannot cause itself. We are left with an eternal (timeless), immaterial cause.

It would be a good syllogism if it were accurate because not only does it suggest that there must be a creator, but it also says that creator cannot “BEGIN to exist” because of the problem of needing a cause. This makes God eternal, and gives an extra “proof” to theology. Unfortunately the syllogism is flawed.

Everything …

Let’s start with the first word, “Everything”. The Universe is essentially infinite with 10^80 atoms (a 1 with 80 zeros after it). These atoms combine in a staggering number of ways to make molecules and these molecules combine in a staggering number of ways to make every thing that you can see, hear, smell, taste and touch. Not to mention, and this is my point, a staggering number of things that we have not discovered yet. It is folly to suggest we know about “everything”, and therefore we cannot make assertions about the beginnings of “everything”. It would be more accurate to change that first word to the phrase “Everything we know of” and by losing the specificity the syllogism loses its explanatory power.

that BEGINS to exist needs a cause.

Now we need to define what is meant by that phrase “BEGINS to exist”. If we think of an animal, we can think of the moment of conception as the time that it began to exist. But it did not pop into existence out of nothing. The sperm and egg that combined to make it were created inside its parents as part of the complex chemical workings that go on within. The same is true for its parents, and grand parents, etc. As we move back down the evolutionary family tree we can see an unbroken line of things being created from things that already existed.

The same is true for non-living things. Mountains are created by the crushing force of tectonic plates that move because of the currents in the liquid magma underneath the crust of the earth. These currents are caused by changing temperatures, caused by chemical reactions. The chemical reactions are caused by the way atoms combine. In short atoms combine to make things. But the atoms don’t “BEGIN to exist”. They are all ready here. And as such I would say that nothing in the universe “BEGINS to exist” but rather is created out of the existing material

Everything that we can see in the universe was created out of the matter/atoms that already exist and the electro-chemical and gravitational forces that act upon them. This is the “cause” that created them and all these things exist inside the universe. As such you cannot use the workings of what is going on inside the universe to apply to the universe itself. The first statement should be more accurately written as.

  1. Everything that we know of that is inside the universe is created by the 4 forces of nature working on existing matter.

As you can see this means the second statement does not overlap with the first and therefore cannot be used to make any conclusion. But let’s look at it anyway, as it also contains a flaw.

The space/time universe began to exist.

We cannot know what happened before just after the universe came into existence. We are inside the universe and it is therefore impossible to fathom or calculate what might have happened at time 0 and before. We can get close to the instant that the expansion began, but there is no way to know if the universe “began to exist”. This is an assumption that is made, and may even be likely, but even so it changes the second statement in the syllogism and reduces the whole thing to

  1. Everything that we know of that is inside the universe is created by the 4 forces of nature working on existing matter.
  2. We think the space/time universe began to exist.
  3. … so what …

So we are left with two unrelated statements that can offer no conclusions. These cannot be used as evidence for the existence of God.

 

6 Responses to Everything that begins to exist has a cause

  1. Shane, I loved the article. Thanks for taking my comments seriously enough to respond. If I may, I’d like to make note of one or two things. I think you prove too much.

    Your arguments sound like this,
    Premise 1: The universe is too vast to make general statements about everything in it.
    Premise 2: My syllogism makes general statements about the universe.
    Conclusion: My syllogism invalidly includes such general statements.

    Isn’t this how we do science and investigation? Don’t we look at the world around us and conclude that the same laws apply to the whole as to the parts (unless there is a compelling reason to disbelieve this). If we cannot use the principles that we do observe, what shall we use? Principles we do not observe?

    Your section regarding “begins to exist” actually illustrates my point very well. In each case, you pointed to an antecedent cause (even if just a reordering of existing atoms). In no instance did you say that the chipmunk popped into existence without a cause. Even if the cause of the chipmunk or mountain is material in nature itself. It still is the cause.

    But I think you correctly push the point back to further antecedents. This gets us back to my argument. If A is caused by B caused by C…, eventually we must arrive at a first cause that itself does not require a cause. Here’s why.

    Premise 1: You cannot come to the end of an infinite series (you can always add one more).
    Premise 2: We are at the end of the series of all causes leading up to “A.”
    Conclusion: There cannot have been an infinite number of causes leading to A.

    “A” could represent an animal or mountain, as noted in your post.

    Finally, I ask you, are you denying the law of cause and effect? I don’t think that is what you intend to do. But that is essentially what your argument leads to. My first premise is just a restatement of the law of cause and effect. If this law is true, then I only need to demonstrate that the universe meets the criteria of being an “effect.” I’ll restate it to clarity:
    Premise 1: Every effect is caused.
    Premise 2:The universe is an effect.
    Conclusion: Therefore, the universe is caused.

    To defeat the argument you need to demonstrate that one of the premises is false, since we both agree that the conclusion follows. Premise 1 is axiomatic. Premise 2 is your only hope. But all that you have done is claimed that “there is no way to know.” This is untenable, because your very statement claims to know at least something: namely, that we cannot know. Therefore, we both agree that we can know something about the subject.

    I have given a syllogism that demonstrates that the universe cannot be be eternal (see above “Infinite series” argument and “A” = moments or cosmic events, etc. and you can see that the universe cannot have been doing anything eternally). Also keep in mind that the universe is more accurately described by space/time rather than space and time. Einstein showed us that we couldn’t have one without the other. Being then that the universe bears the marks of having a beginning, it follows that we are justified in considering it as being an effect. Unless you are positing spontaneous generation, which Francesco Redi “put the lid on,” as a theory.

    You need to tell me why the universe is not an effect or why my arguments do not point to my premise.

    Shane, thanks for the winsome and thoughtful conversation. I am enjoying it thoroughly, even without the British pub.

    Regards,

    Joshua

  2. Shane Fletcher says:

    Hi Joshua,

    Enjoying this myself.

    “Your section regarding “begins to exist” actually illustrates my point very well. In each case, you pointed to an antecedent cause (even if just a reordering of existing atoms). In no instance did you say that the chipmunk popped into existence without a cause. Even if the cause of the chipmunk or mountain is material in nature itself. It still is the cause.

    But I think you correctly push the point back to further antecedents. This gets us back to my argument. If A is caused by B caused by C…, eventually we must arrive at a first cause that itself does not require a cause.”

    But the first cause is an entirely different type of event. Reordering of atoms is a different thing to creating them from nothing, so you can’t use the first to make some prediction about the second. I can work backwards from Z to A and see how it came about. Say the evolution of life on the planet from the first replicating cell. But that doesn’t tell me how the first replicating cell started, because evolution is an entirely different thing to abiogenesis.

    “Isn’t this how we do science and investigation? Don’t we look at the world around us and conclude that the same laws apply to the whole as to the parts (unless there is a compelling reason to disbelieve this). If we cannot use the principles that we do observe, what shall we use? Principles we do not observe?”

    Couple of things:
    We do have a compelling reason to think that things that work in the universe are different to the way things are outside the universe (which is where the cause must be if our universe is an effect). As you say space/time was created as part of our universe. They did not exist before our universe was created. However cause always precludes effect. This is not possible before there was time (let alone the space that would be required to observe such correlation). You can’t point to anything earlier than the beginning of time. Therefore you can’t point to a “cause” before time began that caused the creation of space/time.

    Secondly, things at the atomic level work far differently to things at the macro level. Cause and effect are reasonable assertions in the world we experience with our senses in the macro world, but at the atomic level these rules don’t work. Some particles travel in multiple directions simultaneously. Others disappear and then instantly reappear somewhere else. Therefore it’s reasonable to say that cause and effect doesn’t work in the same way you suggest at the atomic level. We know the universe was once”atomically small” and therefore the laws of cause and effect wouldn’t be in evidence. There’s more to this below.

    “Premise 1: Every effect is caused.
    Premise 2:The universe is an effect.
    Conclusion: Therefore, the universe is caused.”

    Nature abhors a vacuum, apparently. Particles, and their twin anti-particles pop into existence and then recombine to annihilate each other. This relates to the above syllogism in one of two ways. Either the effect of these particles being spontaneously created is an uncaused effect OR the fact that there is a vacuum is the cause that results in the effect of spontaneous matter generation. You are left with either Premise 1 being false OR that we have an example of a “natural” cause that goes some way to explaining the spontaneous creation of the universe.

    Sincerely
    Shane

  3. AdamHazzard says:

    “Premise 1: Every effect is caused.
    Premise 2:The universe is an effect.
    Conclusion: Therefore, the universe is caused.”

    Premise 1: Anything that follows from an antecedent cause is called an effect.
    Premise 2: It is not known whether the universe follows from an antecedent cause.
    Premise 3: It is not known that the universe is an effect.

    • Shane Fletcher says:

      Hi Adam. Thanks for your post. How about this?

      Premise 1: A cause precedes any resulting effect.
      Premise 2: Time began at the creation of the universe.
      Premise 3: There can be no cause that precedes the creation of the universe.
      Conclusion: The creation of the universe can not be an effect.

      • AdamHazzard says:

        Yes, that too. Actually, my Premise 3 should be “conclusion,” so let me restate the syllogism here:

        Premise 1: Anything that follows from an antecedent cause is called an effect.
        Premise 2: It is not known whether the universe follows from an antecedent cause.
        Conclusion: It is not known that the universe is an effect.

        The point is that the theistic argument is presuming knowledge not in evidence.

        Joshua would have to challenge this by questioning Premise 2. He says in response to your similar objection, “This is untenable, because your very statement claims to know at least something: namely, that we cannot know.” But the syllogism I offered makes no such sweeping claim: it says only that we do not currently know how the universe originated. For Joshua’s argument to succeed he would need to demonstrate that he knows that the universe did indeed follow from some antecedent phenomenon — and this, I am fairly sure, he cannot do.

  4. […] have already spoken about the problems with the cosmological argument, but I wanted to highlight that the fundamental reason that this argument is made is because of the […]

Leave a Reply

Set your Twitter account name in your settings to use the TwitterBar Section.