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Megan Casey 4/23/2007 Eric LaRock, Ph.D. PHL 465 Swinburne, Ross, and the Cosmological Argument
Casey 2 of 13 One of the oldest and most common arguments for the existence of god is the cosmological argument, and thus I will review and critique the modern cosmological arguments posited by Christian apologetic think-tank president Hugh Ross and the very well qualified former Oxford University Professor Richard Swinburne, as well as examine counter-arguments Swinburne’s long-time rival by J.L. Mackie, biologist Richard Dawkins, and universal theories by Stephen Hawking and Carl Sagan. All cosmological arguments for the existence of God, since St. Thomas Aquinas, follow the same basic structure: the universe exists, thus something had to cause it to exist. Something cannot be self-caused, nor can there be an infinite chain of causation (infinite regress) so there had to be a first cause, an “uncaused cause,” and this, to quote Aquinas is “what we call god.” There are modern innovations concerning probability and chance, but these do nothing to refute the basic structural problems with the argument, namely that postulating a “god of the gaps” has the same original problems. What caused god to come in to existence? It would seem that this god, like the universe, would be neither self-caused nor eternal (given the premises of the original argument). Would this not require there to be an infinite regress of gods? Hugh Ross is President and Director of Research of “Reasons to Believe,” the Christian apologetic think tank which he
Casey 3 of 13 founded. This organization tries to reconcile science not only with a concept of the divine, but with the exceedingly narrow idea of the Christian god. It seems that if one’s method is scientific, it would be logically inconsistent to present a hypothesis and then try to make the evidence fit. It would be more scientific to first gather evidence and then attempt to divine (no pun intended) the most plausible explanation. Superficially, Ross’s argument appears to do this. Upon further examination, it fails. Ross’s primary apologetic method in his book The Creator and the Cosmos is evidentialist in nature; he attempts to show that probability of the universe forming in such a way as to allow life (as we know it) to exist is too vastly small to be due to random chance, which he cites as the atheist argument. This model, he argues, necessitates a creator who exists outside of the space-time continuum, purposefully directing and guiding the creation and evolution of the universe within a finely-tuned range that would allow the creation of life. This appears to be closer to the Deist concept of a creator-god, the divine architect of the universe, a far cry from the Christian god with all its omni-predicates. Even this “architect of the universe” is unnecessary, however. The thing about evolution and natural selection (not just biological), as Richard Dawkins points out in The God Delusion, is that is requires no deity. “Guided
Casey 4 of 13 evolution/natural selection” is an oxymoron. Given Ockham’s Razor, why appeal to an extra component in ones hypothesis if it is not necessary? It seems to be true, under our current cosmology, that the universe does have certain (perhaps finely-tuned) parameters which, under the anthropic principle, cannot be significantly altered without destroying the probability of life (wikipedia). However, this far from proves the existence of a personal, intervening deity. Upon further abstraction even the Deist architect of the universe can be seen as allegorical of the universe itself and those laws (even those unbeknownst to man) which govern it. It would be far more persuasive if physical laws did not account for atoms being held together or planets remaining in orbit or for the “fine tuning” of our universe. If our existence was in defiance of observable natural phenomena then it would require a binding supernatural force. However, even then the “supernatural” force would no longer be supernatural, it would be natural as well as the deity would be natural. Our universe, however, is not one which necessitates a natural deity, or any other kind besides the loose, allegorical gods which make complex natural phenomena understandable by the laity. The probabilities Ross uses in his argument depend on a finite universe, or even a finite number of multiple universes.
Casey 5 of 13 Either way, space-time must be finite, and thus all the physical mass-energy existing in space time must be finite. This contradicts one of the most basic physical laws, that massenergy can be neither created nor destroyed. To argue “scientifically” by positing the notion of a being who necessarily defies scientific law seems to be a shaky foundation upon which to build an argument. Ross cites the findings of NASA’s COBE Satellite in an attempt to bolster his argument. He claims that COBE proves the existence of a finite universe, and thus an important premise of his argument. In reality, the COBE satellite did, in fact, contribute greatly to our understanding of the cosmos, but it does not by any stretch prove even a remote lean towards Theism, though Ross claims that Theists everywhere have reason to celebrate. The COBE satellite proved an expanding universe, and thus disproved the Steady State Model, which was neither explicitly theist nor atheist. It only stated that our universe was static. By extrapolation, an expanding universe would have started out very very small, expanding into the very very large. The Big Bang Theory, which did in fact receive more support after the COBE Satellite findings, does not favor a god, as Ross purports. He sees god as that which made the Big Bang occur. The COBE Satellite, Ross’s perceived Holy Grail, does not rule out, or even decrease the possibility of the (perpetually)
Casey 6 of 13 oscillating universe model, which is adhered to by Stephen Hawking as well as the late Carl Sagan. Ross cites certain thermodynamic principles, in his “Cosmic Oven” example, to explain why, though multiple oscillations may be possible, infinite oscillations are not. He explains that as the universe expands, it cools, and “runs out” of energy. It appears he missed when Einstein combined the principles of constant mass and constant energy into the principle of the constant of massenergy, which are really the same at certain states. It seems that a certain critical point would have to be reached in order for the universe to either expand in a “Big Bang” or condense in a “Big Crunch.” Presumably, the laws of physics which dictate at which point this would happen remain constant, and the mass-energy present in the universe would remain constant. Imagine a teapot, heating on a stove. The boiling point is always the same. Certain other factors, like the heat of the burner, the amount of water in the pot, the temperature of the water before being placed on the burner, among others, could affect at which spatial-temporal point the water actually begins to boil, yet the boiling point of water remains constant, as do the “Big Bang” and “Big Crunch” points of our universe. Moreover, the nature of everything within our universe appears to be cyclical, rather than linear, from the life cycle to the seasons to the rotations and orbits of the
Casey 7 of 13 tiniest moons to the largest galaxies. It would only make sense that the universe as a whole mimics this structure rather than adopting the opposite (linear) nature. Even discounting the very feasible perpetually oscillating universe, the emergence of our universe from an infinitely, or near infinitely small singularity via the Big Bang still does not prove, or even support the notion of a supernatural deity. This postulation merely transfers the original “problems” of the origins of our universe to the origins of this deity. If god causes itself, why can’t the universe cause itself? Ross’s arguments against the concept of an actual infinite appear to be closer to sophistry than logic. Mathematically, he argues, an actual infinite is impossible to comprehend. Yet, isn’t his god purported to be eternal? Mathematically, we cannot even measure the curvature of the circular rim of a coffee cup without appealing to infinity, though we can see with our eyes the apparent finite nature of the rim of the coffee cup. Our mathematics are clearly flawed, especially with regards to the very large or very small. They are based on human scale and are useful and operative on that scale. Thus, to understand the very large and very small, geometry and thus a system of proportions must be employed. That finite human beings find it easier to comprehend finite measurements is not surprising. However, we must refrain from
Casey 8 of 13 the arrogance that leads us to believe that our scales and measurements are applicable outside the environment in which they evolved. Richard Swinburne presents a slightly more advanced argument than Ross, though it still retains the same problems common to all forms of the cosmological argument. In his essay, “Justification of Theism,” Swinburne argues:
“Some phenomenon E, which we can all observe, is considered. It is claimed that E is puzzling, strange, not to be expected in the ordinary course of things; But that E is to be expected if there is a God; for God has the power to bring about E and He might well choose to do so. Hence the occurrence of E is reason for supposing that there is a God… That there is a Universe and that there are laws of nature are phenomena so general and pervasive that we tend to ignore them. But there might so easily not have been a universe at all, ever. Or the Universe might so easily have been a chaotic mess. That there is an orderly Universe is something very striking, yet beyond the capacity of science ever to explain” (3).
J.L. Mackie, Swinburne’s long-time intellectual rival, provides counter-arguments. The existence of the universe as the said E in Swinburne’s argument is to be expected in an atheist
Casey 9 of 13 universe as well as in a theistic one. Swinburne’s logic appears to be as circular and ad hoc as Ross’s. Who is to say that the Universe is not a chaotic mess? Yes, it is ruled by certain laws, but the term “chaotic mess” is subjective. Surely the massive hurricane on Jupiter appears to be a chaotic mess, as do phenomena more familiar like war and suicide and the busied lives of overworked college students, as well as the less familiar phenomena like black holes. The existence of natural law does not prove, or even support the theistic hypothesis; in fact, it appears in some cases to argue against the theistic hypothesis which requires defiance of natural law. Swinburne makes the mistake of equating naturalism with chaos and random chance. In The Miracle of Theism, Mackie points out that Swinburne’s new take on the old cosmological argument does not get rid of the original problems of an uncaused cause (i.e. a personal deity outside of space-time. “What is common to the many versions of this argument is that they start from the very fact that there is a world or from such general features of it as change or motion or causation… and argue to God as the uncaused cause of the world or of those general features, or as its creator, or as the reason for its existence” (81). Swinburne presents a strong counter-argument, however, to opponents of this “god of the gaps.” Though he concedes that a
Casey 10 of 13 god is postulated to fill in the gaps in cosmology (which seem to have become smaller with the advancement of human science), “we postulate electrons and protons, neutrons and quarks to explain the miscellaneous data of physics and chemistry” (“Mackie, Induction, and God” pg3). However, it is easy to counter this argument by stating that electrons, protons, neutrons and quarks are necessary to explain certain phenomena. Again, given Ockham’s Razor, if the Universe could (as Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking, and J.L. Mackie, among others, contend) be explained without postulating a supernatural deity, the concept of this deity, as well as Swinburne’s aforementioned example, would be erroneous and irrelevant; electrons, etcetera, fitting the criteria Ockham’s razor while Swinburne’s definition of god would not. It appears that despite any modern interpretations of the cosmological argument, the most credible and advanced of which I have described in the preceding paragraphs, the same key problems arise. Namely, that the universe could likely be eternal (or any of the other attributes ascribed to it’s theoretical creator), that “scientifically” postulating a deity that exists outside of space-time is vastly unscientific, that the argument itself appears to be circular (the only possible entity to fit the presented criteria being god, the original hypothesis), that the postulated god fails when held to the same
Casey 11 of 13 standard as the universe it is postulated to explain, that Stephen Hawking’s Quantum Cosmology as well as the existence of dark matter (which, according to NASA, could account for an overwhelming majority of mass in our universe) refutes many of the modern premises, and that even if the premises are true, god (especially the Christian god or any god other than a deist creator) does not necessarily follow from these premises. To me, admittedly less educated (thus far) then Swinburne and Ross (both Ph.D.s), and especially less qualified then Swinburne, and atop my mountainous eighteen years of existence and observation, it appears that there is a far more likely conclusion. Atheist reductionism seems at least as arrogant as theism, though it does seem to have slightly more credible (scientific) methods. Given the small amount of knowledge I have of psychology, history, and anthropology, I am not surprised at the evolution of religion to explain what cannot be explained otherwise. This does, to an extent, refute some of religion’s “scientific” claims. However, I am not so arrogant in my humanism to believe that our current science can explain everything. Chaotic or not, the universe and its components exist in some form or another, and presumably what mass-energy exists now always has in some form or another, whether in a perpetually oscillating universe (which, as I previously stated,
Casey 12 of 13 would inductively make sense given what is known about the nature of the components of the universe) or in an infinitely, or near infinitely, small singularity that at some point burst forth into creation as we know it. A god that exists outside of space-time doesn’t seem to be logically consistent with the methods used to postulate the said god. Science deals with the natural, so it does not make sense to use “scientific” methods to prove the possibility of the existence of a supernatural being. I do not believe this sort of apologeticism should be taken seriously in an academic environment. What makes supernaturalism so much more “divine” than naturalism? Could there not exist some sort of binding force in full compliance with natural law? When we die, our mass-energy is recycled and reused just the same as any mass-energy in the universe. The most ancient gods were merely representative of human psychological archetypes. Perhaps the human concept of “god” is in fact a natural manifestation of the laws of the universe, not a distinct and personal being outside of it.
Casey 13 of 13 Works Cited: The Creator and the Cosmos, Hugh Ross, NavPress, Colorado Springs, 1993 The Existence of God, Richard Swinburne, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2004 “Mackie, Induction, and God,” Richard Swinburne, Religious Studies 19, 1983: p.385-391 The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins Cosmos, Carl Sagan The Existence of God, J.L. Mackie The Miracle of Theism: Arguments For and Against the Existence of God, J.L. Mackie, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1982 http://www.wikipedia.com Encyclopedia Britannica Online http:://www.reasonstobelieve.org