I’ve always been annoyed by the idiocy of some philosophers. Not by the idiocy of philosophy, like some scientists I know—without Popperian epistemics, the whole of science would be incapable of any claim to truth beyond a fallacious appeal to consequences—but the incapacity of certain philosophers to consider the implications of empirical science.
I note this because of a discussion I found in Greta Christina’s archives about why atheism doesn’t make sense. Someone asked why Greta didn’t mention the cosmological argument for a creator god. (The cosmological argument basically states that everything in existence has a cause; the universe exists; therefore the universe has a cause; therefore god.) She mentioned the obvious complaint, that positing a god only shifts the question one step back: if everything has a cause, what caused god?
Aside: I’m mildly upset that until this week I’d never read anything by Greta Christina. The woman is a skeptical goddess. </hero worship>
But I think that there’s a more sound response to be made against the cosmological argument. Greta’s response punctures the argument for god, but doesn’t address the hole that the cosmological argument seems to put in naturalistic explanations of the universe: what made everything exist in the first place?
First, lets be clear about what causality is. It is a hypothesis. The statement “everything has a cause” can be falsified. In fact, it has been falsified. If you suck all of the matter out of some space, particles of matter and anti-matter will pop into and out of existence. These particles appear at random intervals with nothing intervening to cause them to exist. As another example, consider the classic Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment. When the cat is observed, its wave-function collapses to either alive or dead. Which one is completely random, independent of any external or internal variables. Which way the wave-function collapses has no cause.
Even if you don’t grant that “everything has a cause” has been falsified—repeatedly—the statement “the universe has a cause” is logically meaningless.
One of the fundamental aspects of causality is that it requires time in order to function. David Hume listed 8 conditions for causality. The first three are:
- The cause and effect must be contiguous in space and time.
- The cause must be prior to the effect.
- There must be a constant union betwixt the cause and effect.
So, if time does not exist, we can not talk about a “cause” and “effect.”
It should be agreed on by everyone that space and time are really that single confusing concept space-time. Most people also seem to get that there was no space before the Big Bang. But since space-time is one thing, the same equations that predict the Big Bang also show that time came into existence at the Big Bang. As Stephen Hawking said, asking what came before the Big Bang is like asking what is north of the North Pole. “Before the Big Bang” is logically meaningless. Time is not a line, stretching infinitely backwards and forwards. It is a ray, with a definite beginning and (at least at the moment) no end in sight.
The Big Bang is, at least arguably, the “cause” of the universe. However, since “before the Big Bang” is meaningless it is meaningless to ask what caused the Big Bang.
So, in any case, the cosmological argument is utterly devoid of merit. The fact that it was not abandoned immediately once the Big Bang was proposed does not reflect well on apologists. The fact that it took until 19-fucking-94 for a philosopher to grasp this does not reflect well on philosophers.