Why “Everything Has a Cause” Is a Terrible Justification for God’s Existence


Blake_ancient_of_days “If there’s no God, then where did all this come from?”

I’ve written a fair amount about some of the more painfully bad arguments for religion and against atheism. I’ve written about the argument that religion is just a story, not meant to be taken literally… a story that still somehow makes people get very bent out of shape when atheists point out that it isn’t true. I’ve written about an assortment of arguments from wishful thinking, from the insulting (and irrelevant) argument that atheists don’t stay atheists when faced with death, to the baffling (and irrelevant) argument that religion gives us a needed feeling of mystery. I’ve written about the arguments that essentially just tell atheists to shut up. And I’ve written about the ways that, when asked what evidence they have for their religious beliefs, many believers simply deflect the question. Instead of saying, “This is why I believe what I do,” they offer a list of excuses for why they don’t have to show us any stinking evidence.

But that’s not true for all believers. When asked why they believe what they do, some believers take the question seriously and sincerely — and they try to answer it.

I want to return the favor. I want to look at some of these more earnest answers to the question, “Why do you believe in God?” I want to take them seriously, and assume that the people presenting them mean them sincerely. And I want to point out — in as much detail as I can in a single blog post — how they still don’t hold water. They’re less bad than a lot of arguments for God — at least they’re trying to actually answer the question about the evidence for god, instead of just treating it as stupid or meaningless or patently offensive. But in my years as an atheist writer, not one of them has made me stop and think, “Hm, that’s a poser.”

Today’s argument: But All Of This Had To Come From Somewhere! Otherwise known as the “First Cause” argument. “Things don’t just come out of nowhere,” the argument goes. “Everything that exists has a cause. Therefore, the entirety of physical existence itself had to have had a cause. Therefore, God exists.”

Yeah. See, there are some big problems with that argument.

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Thus begins my latest piece on AlterNet, Why “Everything Has a Cause” Is a Terrible Justification for God’s Existence. To find out what exactly the big problems are with the First Cause argument, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

Comments

  1. Zossima says

    This argument is the basis of intelligent design. I’ve never understood how somebody gets from here (“it must have come from somewhere”) to the idea that it came from the christian god.

  2. Maria says

    Great as always, Greta! (is it a sign, you think – woo woo music ;-) – that I all the time misspell Greta as Great, and have to change it?)
    Reading the first comment over there… How is it even possible that anyone can read an article that is so clear and still reply like that? I mean… just read that first comment!
    “Nature helps. Go commune with some trees. Try to figure out what water says when it is talking. When you can hear the rocks speaking, god is easy to listen to. Have you ever listened to loud waves at the ocean? They have a lot to say.”
    Someone definitely hit the “Jesus Bong” a bit too much!

  3. Chad Groft says

    Zossima, it’s because they’re thinking backwards. We’re trying to find answers to our questions. They’ve already got an answer, and are desperately trying to find the question.

  4. Eclectic says

    Zossima: Word. the origins of the big bang are indeed a mystery, but it is just a finite (albeit very large) amount of matter and energy in a small space, a long (but finite) time ago.
    Everything proceeds from there according to rules we understand and have observed.
    Why exactly is this less plausible than the universe being started by a conscious being with several infinite attributes who gets pissy about leavened bread and cares passionately about my sex life?

  5. ckitching says

    If something cannot come from nothing, someone ought to tell that to virtual particles. Those pesky little buggers are constantly appearing out of nothing, and usually disappearing back into nothing.
    It’s positively disrespectful!

  6. says

    Man, alternet commenters…Ugh. So awful. Honestly, I prefer Christian and Muslim fundies to the horrible, generic mysticism of “liberal” believers. “No man, like, you’re too immature to just listen to the waves on the beach. THAT’S God.” Or atheists who constantly tell other atheists to pipe down and not make waves.

  7. says

    Another name for pious liberal believers: Left-Wing Fundamentalists.
    I say this as the worst sort of atheist liberal. :) In my state of Massachusetts, I, like Greta, have seen a lot of woo-woo people and have always felt marvel and disappointment that they adopt the tropes of right-wing fundies under different labels.

  8. Valhar2000 says

    David, it has always been thus. The political spectrum is not a line, but a circle: if you go far enough one way, you meet the kooks on the other kooks on the other side.

  9. Bruce Gorton says

    Posted by: David Moisan | March 01, 2010 at 09:25 PM
    They are like the rightwing fundementalists, except with a far greater tendency to spout off about CS Lewis.
    Frankly I wouldn’t take a Children’s book authors opinion of the mental stability of a rabbi we mainly know about through the writings of his followers as a great indicator that Jesus wasn’t a loony.
    And that is without even getting into the fact that Jesus could have just been wrong, or a composite character, or entirely fictional.
    Yet there he is, constantly brought up as some sort of vindication.
    “Yeah, you have various scientists, but we have a guy who wrote children’s books.

  10. says

    Great one. The currently popular iteration of “everything has a cause” is called the Kalam Cosmological Argument, and it’s usually rendered as, “Everything that begins to exist has a cause. The universe began to exist. Therefore, the universe has a cause.”
    See, they’ve very tidily eliminated the “but where did God come from?” question even before it can be asked. God didn’t begin to exist, the argument runs, so he didn’t need a cause.
    It must be handy to have an argument that comes with its special pleading already preinstalled.

  11. says

    Yeah, that’s a good one, Cactus. What I like about it is how blatantly it assumes the things it’s trying to prove: that the universe had a beginning (yes, yes, the Big Bang, but we don’t have any idea what, if anything, there was before that)… and that God always existed.
    Also, as people keep pointing out, there are some weird quantum entities whose names I can’t remember that do wink in and out of existence. And there’s no evidence of the hand of a creator in their existence. So there.

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