The Cosmological Argument, also known as the First Cause or the Prime Mover Argument, is one of the most common apologetic tools you’ll come across. Even those who know nothing about apologetics or religious debate will manage to stumble their way across some basic form of this argument if they keep at the discussion long enough.
The argument typically goes as such-
Premise 1: All events have a cause, and all causes have a prior cause.
Premise 2: The chain of cause and effect seems to regress back infinitely.
Premise 3: An infinite series of prior events is logically and rationally untenable, leading to apparent inconsistencies.Conclusion: There must therefore be a first cause, itself uncaused, and that cause we choose to call God.
We all know that this argument is unsatisfying, but it can be difficult to pin down exactly what aspect of this doesn’t settle well in our gut. So I just wanted to outline what I see to be the basic structural problems with this argument. To give clear language to that little "ehhh…I’m not buying that" that many feel when they hear this.
The conclusion falsifies the premise. Premise one states that all things have a cause. The conclusion posits a thing that doesn’t have a cause. If the conclusion posits a causeless thing, then the first premise, that all things require a cause, must not have been true in the first place. This renders the entire argument unsound. If your conclusion is in direct defiance of the premise that lead to that conclusion…then your argument has some problems.
Another way in which the argument fills us, but at the same time leaves us hungry, is in the simple response that even a school child can immediately come up with; "Then what created God?"
This is not a proper rebuttal. It works in short order, but a sophisticated thinker can side-step this response relatively easily. The First Cause argument attempts to show that there must be an ultimate capstone cause that is uncaused. Once you reach that capstone, however far back you wish to go, that is the thing that is God. The causal chain ends at that point (according to the argument) so to ask what caused that cause is nonsense. It is simply not a valid question if you accept the premises and the conclusion.
The problem is that there is no justification for anthropomorphizing the capstone state. Even if you logically agree that some eternally existent ultimate state or cause is necessary, there is utterly no justification to personify that state as a Deity. That eternal and consistent cause could just as easily be a virtually empty quantum background or an eternally fluctuating matter/energy cycle. It is even possible that it could be a Personal God, but there is no justification to posit the anthropomorphic God over the other options. All new information we discover about the cosmos leads towards the still uncertain conclusion that some form of extremely low-energy quantum state is the eternal cause, and nothing that we discover even begins to point toward some eternal personality or agent.
Furthermore, the entire argument hinges upon the limits of our mental comfort. Logic is a system we use to make sense of reality as our minds can comprehend it. It makes no logical sense to us that there could be an infinite regression of finite events, but our minds are notoriously bad at dealing with concepts of infinity, and it could very well be that there is an infinite regression; we just find it difficult or impossible to wrap our logic around that. It is also possible that there is a finite beginning out of truly nothing approximately 14 billion years ago. Our minds are notoriously bad at dealing with the idea of nothingness, and even less equipped to contemplate all of everything coming out of nothing with no prior cause. This does not mean that it could not have been this way, just that we are not equipped to toy very well with that idea.
Basically, the Prime Mover argument is internally inconsistent, with a conclusion that falsifies its own premises. It arbitrarily assigns agency to the First Cause with no justification for that move. Lastly the whole argument relies on the fact that we cannot conceive of causality lasting infinitely, or beginning at a finite time, and assumes those two states to be impossible although that may not be the case.
Thoughts? Questions? Criticisms? Comments?