The Absurdity of Something Arising Without A Cause

The king of skeptics, David Hume, taught that we cannot be certain of even common things that happen around us. He claimed that even when one billiard ball hits another, we cannot be sure that the first caused the movement in the second. But even Hume once said “I never asserted so absurd a proposition as to say that something should arise without a cause.”

To deny that effects need causes is to undermine most everything we know. We would hope no one would assert so absurd a proposition as to say things are happening around us without any cause whatsoever. However, this is exactly what some atheists are saying. They try to say that sub-atomic particles appear from nowhere without a cause, therefore we cannot be sure that the entire universe may have arisen from nowhere without a cause. Even Hume would not assert such a claim. Hume did say that after all the mental games we play, the next morning we must put the game back in the closet and go live a common-sense life.
It is absurd to say that since we don’t know the cause of what happens in the sub-atomic world, then the larger than atomic world could arise from nothing without a cause. Such a claim is an atheist of the gaps argument, unreasonable to its core. Such a claim is certainly not worth basing one’s eternity on.
Advertisements

About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
This entry was posted in Atheism, Philosophy, Skepticism. Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to The Absurdity of Something Arising Without A Cause

  1. It is absurd to say that since we don’t know the cause of what happens in the sub-atomic world, then the larger than atomic world could arise from nothing without a cause.

    Speaking as an atheist, I’ve often upbraided others for making this sort of claim. You are quite correct: it basically amounts to an Argument from Ignorance fallacy. However, even worse, I think it completely misunderstands the evidence from cosmology.

    When I say, “the universe came from nothing,” I mean it in the same way as when I say, “there is nothing north of the North Pole.” In the latter case, it’s fairly obvious that I am not claiming that there exists a state of nothingness which is located north of the North Pole. Rather, I am saying that there does not exist anything which is located north of the North Pole. In exactly the same way, I agree that it would be absurd to claim that there existed a state of nothingness from which the universe arose. Rather, I am saying that the universe did not actually arise from anything– which is to say, the universe did not arise.

    • humblesmith says:

      One could say that 1) the universe did not arise, which means it did not have a beginning. Since the universe obviously exists, it would have to have always existed. A different statement would be that 2) the universe arose, which means it had a beginning, but there was no cause which brought it into existence. The second is what this post speaks of. The first can be logical and is not incoherent, but is a different subject than this post. I would of course say the evidence points to the conclusion that the universe had a beginning.

      • That depends entirely upon what you mean by “a beginning.” If you mean to say that there was a time in which the universe did not exist, I would say that the evidence most certainly does not point to that conclusion (and, in fact, that this isn’t even coherent). However, if by “a beginning,” you simply mean that the universe had an earliest moment, then it is entirely possible that the universe had a beginning and yet did not arise.

        • John Branyan says:

          Speaking as a theist, the requirement to redefine every word in an explanation is one of the most unappealing aspects of atheism. Concepts like, “beginning”, “arise”, and “nothing” are simple to understand. Rather than respond to the ideas in the post, you’ve merely muddled the meanings of words.

          There is nothing north of the North Pole. Likewise, there is nothing of consequence in the phrase, “it is entirely possible that the universe had a beginning and yet did not arise.”

          • Speaking as a theist, the requirement to redefine every word in an explanation is one of the most unappealing aspects of atheism.

            Actually, the reason I made that clarification is that theists very often mean “beginning” in a very different way than the common person understands that term. When the average person says something has a beginning, they mean to imply that there was a time when that thing did not exist followed by a time in which that thing did exist. However, this is not at all what, for example, famed Christian philosopher and theologian Dr. William Lane Craig means by “a beginning.”

            For Dr. Craig, “beginning” does not imply that there was any time in which a thing did not exist. Something which has literally existed for all time, and which has literally never been non-existent, could still have a “beginning” under the definition which Dr. Craig utilizes.

            So, to clarify once more, if one means “beginning” in the common way, then it is not at all true that the evidence from cosmology points to the universe having a beginning. If one means “beginning” in the way Dr. Craig does, then there is evidence from physics to support the idea; however, there was never a time in which the universe did not exist, so clearly the universe did not arise, at all, in such an instance.

          • John Branyan says:

            I’ve read many of Craig’s books. He never suggests that the universe is without a beginning. The first premise of his famed argument is “whatever begins to exist has a cause”.

            The universe began to exist.
            God did not begin to exist.
            You have misunderstood Craig’s argument.

            If you disagree, the burden of proof for an eternal universe is on you.

          • I’ve read many of Craig’s books. He never suggests that the universe is without a beginning.

            At no point did I say that Dr. Craig suggests the universe is without a beginning. What I stated was that Dr. Craig’s definition of just what a “beginning” entails is very different from the common understanding of the word. In particular, on Dr. Craig’s definition, something which has literally existed for all time and which has literally never been non-existent could still have a beginning.

            He’s written and spoken about his peculiar definition for “begins to exist” numerous times. You can find one such example here: https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/question-answer/beginning-to-exist and you can see for yourself that Dr. Craig’s definition does not entail that the thing which “begins to exist” was ever non-existent. This is very deliberate on his part since he knows that Time is a part of the physical universe and that it would be completely incoherent to assert that there ever existed a time in which time did not exist.

          • John Branyan says:

            You are still misrepresenting the argument.

            The Universe is not “something which has literally existed for all time and which has literally never been non-existent”. That describes “God”.

            Time did not exist prior to the universe. God, being eternal, had no fixed point of reference for gauging the passing of time. The act of creation was a fixed point from which “the past” could be measured.

          • humblesmith says:

            While this post is not about time theory, I recognize the subjects are intertwined a bit. The distinction here is that we were speaking of things needing causes, not of whether the cause was in time nor whether the effect had a time before time. We might instead say that an effect requires a logically prior cause, and later we can discuss whether the cause is chronologically prior.

            In the link you shared, Craig briefly explains B time, but rejects it. In Craig’s explanation, B time is the only way one can have a beginning and be in the state you suggest. Craig denies this and holds to A time, where eternal things do not have beginnings, and logically prior to any beginning was a state of the thing’s nonexistence. I hold that you are misunderstanding Craig. Bringing in time theory is not what this current post is about. For the purposes here, having a beginning is identical with coming into being. Eternal things have no beginnings, and things with beginnings did not always exist. Let’s leave “time before time”i out of this, for it is indeed unreasonable and muddies the water.

            For what it’s worth, i disagree with Craig’s either\or argument about time and hold to what I think is a much better explanation of time, which I have explained elsewhere on this blog.

          • My statements are actually entirely independent of whether one subscribes to an A-Theory or a B-Theory of time. Even on the A-Theory of time, it is still true that there was never a time in which time did not exist.

            Let’s presume, for a moment, that time does not extend infinitely into the past. This necessarily implies that there was a first moment of time. It is true that the universe existed in that first moment of time, since time is a part of the universe. Since it is the first moment of time, it is also true that there are no prior moments of time in which the universe did not exist.

            So, literally, the universe has existed for all time; and, literally, there was never a time in which the universe did not exist. This conclusion follows on the A-Theory just as much as it does on the B-Theory.

            If you want to claim that despite the fact that there is nothing which is temporally prior to the universe’s existence, there must still have been a logically prior state in which the universe did not exist, I’m afraid that I’m going to have to ask you what that even means. On the A-Theory, if there wasn’t a time in which the universe did not exist– a temporally prior state– then there was never a time in which the universe was unactualized potential. What does the phrase “[there] was a state of the thing’s nonexistence” mean if that state was never actualized?

          • humblesmith says:

            Quite simply, the law of causation, and the need for every effect to have a cause, does not go away simply because we cannot agree on how time works. This is why I didn’t bring it up in the post. No matter whether it is true or false that tenses existed prior to creation of matter, it is still true that it is absurd to say that something came to be without a cause. I suspect you realize this, which is why we were sidetracked on time theory.

          • Quite simply, the law of causation, and the need for every effect to have a cause, does not go away simply because we cannot agree on how time works.

            Again, this has nothing to do with how time works. I am perfectly happy to presume the A-Theory of time for the sake of this discussion.

            Cause-and-effect are descriptors of change. Particularly, an effect (on the Thomistic, A-Theory view) is the actualization of some potentiality. However, if time is finite in the past, then there is an earliest moment of time– even on the A-Theory. If there is an earliest moment of time, that moment is not a changed state from any previous moment, as there are no moments previous to the first. That first moment was never an unactualized potentiality. It cannot possibly have been an effect, and therefore requires no cause.

            …it is still true that it is absurd to say that something came to be without a cause.

            I agree! That’s why I never said anything of the sort. In fact, I said the complete opposite: that the universe did not arise (or “come to be”) at all.

          • John Branyan says:

            You have rendered your paradox multiple times. It isn’t any more substantial than it was when you first suggested it. Since you’ll accept incoherence as profundity, this ought to flip your flapjacks: “Time is a four-cornered circle.” – Plan accordingly.

          • Mr. Branyan, I haven’t rendered any paradox, at all. There is no inconsistency or incoherence here. Again, let’s presume that time is finite in the past. Do you agree that this would necessarily imply that there was a first moment of time? Do you agree that if there was a first moment of time, then that necessarily implies there there were never any moments of time prior to the first? Do you agree that time existed in the first moment of time? Do you agree that time existed for all subsequent moments of time?

            I honestly don’t understand why this seems irrational to you, because it seems absolutely trivial and tautological to me. There never existed a time in which time did not exist.

          • John Branyan says:

            I agree that it is absolutely trivial to say there was never “a time” when time did not exist.

            The paradox is how you derived your statement, “the universe did not arise at all”. We’re still being “tautological” because you’re intentionally misconstruing the meaning of the word, “beginning”.

          • I agree that it is absolutely trivial to say there was never “a time” when time did not exist.

            Great! We can use this point of agreement as our starting point, then. Would you also agree that time is a part of the universe? Would you agree that if time exists then the universe exists? If you agree to these two things, in addition to our previous point of agreement, would you agree that there never existed a time in which the universe did not exist?

            We’re still being “tautological” because you’re intentionally misconstruing the meaning of the word, “beginning”.

            I am doing no such thing. I have discussed two different ideas of what it means for something to begin to exist: the common meaning and the definition given by Dr. Craig. I cited Dr. Craig’s definition so that you could check it for yourself: at no point does Dr. Craig’s definition for “begins to exist” either explicitly or implicitly require that a thing must first be non-existent before it can begin to exist.

          • John Branyan says:

            “If you agree to these two things, in addition to our previous point of agreement, would you agree that there never existed a time in which the universe did not exist?”

            No. We’ve already agreed the statement is trivial and irrelevant. Slipping the word “universe” in place of “time” doesn’t change the irrelevance. It’s like saying, “There are no red objects that aren’t red.”

            Time was created along with the Universe. Prior to the creation of the universe (and time), there was “God”. The point of the article is that the universe (and time) began to exist and therefore require a cause.

            You’re still playing semantic games with Craig’s definition. “…at no point does Dr. Craig’s definition for “begins to exist” either explicitly or implicitly require that a thing must first be non-existent before it can begin to exist.” – Right. We have a word for the thing that was never non-existent. You know what it is. You just don’t want to say it.

          • We’ve already agreed the statement is trivial and irrelevant.

            No, we agreed that it is trivial and tautological. “Tautological” does not mean “irrelevant.” “Tautological” means that it is impossible for the statement to be false. It’s a very relevant statement.

            So, are you saying that you don’t agree that there never existed a time when the universe did not exist? If so, then do you not agree that time is a part of the universe? Or do you not agree that if time exists in a moment then the universe also exists in that moment?

            Prior to the creation of the universe (and time), there was “God”. 

            What do you mean by “prior?” Obviously, you cannot mean “existing temporally before” since it would be completely nonsensical to claim that something exists temporally before time exists.

            You’re still playing semantic games with Craig’s definition.

            Feel free to show where Dr. Craig’s definition requires, either explicitly or implicitly, that a thing be non-existent prior to beginning to exist. I’m not playing semantic games. Dr. Craig deliberately crafted his definition of “begins to exist” to address the very fact that there was never a time in which time did not exist.

            We have a word for the thing that was never non-existent. You know what it is. You just don’t want to say it.

            I understand that you believe God is a thing which was never non-existent. That doesn’t negate the fact that it is still true that the universe was never non-existent.

          • John Branyan says:

            “I understand that you believe God is a thing which was never non-existent. That doesn’t negate the fact that it is still true that the universe was never non-existent.”
            And around and around we go!
            I’m getting off this ride. I’ll catch you next time.

          • I’m getting off this ride. I’ll catch you next time.

            If you want to abandon the discussion rather than address any of the specific points which I have actually made and rather than answer any of the specific questions which I have asked, you are free to do so, of course. I’ll be disappointed, though, since I am actually curious as to your responses.

          • John Branyan says:

            Dude. I addressed your specific points.

            The universe had a beginning.
            Time had a beginning.
            You are correct that we can’t refer to “the time before there was time” in any rational way.
            That doesn’t make your suggestion that the universe was never “non-existent” yet still had a beginning any less incoherent.

            The “time before time” can be called, ‘eternity’, ‘oblivion’, ‘limbo’, ‘nothingness’, or ‘Chesapeake, Ohio’ if you like. Eternal things, by definition, have no beginning. If you want to say the universe is eternal, have at it. That was an article of faith among cosmologists a hundred years ago. Modern science asserts the universe did not always exist. Which, again, is why the universe must have a cause.

  2. grabaspine says:

    At least your title is honest about being a fallacy of Incredulity and ignorance. And yet, you probably don’t realize they are actually logical fallacies at all. Lol

  3. John Branyan says:

    Even more absurd is the necessity of defending something so obviously true as the principle of cause and effect. Atheism makes people stupid.

  4. humblesmith says:

    In this thread, what our atheist friend appears to be saying is something like:
    1. The universe had a first moment.
    2. There is nothing in time prior to the first moment.
    3. Therefore the universe had a first moment (a beginning) but did not come to be (there is no cause to the universe) because there is no moment for the cause to do anything. .

    Such a conclusion does not follow necessarily from the first two premises. It is not required that all causes be in sequential time. Rather, logic would lead us to something much closer to this:
    1. The universe had a first moment.
    2. There is nothing in time prior to the first moment.
    3a. Therefore something not in time caused the universe. (i.e., something in eternity or aeveternity caused the universe.)

    We can conclude 3a from the fact that all effects need a cause, whether it be chronological or logically prior. This cause is commonly called God. 3a fits with the common-sense rendering that Christians have always had, namely that a timeless God created the universe.

    To avoid the conclusion that God exists, the atheist must resort to logical absurdities. As we have seen here, our atheist friend came up with contradictions such as beginnings that did not come to be and first moments that did not arise. He was trying to avoid God by playing language games about time theory…..saying the universe always existed but had a first moment, and equivocating “there never was a TIME which the universe did not exist” with saying there never was a SITUATION where the universe did not exist (or in philosophical terms, a state of unactualized potential). The conclusion does not follow, for as 3a shows, there is a much simpler and logical conclusion: the universe was created from a timeless eternity, the existence of which does not depend on first moments.

    William Lane Craig has written extensively on this. Time itself is an effect which also needs a cause, and Craig deals with this in his writings. Here, our atheist friend seems to misrepresent Craig’s view, for Craig does indeed hold that first moments need a prior cause, just not a cause in time.

    For what it’s worth, Thomism does not follow A theory or B theory of time. This is where we disagree with Craig. Rather, time is not a state of being. Time is merely a measure of relation between two things……”15 minutes” is only meaningful when it describes a movement between the earth and the sun. The confused conversation above does not take into account that God can be timeless in His essence but still have acts that occur in time. Good metaphysics solves the time problem. For a bit more, see here:
    https://humblesmith.wordpress.com/2013/09/19/is-god-in-time/

    We’ve said enough already. Per our comment policy, we will stop here.

Comments are closed.