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How do proponents of the Cosmological argument respond to the nature of time?

Is asking what occurred before the Big Bang like asking what is north of the North Pole?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmological_argument#Scientific_positions:

It is argued that a challenge to the cosmological argument is the nature of time, "One finds that time just disappears from the Wheeler–DeWitt equation". The Big Bang theory states that it is the point in which all dimensions came into existence, the start of both space and time. Then, the question "What was there before the Universe?" makes no sense; the concept of "before" becomes meaningless when considering a situation without time. This has been put forward by J. Richard Gott III, James E. Gunn, David N. Schramm, and Beatrice M. Tinsley, who said that asking what occurred before the Big Bang is like asking what is north of the North Pole. However, some cosmologists and physicists do attempt to investigate what could have occurred before the Big Bang, using such scenarios as the collision of membranes to give a cause for the Big Bang.

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3 Answers 3

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I don't think this is the best approach to tackling the cosmological argument. The Kalām version of the argument seems immune to the counter-argument by design. It's less concerned with "What was there before the Universe?" and more concerned with:

(2) The universe has a beginning of its existence.

A better objection1 is that the first premise is far from certain:

(1) Everything that has a beginning of its existence has a cause of its existence.

If you reject (1), you don't need another case against the argument.

(All terms of the argument are quoted from Wikipedia.)

To loop back to your question, a proponent of the cosmological argument would be unperturbed by the objection that time began to exist along with everything else since that's one of their premises: (2). And in fact, scientists speak as often as anyone else about what happened before the Big Bang, so it seems like a specious counterargument. At this point, arguments against (1) seem more likely to succeed.


Footnote:

  1. Alvin Plantinga makes essentially this case in God, Freedom, and Evil, if I understand correctly.
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Right. But of course, if you reject 1, then the cosmological argument falls as well. You don't need a first cause. The universe may very well just pop into existence. –  Lennart Regebro Jun 24 '11 at 13:41
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@Lennart: I think we are in violent agreement. ;-) I think I said the same thing: "If you reject (1), you don't need another case against the argument." I'll edit to make that line stand out a bit more. –  Jon Ericson Jun 24 '11 at 17:06
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It can be argued, that the most reasonable inductive inference from evidence is that (1) is true, something we accept in all common and scientific settings. –  danielm Jan 19 '13 at 0:41
    
Lennart it takes more faith to believe in things coming into existence uncaused than it takes to believe in a Deity as a cause. Proving once and for all I do not have enough faith to be a atheist. –  Neil Meyer Apr 25 '13 at 7:29

I don't see why you think there is any reason to respond. In metaphysics, when one says something is prior to something else, we mean prior in the causal order. The question isn't "what came before the universe in time?", only what caused the universe. Causality is not the same as succession in time. The North Pole analogy as a strategy to render meaningless causal questions by invoking temporal notions of cause is nothing short of a profound misunderstanding of causality.

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Is asking what occurred before the Big Bang like asking what is north of the North Pole?

Only if you assume naturalism. If the idea of super-naturalism is considered then the question has merit. The people who make these claims do so with a naturalistic presupposition that they are more then likely unaware of. If we see the world through our naturalistic lenses then maybe they do not seem reasonable but their people who hold to different positions. Ones who hold to a finite universe. People who are open to ideas of God and to them trying to discern the qualities of this first cause is important.

Then, the question "What was there before the Universe?" makes no sense;

It makes sense to me seeing as we are trying to discern a transcendent cause for the universe. One that may very well not be bound by the limits of space and time. One that is eternal where the universe is not.

Before the discovery of the background radiation the universe was thought to be eternal (Or static). Why was it not unreasonable to think the universe eternal then yet now when religion posit a eternal cause for a non eternal universe I have to read "witty" quotes on why asking question about eternal causes is illogical.

It to me is incredible how atheism can deny just about anything in defense of its claims. It does look like it is given more leeway than any other worldview.

However, some cosmologists and physicists do attempt to investigate what could have occurred before the Big Bang, using such scenarios as the collision of membranes to give a cause for the Big Bang.

If this is true then they and Thomas Aquinas did and are doing the same thing.

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I'm afraid your premises don't follow. Supposing there were a "cause" prior to the Big Bang, there's no need for that cause to be eternal, immaterial, knowledgeable, or powerful. Furthermore, the philosophical concept of causality is much more complex (and fraught with difficulty) than you let on; a simple reading of Hume will suffice to get you started. –  Michael Dorfman Nov 28 '11 at 12:09
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This answer is insufficiently well reasoned to be useful. Also, answers should address the question, not comments of other answers. –  Rex Kerr Nov 28 '11 at 14:33
    
I asked a related question about whether there are any arguments against the idea that all events are caused. You might be interested in reading the answers there. I also asked elsewhere if the Bible itself proposes the teleological argument, which is a subset of the cosmological argument. Personally, I agree with you, but it's surprisingly difficult to make an airtight, philosophical case. –  Jon Ericson Nov 28 '11 at 22:16
    
Would you like us to merge your registered/unregistered accounts together? (Assuming this is you: philosophy.stackexchange.com/users/1660/neil-meyer) –  Joseph Weissman Mar 15 '13 at 17:06
    
Yes please. Merge away –  Neil Meyer Apr 2 '13 at 9:13

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