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How can you lack belief in the existence of god?

I define god here as prime cause. As the world is a sum of collections of events, causally linked to the past through time, then there must be a prime cause.

As of now the Big Bang singularity has been discovered, but to say this Big Bang occured in nothingness, where there is no volume, no time, no energy, completely nothing...isn't it a bit far fetched? There ought to be cause(s) to this singularity, and cause(s) to that cause(s). In the end it should still lead to god.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Further comments will be removed and will not be moved to chat. – Keelan Apr 13 '18 at 7:41

26 Answers 26

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The alternative between existence and non-existence of a creator god cannot be decided by the argument of the first cause.

Whoever argues that a first cause is needed and that this first cause is god, has to answer the question:

What is the cause of the creator god?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Keelan Apr 14 '18 at 15:39
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The most compelling argument I've heard in this vein is that the existence of God just adds an extra step.

As Jo Wehler has pointed out, claiming God is the first cause raises the question: "What is the cause of the creator god?"

The most common response I've heard is that God requires no first cause; that's part of what makes God God. However, this raises another question: if you're willing to accept that there exists something which does not require a first cause, why could that something not just be the universe?

In other words, there are two possible ways the universe came to be:

  1. God simply was, requiring no first cause, and created the universe.

  2. The universe simply was, requiring no first cause.

Many non-believers look at these two possibilities, and by Occam's Razor choose the latter. To them, there is no reason God is necessary to solve the issue of a first cause.

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God here I defined as prime cause.

If you simply define god as the prime cause, then that is simply word-play. You obviously understand that the vast majority of people do not use the word 'god' simply as the definition of the first cause. They attach much more meaning to the word. The vast majority of people who believe in 'a god' believe in some being, which--currently or in human history--has had direct effects on the world. Your definition of god comes closest to the deistic version of god, although even deists believe that god exists (whatever that means. By the way, question: does the "first cause", which you define as god, exist?).

When you ask

How can people disbelieve in god?

It is very loaded question (or at worst, a very dishonest question) because you use the word 'god' much differently than what people ordinarily understand the word to mean.

If I asked you

How can people disbelieve in unicorns?

Then you might respond with something like "because there is no positive evidence that unicorns exist", and then I respond with "I define unicorns as being horses." Of course, by my definition of the word, most people actually believe in 'unicorns', but it would be silly of me to expect people to go around and say that they believe in unicorns, because my definition does not match the common usage of the word.

Why not simply skip the word 'god', and be much clearer and simply say "first (or primary) cause"?

Lastly, there is a bigger philosophical issue at hand. That is that we simply do not know if there is such a thing as the "first cause". Our understanding of the physical world basically breaks down near the creation of the (observable) universe, and our intuitions are often completely wrong about how physics work at the quantum level. Therefore, the honest thing to say is simply that we don't know.

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    +1 I would argue "How can people disbelieve in unicorns? I define unicorns as prime cause." Defining the prime cause as unicorn does not make the horse shaped one horned creature that people identify the word 'unicorn' real. – Adwiv Apr 16 '18 at 7:21
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    From a physics standpoint, I'd like to add a small clarification: our understanding of the physical world breaks down a tiny bit of time after the origin of the observable universe (whether "our" universe is singular or just part of some other universe etc., things that complicate everything further). But if time didn't exist before the universe, the idea of "first cause" makes little sense even in principle. General relativity alludes to that, though of course it cannot say that "our" Big Bang is the first one. – Luaan Apr 18 '18 at 9:11
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    @TheDoctor It's wordplay because using the word 'God' implies results that the argument would be incapable of proving even if it was flawless. It's claimed that the word 'God' here is just an arbitrary variable, but it's clearly motivated - otherwise you could substitute 'Peanut Butter Jelly Toast' for it and expect the result to be the same. – Cubic Apr 18 '18 at 15:24
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    @elliotsvensson The problem is that WLCs argument depends on a separation of "causes" into "material causes" and "immaterial causes", claiming that the latter can exist without the former. He doesn't really make a good argument for why this separation makes sense. – Cubic Apr 18 '18 at 15:30
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    This answer seems to assume that the OP doesn't believe in unicorns, but there is no such statement in the question. – Evargalo Apr 20 '18 at 14:42
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What is "nothing"?

This is Argument From First Cause. This exists in several variants...

The short rebuttal to this is: what is "nothing"? We do not know what was "before" or "outside" the Big Bang. We do not even know if the concepts of "before" and "outside" are valid in this context, since the concepts of "before" and "outside" implies that the things that were created at the Big Bang — time and space — already existed before they were created. We have never seen a "nothing" and cannot picture what it is. We cannot step outside our own timeline of a mere 14 billion years, and our local space of a puny 93 billion light years and examine what exists beyond our "something". Hence we cannot say this supposed "nothing" and from that tell with certainty that "something" cannot come from this "nothing".

And if there was a creator, what created that creator? To say "Nothing created the creator, the creator had no cause … it was eternal", that is Special Pleading.

Lawrence Krauss's lecture "A Universe From Nothing" also pokes big holes in the Argument From First Cause.

Finally, Hitchens points out, that:

[You] may not wish to abandon the idea that there must be some sort of first or proximate cause or prime mover of the known and observable world and universe.

But even if you can get yourself to that position […] all your work is still ahead of you. To go from being a deist to a theist — in other words to someone who says: God cares about you; knows who you are; minds what you do; answers your prayers; cares which bits of your penis or clitoris you saw away or have sawn away for you; minds who you go to bed with and in what way; minds what holy days you observe; minds what you eat; minds what positions you use for pleasure — all your work is still ahead of you, and lots of luck. Because there is nobody, there's nobody, even Aquinas had to give it up, there's no one who can move from the first position to the second.

In short: even if you believe there is a first cause, you cannot say if the first cause is God, Brahma or The Flying Spaghetti Monster, or simply other laws of nature that are unknown to us.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Keelan Apr 13 '18 at 7:42
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There are a few different ways to show that this argument doesn't necessarily lead to the idea of a god.

  1. Special pleading: You get to claim that everything must have a cause...except a god. But, a) how do you know that?, and b) why do gods get this property but the universe--following the model of an eternal series of Big Bang and Big Crunches--cannot have it? ("Religious texts told me so" is not a reasonable answer.) [At least one physics model claim such an eternal series of bang crunches is impossible, but it may be incorrect.]

  2. False dichotomy: "It's either a god or it just happened". What if (beyond the idea that something always existed; see #1) there are other explanations? Maybe it's The Force. Maybe our universe is an eddy in the toilet water of a toilet in a civilization in some other plane of existence. Maybe our whole existence is a simulation in a computer (a trendy idea lately). Maybe there are no gods but there are souls, and our souls somehow "desire the universe into existence". Sure, these are kooky ideas, but keep in mind: You're supposing that basically one person made all this using magic.

  3. Multiverse: It may be the case that our universe is, despite the name ("uni" = "one") is just one of many universes in a multiverse. This idea is pursued seriously by astrophysicists.

  4. Mystery: When we think about the "Ultimate Origins of Everything", we should exercise some serious intellectual humility. (Philosopher Daniel Dennett makes this point somewhere on YouTube; sorry, can't find the reference yet.) To say that we know with certainty what must have happened prior to an event 14 billion years ago (an event that if it doesn't merit the adjective "inconceivable", I'm not sure what does) seems unreasonable. I add this point beyond point 2 about False Dichotomy because it may be the case that the Real Answer to all this is so far beyond our ability to understand it can't even be put into words, let alone comprehended. I'm not being defeatist--we should try to figure this out if we can. I just don't know whether we can or not at this point in history.

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    @FrankHubeny I think it is special pleading if you say everything but God/gods cannot be eternal. See here: rationalwiki.org/wiki/Special_pleading#Examples the first example, and within the atheist literature generally. – Chelonian Apr 12 '18 at 17:22
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    I don't know what you mean by "--not an assertion. Not even a philosophical argument". In any case, if the OP were admitting that the "universe-or-at-least-something-like-it" might be eternal in some fashion (see my eternal Big Bang/Big Crunch cycle mention above), than he wouldn't be posting the question. He seems to only be affording the possibility of eternalness to his conception of a god. That's special pleading. – Chelonian Apr 12 '18 at 17:39
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    @FrankHubeny The microwave background is a reflection of our local spacetime, but that's not necessarily "the universe". – Greg Schmit Apr 13 '18 at 4:49
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    @FrankHubeny It's special pleading to choose to call this eternal thing one step beyond the universe "God", instead of "prime mover" or "first cause" or "multiverse". The word "God" comes with a load of unnecessary and contradictory connotations and cultural baggage. – Timbo Apr 13 '18 at 6:18
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    You should add Strawman Argument as the OP seems to believe Big Bang theory states that it "occured in nothingness, where there is no volume, no time, no energy, completely nothing..." which is a theory I have never heard before; there was an infinite amount of all the aforementioned things (besides volume) as the big bang occurred, theoretically. – omikes Apr 16 '18 at 19:37
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In addition to the excellent answers given, a physicist would have problems with the following.

There ought to be cause(s) to this singularity, and cause(s) to that cause(s).

This takes causality as axiomatic. That everything everywhere follows time's arrow, even things before the Big Bang and outside the known Universe. Everything follows causality, right? Time always flows forward, right?

Well... it turns out our universe is not so simple.

Our universe at the very small (quantum) and very large (astronomical) scales acts rather differently than the mid-sized macroscopic universe we observe and interact with day-to-day. Yet these familiar macroscopic behaviors come from those rules governing the very small and very bizarre, the quantum universe. A lot of what we take as the "common sense" rules of our (mostly) classical macroscopic universe are actually emergent properties of a very strange (to us) quantum universe where the rules are very, very, very different. One cannot assume that these emergent classical rules apply to the very large or the very small or the very high energy, such as near the Big Bang. And yes, even causality is at risk.

While "time" shows up all over the equations, it's never been shown to be a fundamental property of our universe. "Time" may be an emergent property of mass, entropy, and the second law of thermodynamics, a property that may have taken some "time" (for lack of a better term) to merge after the Big Bang, and may have no meaning "before".

So when talking about a "first cause" outside the rules of our universe, or in the very different conditions at and just after the Big Bang, you must first show that causality exists then (or there). There may well be, literally, a time before time.

If you want to know more, PBS Space Time is has a playlist on The Origin Of Matter And Time.

But to say this big bang to occur in nothingness, where there is no volume, no time, no energy, completely nothing.

There are similar problems with "nothing". True "nothing" violates the Uncertainty Principle. It says there's a limit to how accurate a system's position and momentum can be. "Nothing" means a thing's position and momentum (or lack thereof) has at a very high accuracy, too accurate for the Uncertainly Principle, so every system must always have "something". (This is why we can never reach absolute zero.) This "something" has been described as the quantum foam, or zero-point energy (no, we can't use it as an energy source), or the quantum vacuum state, and gives rise to things like virtual particles.

So there's no such thing as "completely nothing". PBS Space Time also has a playlist on The Quantum Vacuum (aka "Nothing").


More mind bending ideas about time and causality and nothing from PBS Space Time and others.

  • So you are saying that there might exist a cause which happen after the effect, in the primordial singularity? – Nik Faris Apr 12 '18 at 20:11
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    @NikFaris I'm saying the whole idea of cause and effect may make no sense in the conditions near the Big Bang (also "nothing" is not nothing at the quantum scale) It becomes very difficult to talk about it without math because causality is woven into human language and thinking. I'd suggest you watch that PBS Space Time playlist, it does a good job building up the necessary context. – Schwern Apr 12 '18 at 20:24
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    @NikFaris It's best if you don't think of singularities as a thing that exist in space. Singularities are things that exist in equations and are basically another way of saying "the model doesn't really work well in this specific situation". To the best of my knowledge, physicists have a pretty good idea of what happens as we rewind the clock to a fraction of a second before everything would be in one point, but once the universe gets small enough, the models break down and all we can really say is "Yes, it is definitely very small and hot and rapidly expanding at this point in time". – Ray Apr 17 '18 at 20:49
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    To expand on Ray's comment, they're referring to the Plank Epoch before a Plank Time (10^-43 seconds) had passed, the time it takes light to travel one Planck Length. This is all because of the Planck Constant which defines the smallest possible packet, or quanta, of energy. This is the "quantum" in "quantum mechanics". At this scale our theories do not work. In particular gravity dominates and we have no theory of quantum gravity. – Schwern Apr 17 '18 at 21:28
  • @NikFaris You might find University of Oregon's historical and philosophical review of Cosmology relevant, particularly Lecture 20 on the Early Universe. – Schwern Apr 17 '18 at 21:36
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If the notions of actual or potential infinity are coherent, why is the notion of an infinite series of causes not also coherent ? The series of prime numbers is infinite - why not the series of causes.

Also, even if there does need to be a first cause, that blocks the regress (if you must block it) but introduces a notion itself in need of explanation. If God is the first cause, then God must be causa sui - (a) the cause of Godself or (b) without cause. (Spinoza scholarship is riven by these two interpretations (Charles Jarrett, 'The Logical Structure of Spinoza's "Ethics", Part I', Synthese, Vol. 37, No. 1, Spinoza in Modern Dress (Jan., 1978), pp. 15-65 : esp. 39.)

It is hard to make literal sense of God as self-creator : God would have to exist before God's own existence in order to bring Godself into existence. I think I am not alone in having difficulties with that idea.

Also if, on the other interpretation, God is without cause, why can the universe itself not be without cause ?

Finally, in this brief discussion, if you demonstrate the necessity for a first cause you still have to cover the extra step of identifying that cause as God if by God you mean a being possessed of omnipotence, omniscience, and benevolence. All that is not packed into the mere idea of a first cause.

In any event, the first cause would not need to be omnipotent but only possessed of enough power to create the universe. The same goes for omniscience : God would only need enough knowledge to create the universe. Moreover there is no inference from first cause to benevolence, no logical connexion at all.

  • +1 If the universe is eternal then it doesn't need a cause to begin since it never began. The same goes for God. Beside a possible philosophical argument a reason today to consider the universe to have a beginning is the discovery of the cosmic microwave background and the conclusion from that of some kind of beginning. You make a good point that the cause of the universe beginning need not be an agent making a free choice however that remains a possibility as well. – Frank Hubeny Apr 12 '18 at 16:22
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    I agree that if the universe is eternal it doesn't need a cause, and that the same goes for God. But the Questioner was assuming that the universe is not eternal and that it does need a cause, namely God. If God does not need a cause, as in the 2nd def. of causa sui, it doesn't follow that God is eternal. God may have come into existence causelessly at any time. The whole answer was dialectical, arguing from different angles. Actually my favourite point was in the last para. God doesn't need to be omnipotent, only to have enough power to create the universe. Ditto for omniscience. – Geoffrey Thomas Apr 12 '18 at 18:58
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    I agree with you about God's omnipotence and omniscience. It would be an interesting question to ask. It would be special pleading to expect causeless events either at the big bang or when quantum systems collapse if one expected there to be causes everywhere else--unless one can claim why those cases deserve to be separated. Without some kind of causation (agent or event) one has indeterminism which doesn't seem right since reality appears orderly. The cause of the universe need not be God but some event. I think Craig argues around that point successfully, but I need to think about it. – Frank Hubeny Apr 12 '18 at 19:11
  • Is the quantum world orderly ? It's lawlike but the laws are only probabilistic and does an individual case of radioactive decay have a cause ? – Geoffrey Thomas Apr 12 '18 at 19:20
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    @Luaan. I take your point. But I was not even endorsing the concept of cause. I was working within the assumptions of the Questioner and trying to show that, granting those assumptions for the sake of argument, the existence of a First Cause does not follow - and even if it did, an extra, separate step would be necessary if the First Cause were to be identified with God as traditonally conceived. Thanks again – Geoffrey Thomas Apr 18 '18 at 10:41
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How can you lack belief in the existence of god.

Simple - "X believes in god" is a statement/predicate about human X.

For a non-believer, the state of believing in god is exactly as inconceivable as the state of not believing in god would be for a believer. Both need mind-shattering experiences to truly switch around, there is no way through simple logic to change that (proof: if there were a way - in either direction - the issue would be resolved by now, and we would not be having this discussion).

Even indoctrinating gullible young humans for many years through childhood and adolescence does not with certainty work to instill either belief or disbelief in them, as demonstrated frequently by young adults switching to the "other camp" when out of the control of their parents or community.

God here I defined as prime cause. As the world is a sum of collections of events, causally linked to the past through time, then there must be a prime cause.

There are several (simple, logical) fallacies in those sentences:

  • "God is a prime cause" is a definition, and has no "true or false" meaning; at this point in your argument it gives an attribute/predicate ("is a prime cause") to a concept ("god"). That is certainly applicable for mono-religions because humans simply created that definition. But from this definition there does not follow "Every prime cause must be god".
  • If, at this point in your argument, you imply "God is" (that is, "God exists"), then you can stop right there - then you will have started the argument with the fact you wanted to prove, in the first place.
  • "[All events are] causally linked to the past through time" - that is false. All spacetime points/events which are outside of each others light cone are not causally linked. And this predicate of not-being-causally-linked survives back right up to the instant of the Big Bang.
  • "there must be a prime cause". No. There may, or may not be a prime cause, but "must" is patently false here. We can easily think of ways that the universe could start without a prime cause. It could be an infinitely repeating meta-process of universes being separated by infinitely many Big Bangs. It could be that the concept of "cause" itself breaks down at the singularity. It could be that the next Hawking resolves the error in our formulas and the singularity simply disappears. It could be that our universe sprang into being spontaneously the same way we know/assume that certain virtual (but still real) quantum particles spontaneously appear and disappear even in the deepest vacuum, with no single other particle anywhere around. Plenty of possibilities, none of which anyone can disprove just yet.
  • You did not write it, but there is an invisible statement at the end of your argument: "Therefore, god is that prime cause". This is not the case either. You can define God to be a prime cause, but you cannot define it to be the only prime cause. Hence, even if there were a prime cause (which I am not arguing against!), nothing tells us that that must have been god.

As of now big bang singularity has been discovered.

No. The Big Bang has not been "discovered", almost all of it is just one theory on top of another on top of another. The only thing that is certain is that we have not witnessed anything that disproves the Big Bang. That is the nature of science. Until we disprove the Big Bang, it is a possibility. We can get ever more sure about it, but we will never know with absolute certainty.

Every scientist underwrites that contract. The scientific method is about "formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses". We can, by principle, never "prove" the Big Bang, we can only disprove it by witnessing something that conflicts clearly with it. Science has rewritten itself over and over again. Being 100% irrevocably sure of something is a clear sign of pseudo-science or religion.

Specifically, while we are pretty sure that "something happened" back then, we also know perfectly well that our current mathematical model of the Big Bang is wrong (or at least incomplete). Not wrong in the sense of "false", but wrong in the sense that we need a much more complicated theory. Similarly to how Newtons laws are not quite false in everyday cases, but are patently wrong in the big picture. We are still thinking about it...

But to say this big bang to occur in nothingness, where there is no volume, no time, no energy, completely nothing.

To say that would be extremely false. The opposite was true. From the Brief Answers to Cosmic Questions, by Harvard University:

``No. The Big Bang was not an explosion IN space. It was a process that involved ALL of space. This misconception causes more confusion than any other in cosmology. Unfortunately, many students, teachers, and scientists(!) mistakenly picture the "Big Bang" as an explosion that took place at some location in space, hurtling matter outward.

In reality, ALL of space was filled with energy right from the beginning. There was no center to the expansion, and no magical point from which matter hurtled outward. The confusion arises in part because of the amazing conclusion that the OBSERVABLE portion of the universe was once packed into an incredibly tiny volume. But that primordial pellet of matter and energy was NOT surrounded by empty space... it was surrounded by more matter and energy (which today is beyond the region we can observe.) In fact, if the whole universe is infinitely large now, then it was always infinite, including during the Big Bang as well.

To put it another way, the current evidence indicates only that the early universe - the WHOLE universe - was extremely DENSE - but not necessarily extremely small. Thus the Big Bang took place everywhere in space, not at a particular point in space.´´

On to your argument:

There ought to be cause(s) to this singularity,

Maybe there ought, maybe there ought'nt. We certainly do not know enough about the universe to know. Maybe the physical, real phenomenon that is represented by our mathematical singularity is precisely something that precludes any causality (insofar as causality is a "physical" thing in the first place, and not just a mental crutch we need in our limited understanding of reality, the answer to which I'm pretty sure nobody knows with certainty).

But even if it is that way, then...

In the end it still lead to god.

... that last argument is again a fallacy. You start out by proposing that everything is caused by god, and therefore everything leads back to god. Logic does not work that way. In the best case (if there is a real god which functions the way you propose), you can just skip everything in your argument, and be done with your first assertion. And if there is not, then you are starting from a false statement, from which you can, by logic, prove anything. Hence, this argument proves nothing.

Be sure to understand that I am not telling you that it needs logic for god to exist. But for some people, including scientists and philosophers, you do need logic to convince them of something... hence, to go full circle to your first question:

How can you lack belief in the existence of god.

Simple - nobody has found a logical, irrefutable proof that works without the assumption of the existence of god, yet. Hence, some people, who require such, do express a lack of belief.

  • In your last sentence, I think you mean 'irrefutable proof that does not works without'. – Tensibai Apr 16 '18 at 11:40
  • For your Harvard quote, note that it's not even required for the big bang to have occurred in a larger universe - when people try to imagine the topology of the universe, they usually use analogies like "warped piece of paper", which intuitively lead to the idea of something being "out there", beyond the bounds of the paper. But that isn't required at all - for example, if you represent wind direction as a 1 dimensional quantity (N->E->S->W->N), it clearly loops back on itself (no start or end), can be pictured as a circle, but has no "inside" or "outside". There's so many possibilities. – Luaan Apr 18 '18 at 9:30
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    @Luaan, yeah, a frequent analogy would also often be a balloon being pumped up, which is wrong on so many levels... the part you brought up stated (that it may not even require a infinite universe) is included in the very small "if" in In fact, if the whole universe is infinitely large now; I would leave the quote as is, the answer is quite long already. Or did you feel it's really misleading as it stands now? – AnoE Apr 18 '18 at 16:39
  • @AnoE Nah, it's probably the appropriate level of response considering the question - it's not like the OP asks for all that we know and don't know about the Big Bang. And it's not really wrong, it just doesn't explore all the plausible possibilities (which again makes sense in the context of who the document is targeted at). No need to include even more caveats. – Luaan Apr 18 '18 at 19:31
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The problem with discussions like this is that you rarely see any definition of terms. Define god. For some, it is simply the mysterious fact that there appear to be laws of nature discernable by humans (at least). We may never know why there are laws of nature, but I'm pretty sure this is what Spinoza and Einstein had in mind when they used the g word. In my view telling someone that you believe in god conveys zero information without a corresponding definition.

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    I agree. I did list some of the attributes of God, those relevant to the discussion. But all the terms used in the answers beg for further explication. +1. – Geoffrey Thomas Apr 12 '18 at 19:22
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    This. If you just say "first cause", that could be literally anything - a subatomic particle spontaneously coming into existence for no particular reason. That's a far call from what is commonly understood when you use the word "god". – Tom Apr 13 '18 at 8:05
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One of the problems with the "first cause" argument is that it really says this:

"All things require a cause except for the prime cause."

But once you start carving out exceptions, you start running in to trouble. That "first cause" argument says that's it's possible for something to exist without a cause. By why limit yourself to just one thing? If one thing can exist without a cause, then what's to keep some other thing from also existing without a cause? Or a third thing? Or a billion things? Or all the particles in the universe? Why couldn't two things— both existing without cause— have collaborated to create the rest of the universe?

I don't have an answer to those questions. But to build an argument for the existence of God on something that is so far removed from traditional notions of cause and effect is specious at best.

  • I don't want to start an argument, but one possible interesting answer to your "why not" question is, if quantities themselves only exist within the context of the created universe. – Wildcard Apr 13 '18 at 20:00
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    @Wildcard. No argument, I agree with you. Your comment is an example of what I meant by "so far removed from traditional notions of cause and effect." I mean, if notions of quantity exist only within the context of the created universe, isn't be equally plausible that the notion of sequence or even causality only exist within the context of the created universe? Entertaining and mind expanding discussion? Yes. Logical proof of God? I don't see how. – Randall Stewart Apr 13 '18 at 20:44
  • Excellent response. Although "logical proof" was not mentioned in the question at all. Perhaps that could be the basis for another answer to this question: belief in God is not necessarily logical, and cannot even be declared to be illogical. It can be a thing quite apart. Some have the fundamental belief that only things demonstrable by logic (starting from certain assumptions which they choose to believe) should be believed as true. – Wildcard Apr 13 '18 at 20:59
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The question, How can someone lack belief in the existence of God given a rational argument justifying the existence of God? assumes that belief is the result of a rational argument rather than an emotional commitment that motivates the search for rational arguments. People who disbelieve in God do something similar to believers except they make different emotional commitments. They also then search for rationalizations for their disbelief. The point: One will not change belief without changing that more basic emotional commitment.

To see this rationalization process in daily action outside the controversies of religion consider those bullish on the stock market compared to those bearish on it. Or, consider the rationalizations used by someone choosing one political candidate over another during a political campaign season. The same process of believing leads to motivated reasoning to justify the belief. When one wants to win the “hearts and minds” of adversaries, one has to first win their hearts. Their minds will rationalize whatever their hearts want. To read more about this process look at Jonathan Haidt’s “The Righteous Mind”.

The following sentence is puzzling from a theistic position:

As the world is a sum of collections of events, causally linked to the past through time, then there must be a prime cause.

Although that statement makes sense based on the principle of sufficient reason, it doesn’t lead to theism unless somewhere in that event chain of causes there is more than impersonal event causation. There must be agent causation somewhere in that chain for a God to exist. This agent makes a free choice. See pages 64-67 of William Lane Craig and Quentin Smith’s Theism, Atheism, and Big Bang Cosmology where Craig uses Kant and al-Ghazali to argue not just for a cause of the universe, but for a personal Creator.

To say “the world is a sum of collections of events” also asserts determinism which is an extreme way to assert atheism since it not only denies the agency of God, but also our own agency. Even if one includes indeterminism, which is often how quantum collapses are described, that randomness description side-steps the existence of agents.

If the world is truly the sum of collections of events then so are human beings. That means we cannot choose to believe or not believe. That we actually do believe and disbelieve many things is evidence that determinism is not correct. See Richard Taylor, "Freedom and Determinism" in his Metaphysics for one libertarian approach to agency.

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    Three major objections: 1) to say that disbelief is a form of belief is like saying baldness is a hair-colour. This is one of the most lame fallacies that believers engage in... a poor Tu Quoque. The exchange goes: Alice: "I believe X", Bob: "Well... I do not believe X". To say that this makes Bob a believer is faulty. 2) atheism does not advocate determinism, it only says that deities have not been shown to be the cause of the universe. 3) to say that determinism denies agency is false. It may deny free will, but free will and agency are two different things. – MichaelK Apr 12 '18 at 14:14
  • @MichaelK I think you have too much faith in rationalism. As I mentioned determinism is an "extreme way to assert atheism". Hopefully atheists have alternatives to determinism otherwise atheism is false. Denial of free will is denial of agency. – Frank Hubeny Apr 12 '18 at 14:18
  • No, you can have Agency without having Free Will, as is evidenced by us in our daily lives. – MichaelK Apr 12 '18 at 14:21
  • @MichaelK In that article is this: Agency is contrasted to objects reacting to natural forces involving only unthinking deterministic processes. I am sure one can define the term differently. My use I hope aligns with Taylor's perspective. The point of using agency as I am doing is to emphasize what is at stake in the kalam argument. One does not just need any old cause, one needs an agent capable of making a free choice for a God to exist. – Frank Hubeny Apr 12 '18 at 14:38
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    I do not care about "what is at stake". If you have a stake in a particular claim, you need to be extra critical of yourself, because if you feel you might lose a stake, that is a very strong bias. – MichaelK Apr 12 '18 at 14:51
7

OK, so you have this prime cause, and you want to name it God. Then basically everything else you predicate of God is bound to be utterly illogical. Especially if words like 'cause' are related in meaning to what happens when they apply to humans.

Omnipotence seems highly unlikely. Causation and control are unrelated. Humans cause things they cannot control all the time (starting with children). So to get from First Cause to Omnipotence is basically impossible.

Omniscience is also baseless. In fact we witness no intelligence in the universe until relatively late, so this prime cause would probably lack intelligence entirely and would not know anything.

Benevolence is irrelevant. Having created something very seldom links you to its final fate. We create material waste constantly, and we are not positively inclined toward it.

So this may be a correct argument, but it serves no purpose. This thing you have labeled God is the hyper-Deist God with no mind, no agency, and no moral content.

  • 1
    +1 A prime cause may be nothing more than what you describe. Atheists need to keep it as an event cause. Theists need an agent cause. – Frank Hubeny Apr 13 '18 at 16:42
  • @FrankHubeny Strictly speaking, the universe does not require a cause. Causality may be an artifact of the universe, not a "global irrefutable truth", which would mean that questions like "what caused the universe?" or "what was before the universe?" would be misconceptions, trying to fit our everyday experiences to something that just doesn't work that way. And I'm not even getting started on things like closed spacetime topologies of the universe etc.. Whether or not causality is universal, there's certainly a lot of alternative being explored. – Luaan Apr 18 '18 at 9:39
  • @Luaan The reason we look for causes is because the universe appears orderly. I don't mind that everything does not have an event cause, but if there is no event cause then I do expect some agent to exercise free will and start a chain of causes that would explain what happened. Regardless, if everything does not have an event cause that means determinism is false. – Frank Hubeny Apr 18 '18 at 11:10
  • @FrankHubeny And in our day-to-day reality, "orderliness" includes "causality". But that's not a strict necessity - there may be other mechanisms at play (and indeed, modeling event horizons in general relativity does give you causality in space, rather than time, so it isn't strictly a time-related concept). Granted, (non-strict) uniformitarianism has served us well in the past, and thus is weak evidence for assuming causality at least to the point of the creation of the universe (if there was anything you could call "creation"). Knowing the limits of current knowledge is essential. – Luaan Apr 18 '18 at 11:25
  • @Luaan If whatever sets the preconditions for an event constitute its cause, then in order for something to have no cause, time would have to be discontinuous. In that sense virtual particles are caused by the uncertainty principle -- energy has to be unequal, and is therefore concentrated enough somewhere to demand matter. They have neither an agent nor an event cause, but still have some sort of 'state/rule' cause. In that sense, you have your choice, either causality begins within time, or time starts. Neither is really something a human can imagine. – jobermark Apr 19 '18 at 22:47
5

You say basically: "How can anyone disbelieve X, when I'm giving an argument that X would be true?"
Whether this is about God or anything else doesn't really matter.

Here's a small list and incomplete list:

  1. I read your argument and I find it entirely unconvincing.
  2. I read your argument and I don't understand it.
  3. I read your argument and I'm sure that I don't understand it because it doesn't make any sense.
  4. I didn't bother reading your argument.
  5. I find your argument difficult, so I didn't bother thinking about it.
  6. I have read many arguments for X that I all rejected, so reading yours seems a waste of time.
  7. I have a vested interest in not believing X, so no argument will convince me. (That one often happens with arguments about climate change).

In your case it is a combination of multiple things.

God here I defined as prime cause

This doesn't make any sense.

As the world is a sum of collections of events, causally linked to the past through time, then there must be a prime cause

This is a complete non-sequitur. Actually, I would think the opposite would be the case, that there is no single initial cause. Makes a lot more sense to me.

But to say this big bang to occur in nothingness, where there is no volume, no time, no energy, completely nothing. Isn't it a bit far fetched?

Not if there is no simpler, less far fetched cause for the existence of the universe.

There ought to be a cause for this singularity

It seems to be just wishful thinking.

In the end it still lead to god

This is again wishful thinking. And not logical - because there must be a cause for God, if there is a God.

4

The Buddhist canon says, something like,

... has no known beginning. No first point is found ...

Another translates this as,

"From an inconstruable beginning ... A beginning point is not evident ...

That says that a "prime cause" isn't "evident".

Conversely Buddhism encourages people to consider what is evident.

I think it's a good answer. The doctrine (the "dhamma") implies that some questions don't have good answers: that the question or topic causes confusion and a tangle or thicket of views -- see The unanswered questions -- and this question (i.e. of whether or not the world is infinite) is one of them.


My opinion as a former mathematician, is that infinite series prove nothing of the sort -- you can make silly paradoxes with them if you're not trained -- IMO an infinite series converges or doesn't, in neither case is it a proof of God.

You appear to be, are you, deifying your concept of infinity? I.e. you have some concept of infinity (or some limit to infinity), and saying, "that is God". That seems to me an example of man creating god, a mind-made artefact.

There's a fable I read once,

Finding I could speak the language of ants, I approached one and inquired,

“What is God like? Does he resemble the ant?”

He answered,

“God! No, indeed – we have only a single sting but God, He has two!”

... which I understand as meaning that people deify (e.g. describe as "God") what they imagine to be greater than themselves.

Some people also speak of a God of the gaps, which I think means we attribute to "God" whatever is a gap in our knowledge.

  • If we don't know why it rains, it must be God making it rain
  • If we don't know why a child suffers, I suppose it must be God's will
  • If we can't discern what might caused a Big Bang ... God again.
4

There are two problems I'd like to pick up on which I do not think have yet been clearly articulated in other answers:

  1. Even if it is the case that everything in the universe has a cause, and you could prove it, this would still not imply that the universe itself has a cause. This is the fallacy of composition where you suppose that the properties of the components of a thing also apply to the thing itself. In fact, we have no idea whether a universe needs to have a cause and, indeed, under conceptions of the universe that include time, as well as space, it's not clear what "before the universe" actually means and thus how anything could be said to cause it.

  2. Your definition of god is extremely bizarre at best, and simple equivocation at worst. God, in religious conceptions is a vastly more involved idea that simply a formless, nameless thing that set the universe into motion. Even if your proof was entirely correct and convincing you would have done nothing to offer proof for a more conventional notion of God and there is no means for you to connect the two.

  • 1
    "Cause", it seems, mandates that we treat time as simply linear - something we factually know to be false. Time is linked with space and as Einstein proved, strangely linked to the speed of light and the mass of objects. Although we experience time in a more or less linear fashion, for us to assume that it operates throughout the universe that way and under all all conditions is a little like a deep sea fish believing that all creatures must be capable of breathing in water. The question, "what caused the big bang", may in fact not make sense. – DevonTaig Apr 13 '18 at 21:17
  • @DevonTaig "Linked" is not strong enough word IMO. In so far as relativity is correct, they're one thing that we perceive as two seemingly separate things only because of our own limitations. The same with the speed of light - light is simply one of the things in the universe that moves at the "highest possible speed"; the limit itself is inherent to the topology of this "space-time". In fact, if you assume that relativity holds well as you dive into a black hole (or any other event horizon), time and space swap places - space becomes time-like and time becomes space-like. – Luaan Apr 18 '18 at 9:46
3

How can you lack belief in the existence of god

Simply, one can say they lack belief in existence of God because there hasn't ever been any viable evidence to the case.

But to say this big bang to occur in nothingness, where there is no volume, no time, no energy, completely nothing. Isn't it a bit far fetched?

Sure. But it's not nearly as far-fetched as any given faith-based creation story. It's perfectly fine to consider some ideas as good and some as bad, even if we admit we don't really know how it all happened.

  • +1 I like the point about belief. Having a rational proof for God, and the kalam argument would be one if one accepts the two premises and a further argument that the cause of the universe is an agent, isn't going to lead anyone to "believe" if they don't feel like it. It is little more than a claim that not believing in God is not sensible. Those who believe could use the experience of their belief as all the evidence they need. – Frank Hubeny Apr 12 '18 at 18:54
2

The cause of my being alive is that my parents had sex. This intercourse, although it clearly was the case at some point, is not the case anymore.

It could be the same for the first cause of the universe.

  • Like: God created the universe and then she died from exhaustion. – gnasher729 Aug 21 at 23:40
1

It is possible that your assumptions in your argument are what's leading you astray.

God here I defined as prime cause.

Perhaps there is no prime cause. Cosmology suggests that the universe may have formed from nothing at all spontaneously, which would mean there is no prime cause.

But to say this big bang to occur in nothingness, where there is no volume, no time, no energy, completely nothing. Isn't it a bit far fetched?

Far fetched possibly, but may be true nonetheless. Here's a good article over on arXiv about how such a thing could occur. Other good reading along these lines would be Krauss, A Universe From Nothing.

  • 3
    It could be viewed as "special pleading" if you claim that everything needs a cause except the beginning of the universe. Atheists need an argument explaining the big bang so that agent causation is not involved. – Frank Hubeny Apr 12 '18 at 18:58
  • Could be, sure. Are you saying that because you think this answer makes that clam? – Beanluc Apr 12 '18 at 19:09
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    That arXiv article is not about creation of something from nothing. – IsThatTrue Apr 13 '18 at 20:31
  • @FrankHubeny The Big Bang has little to do with the "creation of the universe". Our best understanding (which may still be wrong, and almost certainly is at least incomplete) does not consider the Big Bang to be the start of the universe - it's just the first event to happen in our observable universe that we have at least very sketchy evidence for. It might have been the first such event, or not. It might have happened inside of a larger universe, or not. It might have been the beginning of causality, or not. We have no evidence either way - it is obscured by the results of the Big Bang. – Luaan Apr 18 '18 at 9:54
  • @Luaan If we "have no evidence either way" how do you know the "Big Bang has little to do with the 'creation of the universe'"? Regardless, the cosmic microwave background, which we do have evidence for, needs a cause--either an event cause or an agent cause. Randomness is a cover-up for a potential agent cause. Any reference to randomness could be viewed as "special pleading": determinism works except for those areas that can't be explained by an event cause. – Frank Hubeny Apr 18 '18 at 10:57
1

Many people believe in god; but in its different aspects--

1. As the root cause

2. In its versatile/never-ending abilities

3. In both aspects

Here, some people can put forward different arguments against the second aspect. But it depends on how you define that term--'god' .

So, in this question we need to consider the first aspect only. If we can rule out the first aspect also, we can easily ignore the third aspect. Then only the answer to your question would become coherent.

You say,

I define god here as prime cause.

Since you define god as the prime cause, people will have to call that prime cause 'god'. Otherwise they will be compelled to call it in other names (even though it is a Big Bang). Sometimes they will call it X. But all the things that are implied will be the same.

A person who believes in a cause that must be behind every cause, can't elude without saying anything about (or ignoring) that cause.

So, a counter question for finding the cause of creator god would be a silly argument; never a coherent argument.

A person, though he may not be a believer of god, can't deny the prime cause if his thought is rational. But he is free to call it god.

So, if a person's belief in cause and causes are rational, there can't be any coherent argument to disbelieve in god as the root cause of the universe.

You call something as 'prime cause'. This prime cause must be the cause that your/our mind can create. [If you say 'No' to this statement, it means you are giving more importance to something than mind. Then this becomes a folly and it also implies that the OP has no right to ask this question here. Otherwise it implies that it must be something that cannot be conveyed.]

But when we consider this cause as an effect, we will be compelled to take it as 'Not manifested'

"How 'nothing' became 'something'?"

This question will prevent you from formulating an idea for disbelief in 'cause of causes/god'.

1

What's a "prime cause"? I've never seen, heard, smelled, tasted, touched, experienced the temperature, internally observed any part of me to be, experienced pain directly from, had my balance induced or disrupted by, experienced vibrations of, or been made hungry or thirsty by a prime cause. Nor have any of my less well known senses produced evidence of a prime cause. You appear to be imagining a fiction and labelling it "prime cause". That could be fun, but it is unlikely to produce belief in anyone who doesn't already believe in prime causes.

Having asserted without proof the existence of a prime cause, you then assert that there is only one prime cause and relabel it "God". Ascribing limited number to fictions seems fine. Ascribing existence of fictions is hazardous, certainly not a basis for persuasion. Relabelling fictions seems fine, but pointless.

You then define the world to be "collections of events". In my normal usage, this would mean that you define the world to be external observables. Of course, this is false; I know I have internal observables that cannot rise to the standard of being an "event". So you seem define the world to be less than the world I experience. You assert a first cause is part of this lesser world. Since this world contains only collections of events, this first cause is a collection of events. Further, you invoke causal linking for events in this lesser world, but claim this first cause event has no causal prior, contradicting yourself in two ways -- any first cause event has no causal prior and so far you have presented no argument that a first cause event is unique. Either events can be first causes, in which case nothing in this argument precludes multiple first causes scattered through the causal history of this lesser world, or events cannot be first causes, in which case no first cause can be part of this lesser world.

Then you note that one proposed early event, possibly a first cause, is labelled "Big Bang". You then assert that this first cause is far fetched because it must have the properties of any initial first cause. All first first causes must occur in nothingness, where there is no volume, no time, no energy, completely nothing. How is it that your first cause escapes this difficulty that you indicate? You then claim that first causes must have prior causes leading back to the first cause (using here the label "god"). This directly contradicts the properties of first causes you have already established.

Why doesn't this argument lead to belief?

  • It is self-contradictory.
  • It is circular.
  • It proposes challenges that it cannot itself overcome.
  • It proposes unobservable fictions as "causes" for observable reality.
  • It denies basic features of the world.
  • It excludes its own "solution" from its limited world.
  • It describes its "solution" as far fetched.
1

As of now the Big Bang singularity has been discovered, but to say this Big Bang occured in nothingness, where there is no volume, no time, no energy, completely nothing...isn't it a bit far fetched?

Isn't the existence of God a bit far-fetched?

Applying Occam's Razor to the former, we see that it requires that we believe that there was nothing before the Big Bang, and that the Big Bang somehow created time and space as we know it. This conclusion is strongly suggested by the fact that it keeps the known laws of physics consistent and fits all the data we have collected so far about the universe.

Applying it to the latter, it requires that we believe that there is some external intelligent all-powerful entity which created the universe. This conclusion is suggested by no scientific data, and in fact this belief has been around long before sufficient data was collected or laws known to make a strong statement about the origins of the universe.

Also, what might seem "far-fetched" to our intuitions can often be completely natural once the laws surrounding it are more known. The current formulation of the Big Bang theory wasn't just arbitrarily chosen—it was done after considering many theories, most of which seemed too scientifically far-fetched to be justifiable, so they were thrown out. That's how science works. And if some day evidence is found that contradicts the modern Big Bang theory, then it will be adapted or thrown out too.

0

The reason why 'god' could be a sufficient answer for many people for the 'who created' question is the universal common instinct for reality or truth in the human nature. This instinct is not a instinct that pushes you to know the truth as it may seem(1), but it's an instinct to be aware of the truth(2). To make this clear, if we define this instinct by (1) , therefore the chance for somebody to change his view on some concept will be 50:50 depending on the evidence. But if we to define this instinct by (2) , this will explain why most people choose to stick to and justify their views when their views become threatened (unless you are adopting a view called change-whenever-you-can).

This instinct itself, prevents man from reaching the truth. It prevents him from thinking in an absolute abstractive way, therefore shrinks at a relatively superficial level and accepts 'god' as an umbrella.

0

One belief that gets around a need for a prime cause is that the universe/reality is infinite.

How'd it start? It's always been there. What was the big bang then? More stuff created out of a part of infinite stuff.

This makes sense if you consider that it could be possible to expand in every direction in respect to everything. I can't imagine ever actually getting to the point of being able to observe this though. We'd have to get far enough away from where we are now to be able to observe part of the universe we couldn't before.

Also I believe you have a misunderstanding of the big bang. It wasn't thought to have happened out of nothingness by the scientific community. The theory is that everything was in an infinitesimally small point, and then it exploded outward violently. All the matter and energy in the universe now was there at the start of the big bang, at least that's how I understand it.

Fun fact: The big bang is a Christian idea; someone in the Catholic Church came up with it a while ago. I forgot his name though.

0

There are excellent answers but I will like to add that a prime cause could be something very different from what you may be thinking:

Why does the universe exists:

Because it could. All possible universes may exists in the multiverse if there are no internal contradiction. For example, nobody can eat in a 1 dimension universe as it can't create a closed mouth or stomach without breaking itself.

But why does the universe exists with this specific properties and with the Big Bang:

This were the properties in this universe of the multiverse. Others may be very different. Of course you may seem surprised that it seem created for you. Like the puddle of Douglas Adams the universe seems to adapt when we are just molded by it. You don't seem to be surprised of not being born in the middle of the empty space. Why would you be surprised to life in a universe compatible with life.

This will be too simple:

That is the point. You can't start with very complex prime cause or you would need a prime cause for the prime cause.

That only works if multiverses exists:

100% true. This just show that the prime cause could be things that you may not call God. I hope it helps to avoid the false dichotomy or the argument from ignorance. It will also help to understand that some people are OK without God. Even more, we have some clues indicating that multiverses may be real. For example, quantum mechanics can be explained with the Everret interpretation. The Schrödinger's cat may have been death and alive at the same time but in different universes. But once you open to see a death cat finding it alive will be a contradictory.

But God may also exists aswell:

Unless proven otherwise we must be open to all possibilities. But God was some problems. First, it is badly defined and people change its definition depending of what they wants. Second. An existing God must have a mechanism to work. If you can define all the laws that govern the internals of this God including it's intelligence, way to act in the world, and reason why it does what it does, etc In this case it will turn a bit into a phenomenon or a Deus Ex Machina. Also, an intelligence force him to be very complex and Occam's razors tells us to prefer simpler interpretations. Most attempts to understand God have ended in "God is so great that can't be explained or understood" or "God act in mysterious ways". And most interpretations of God had been contradictory, unfalsifiable and impossible to prove.

0

Maybe when we "start" to go deeper in the concept of God which we created if we understand the concepts shared for example by David Hume such as Copy Principle / Problem of Induction... That is why when we put God to talk (to use the expression of Jean-Jacques Rousseau) we come up with definitions such as the meaning of Jehovah being "He causes to become".

As an attempt to conclude: God IS NOT a cause per se since both "God" and "cause" are ill defined, for example.enter image description here

-2

Why compare the possibility of God's existence to something like the Big-Bang assumption ? Both fall under the 'not proved' category.

The Big-Bang was formulated due to some scientists being out of ideas and has no true scientific basis. More and more scientists denounce this absurdity. You can assume a big-bang just as you may assume a god. None of them has scientific demonstrations to back it up.

The topic should of been formulated as: was matter and life created by an omnipotent entity (i.e. God) or did it appear by itself ?

Since we can't prove the God part, let's try to see if the second one is possible.

So far, many scientists including me, consider that 2 of 3 steps have been proven.

  1. Matter can self-create out of rolling waves, given the proper parameters are met. This has been tested and is both physically and mathematically proved. The opposite easy to recreate, as there are many examples of dissipating particles in the form of heat. I won't go into deeps physics here, it's kind of off-topic.

  2. Independent limited systems that are correctly connected can result in something better than their sum. Let's say we have 2 systems that have inputs and outputs. Each system will have a constant input and a constant output. Of course, each system will output something and that's it. It will not be able to alter that output on it's own. But if you connect the output of system 1 to the input of system 2 and vice-versa, you will have outputs that vary accordingly to the feedback received from the respective sub-part. Therefore, the total is more than it's parts. This example is very basic, but is what can lead to a completely self-aware AIs, artificial consciousness. But one may argue that someone intentionally connected the 2 initial systems to end up in the given above configuration. Well, that is not 100% needed. If you throw a big stack of pieces that have contacts somewhere, there's a high chance you will get various connections including the ones specified above. So external intervention is not really necessary.

  3. The part not yet complete is the actual biological evolutionary part. Proof is lacking a lot when it comes to species evolution from one into another, but this may be judged in another manner. Instead of evolving from one species to another, this may have happened differently. Because of the basic blocks are nearly identical, it's much more likely that there was a common life-template from which all species evolved rather than the Darwinian line. Unfortunately this theory is insufficiently tested at this point.

As a conclusion, I'd rather bet on something with 2/3 confirmed and one pending rather than something with zero evidence whatsoever and zero possibilities of future testing.

  • 2
    "Matter can self-create out of rolling waves, given the proper parameters are met. This has been tested and is both physically and mathematically proved. The opposite easy to recreate, as there are many examples of dissipating particles in the form of heat." - This is irrelevant to the question at hand, because matter, according to E=mc², is just another form of energy. The problem is to create energy out of nothing, not to transform energy into matter. – Thern Apr 17 '18 at 12:13
  • The Big Bang never claimed to explain the origin of the universe, that's just a popular misconception (itself probably stemming from attempts to ridicule the hypothesis). You seem to be drawing your information exclusively from popular science, which is very misleading. You'd be hard pressed to find a lot of scientists who claim the Big Bang didn't happen. As for scientists claiming that the Big Bang wasn't the creation of the universe... well, duh. It was never intended to be interpreted that way. It may be the beginning of everything, but we have no evidence either way. – Luaan Apr 18 '18 at 9:59
  • We have proved that no big bang is necessary for the formation of the Universe in it's current form. Compared to having no proof whatsoever, that's a big step forward. – Overmind Apr 18 '18 at 12:54

protected by Keelan Apr 12 '18 at 21:24

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