First-cause argument

It’s the problem of infinite regress.

“The universe needs a cause, maybe it’s God?”

Well then what caused God?

“God does not need a cause. He just is

Well, maybe the universe just is too.

In fact, one day we might be able to actually explain the ‘cause’ of the universe (as in, from the very beginning, right from t=0. That’s what science is there for.). But to explain God? Forget about it; he’s either not there or beyond explanation (I’m betting on the former). So, why remove the prospect of explaining something that we have a chance of one day actually explaining by placing something unexplainable and essentially unnecessary in place of our potential, real, and tangible explanation?

This is the somewhat wordy response I give to people who try to tell me that everything needs a cause, and that somewhere at the beginning of all these causes is a god.

You’re framing the question in a contemporary metaphysical view, Josh.

Plato’s version of the argument is the following: Every contingent and finite being has a cause which is external to itself.
The chain of causes can’t be infinite.
Therefore, there is a cause which is not contingent and finite. Although you can dive into the discussion of whether or not the universe is finite or infinite (it is contingent, but if it’s infinite we can call it our cause and live without a god), the problem here escapes infinite regress and becomes a more general “cosmological problem of god.”

Only assuming a contemporary metaphysical framework is the “cosmological problem of god” reduced to a “cosmological problem of infinite regress.” :wink:

cool topic :happy: fine we have something here … well, i belive in god as to how he can be without beginning , this is a matter only at parts understandable …
if i didnt believe in good i think i would believe that the universe and spca itself have a NEED for existance and order … ok, this is stopping making sense . end of post

But can we even avoid getting stuck in a purely ‘contemporary metaphysical framework’ when talking about this sort of thing? Plato’s argument for example:

Every contingent and finite being has a cause which is external to itself.
The chain of causes can’t be infinite.
Therefore, there is a cause which is not contingent and finite.

The part about the impossibility of an infinite chain of causes, Plato gathered from his own epistemology and his own metaphysics, which were thought up by a being living in his own small corner of the universe; he simply couldn’t conceive of an infinite chain of causes. So, through his own contemporary metaphysics, he saw this problem (this is how I understand it given my somewhat limited knowledge of the philosophy of Plato).

But like you said, this is purely metaphysics, it may or may not have anything to do with reality :peek:

Great guys :happy: keep it going
Glad you like the topic :wink:
I don’t particularly believe in God for reasons personal

But is everything caused by something other than itself?

Taking a basic example of happiness. It’s an emotion we experience in response to a catalyst triggering the brain to release the correct chemicals, making us feel elated. The exact chemistry of why it makes us feel happy I don’t know, but that’s not important here.

Happiness itself (the feeling) isn’t tangible. It can’t be measured. Chemicals (like dopamine levels) can be viewed, body language and/or facial expression can be interpreted, but there’s no way to measure the intangible emotion.

With that in mind, prior to the first human/animal experiencing happiness, did the emotion exist? The way of experiencing it didn’t, but did the emotion? Since it isn’t tangible it wouldn’t need to be created at any point, all it would need is a being capable of experiencing it. When that first being experienced happiness they didn’t create it, happiness wasn’t invented at that point, it was merely experienced for the first time.

I would think that’s what a “god” would be like. There is no measure, there is no point of creation, it’s just always been around but only experienced for the first time when a tangible object capable of experiencing that god was created (the universe).

Anything physical requires a cause, and for anything physical to experience the intangible requires a cause (like dopamine), but I don’t believe the tangible is bound by the same requirements.

But that’s exactly what you’re doing when you gauge facial expressions and measure brain chemistry, you are measuring happiness, albeit indirectly.

You can do the same thing with the idea of a god if you want to as well. Say we’re looking for the Babylonian god Marduk; it is said that he created the world by placing a mat on the ocean and piling earth on top of it. So if Marduk exists, we should be able to find evidence of this ocean/mat/earth creation story. Since we don’t see this, we might conclude that Marduk doesn’t exist, even if the evidence we were looking for might have been indirect.

That’s just our nonscientific estimation based off of observation though. We’re trying to interpret their happiness level based off of the tangible clues available to us. We can never measure the happiness itself, just how something physical attempts to display it. Someone could smile one at someone one second, then attack them the next. We can only guess what they’re actually feeling.

Ah, but then we’re basing the definition of a “god” off of human stories :smile: Unfortunately everyone is capable of coming up with some kind of intriguing story surrounding a god, so religion boils down to what someone chooses to believe, or (usually) what they were brought up under, rather than what actually takes place. It’s faith versus proof. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t some sort of god.

I think one of the problems with debating the existence of a “god” is that it’s viewed more in terms of the existence of the Judeo-Christian type of God (or another religion’s opinion) than it is about an undefined higher power. Afterall, who’s to say that, if there is a god figure, it would even care to interact with us? Religion usually centers around the hope that there is a greater being (or beings), and that it chooses to concern itself with matters which have an importance to us.

What if that’s not the case though?

Perhaps it created the universe just to watch what happens. Perhaps it doesn’t even know it created the universe. It could be good, evil, both, or neither. Maybe it doesn’t even have a consciousness, and the universe was created from a flicker of an awareness beginning to take form, making us nothing more than a dream which will end when that consciousness takes hold, and all our actions and discoveries will be retained to make up it’s newly formed intelligence.

What I’m getting at is if we limit our definition of “God” to what religions in the past have suggested it could be we’re making it a question of faith rather than a question of possibility.

Personally I do believe in the existence of a “God”, but I don’t believe the religions have it right. If we ever did know the truth it’s been long since lost or forgotten.

What other definitions of god are there other than the ones we’ve come up with? :wink:

Here is the problem which I think extends to both ends of this argument; you could be very specific about what you think God is, like my Marduk example. Those gods are pretty easy to falsify, and even when they are falsified people might still believe in them on faith alone, but that’s not the point. With these ‘specific gods’, it’s a simple matter of checking to see if the universe actually operates according to the principles one would expect to see if Marduk, Odin, Zeus or Yahweh existed.

On the other end of the spectrum, though, is the really vague definition of god; the prime-mover, first-cause type of god that we’re talking about here. The thing about this definition is that sometimes the description of this kind of god gets so vague that you could really call anything you wanted to ‘god’. This is the sort of thing that you see in pantheism. Since god is so vague, you get to assign any qualities you need to it in order to explain something that you don’t know; “We can’t study god scientifically, that’s because god is beyond science,” for example.
But the problem is, like it’s already been said, that these are simply ideas we invent to solve metaphysical problems; they probably have nothing to do with reality. Eventually you get so many vague and unprovable qualities assigned to this god, that he might as well not exist anyway since he’s beyond all human understanding.

I agree with Josh. In order for the word “God” to be meaningful I think that it has to be defined in some way. Some of the descriptions I’ve heard over the years would have allowed things like the electromagnetic force to be called God, and there’s no real point in debating it if anything at all can be defined as God.

I would propose this basic definiton

  1. Without God the universe would not be
  2. God has some form of consciousness

1 includes the idea that God created the universe, or that God is the universe or any other permutation, and I think 2 is necessary because otherwise the universe could be called God - hence rendering the word useless.

Have the two of you ever stopped to think that the reason you’re Atheists is related to you thinking that the idea of god is only meaningful if it has a definition? If god’s not contingent nor finite, then they’re obviously undefinable — they’re beyond being, beyond existence, beyond, thus, comprehension or definition.

I agree with Dreamer on this, some basic definition is required, else my chocolate bar could be God. but who knows, maybe it is? (random thought, nevermind that)

To go along with the first cause argument, but in a different manner, perhaps there is a first, ultimatley infinate cause, and God is not that cause, God may be our cause but perhaps a being which to it as it is to us-- created it, and then it created our universe as we would create a video game or other virtual universe. Perhaps God is a three year old boy (or girl. not specifying genders here) who dreamt us as all up. And individual could be woken up in a few minute (which could be 10,000,000,000 of our years, or even be an amount of time unmesureable to us) to go to pre-school, and all of this comes to a dead stop. Like troober’s example.

Or perhaps (only one of my personal theories) The universe, as God is infinate, it was empty, God mereley pupulated it, after all, space is nothingness is it’s purest form (Physicaly anyways) so why does something like that need to be “Created”? it’s absolute nothingness. God is a higher being from some alternate plain that humans will never see. For intance, to any 3D modelers out there, when you make a 3D model, do you create the empty space in the program that acts as the canvase? or do you put the model inside that which is already there?
Now you can say “But someone had to create that program” yes, which goes along with my theory of God being from some higher plane in which existance takes place, and God is not the only being, and is only our ultimate creator, not THE ultimate creator.

Another theory of mine which can tie into that, is that life the otherworldy equivelant of what is one big MMO game to us, designed and created by what we call God, our souls are the “Players”, and consciousness does not come from the brain, it’s only relayed through it. We cannot comprehend nor remember what life our “souls” may have in their plain before entering the game, because we, with our minds and our bodies, are only the 3D models that they control inside the game, the brain is not where the contemplation of action occours, it is just what relays the message of action from the soul to our bodies, when we die, the game is over for us, and we continue our lives as the beings we were before we entered the game, which the closest definition of is “Soul”. Or if you beleive in reincarnation as I do, that’s simply the soul deciding to “play again” re-entering the game, and is a matter of choice. I beleive in Jesus as the christians do, but I’m not a full-blown christian. I think that as the christians say, Jesus was God wanting to experience human life. Or in another of my “Game” analogies, God iss the Global Admin, and decided to see what it would be like playing as a normal player, that would be Jesus… with a few Admin-Like abilities.

Just personal oppinions, sorry for going off topic

Bruno - How can someone say they believe in God if they have no definition for what the word means in their mind?

It’s like me going round the streets and saying “I believe in ghjvxc” and when asked what that meant saying “wish I knew mate”

I can’t speak for everyone else but I certainly have. In fact, the answers I give to people who ask me whether or not I’m an atheist depend on the definition of god that we’re dealing with in our conversations. If a friend and I are talking about Yahweh or Zeus, and I’m asked what I believe, I say I’m a strong atheist. But if we’re talking about an Aristotelian prime-mover, then I’m a weak atheist. If we define god in some Einsteinian way and say that god is the sum of all of the laws of nature, then I’m a believer. But as someone once said, “This God is emotionally unsatisfying…it does not make much sense to pray to the law of gravity.”

On the other hand, if we have no meaningful definition for god in the first place, then there wouldn’t be much of a point in talking about it at all until we had defined god in some way before beginning our conversation.

Well said Josh :smile:

I’m not Bruno, but hopefully you wont mind if I hazard an answer to that :smile:

If “God” is capable of creating the universe, and we’ve yet to understand the universe, how can we even attempt to understand a being that created it?

Scientific theory is constantly changing throughout the years. As our understanding of a subject improves, the theory changes to reflect that.

It’s common to look at theories thought up in the past 300 years and chuckle at how they tried to explain the phenomena we now understand better (light, gravity, etc). With what information was available to them, they tried to come up with a plausible theory for whatever specific subject they were focussed on. In a couple hundred years from now people will look at today’s theories and laugh the same way.

Really, this is the same situation surrounding religion. Religion is theory. It’s why in the past the Catholic church has been against discoveries which go against it’s teachings, such as Galileo’s theories. What he discovered disproved a piece of their religious theory.

Today we understand a staggering amount more about the Earth and surrounding space than the people did 2000+ years ago. To take a definition of God provided by people living over 2000 years ago, it’s not going to be vastly difficult to argue against what they suggested. These were people who didn’t even understand why it rains, so felt that if there’s a drought it’s due to them offending God in some way. I think it would be a mistake to consider the possibility of the existence of God only by what these people defined it to be.

I don’t believe it’s possible to provide a definition of a limitless being capable of creating the universe and all that’s in it, without inadvertently placing some sort of limitation in the definition. To restrict a god by morality, power, appearance, gender, name, or any other attempt at defining a part of it, that is a limit. Everything that isn’t a part of that definition forms a border around what we are claiming god to be. Essentially we’d be taking a supposed infinite being and making it finite so that we can understand it.

I think it is possible to believe in the existence of a God without definition simply by believing that the universe was created by that God. With no attempt to claim how or why it was created by that god, there’s no attempt to limit that God to a specific morality, personality, purpose, etc. God just is.

However… our minds are inherently curious, so we always want to know the who, what, when, how, and why? :smile: But we may never have those answers, unfortunately.

i’m not exactly sure if people have already covered this, but i did read most of what was written here and i agree with Josh and Dreamer a lot.

i think pragmatism comes into play here when we’re dealing with the definition of god. if god is defined, then there are all the ways that Josh and Dreamer said to put him in check, and if god isn’t defined, and when it all boils down in the end, who really cares? if god can be everything and anything and he steps outside the bounds of all logical rules of argument like, “oh god just IS” or “god doesn’t have to be defined” or, “god is the universe” then god really has no weight to him. some of you say he’s there, but that he doesn’t care to interact with us. if he doesn’t care to interact with us and life would carry on just the same, then the existance of god doesn’t really matter anyways.

Dreamer: consider the following theory of god, which is actually just a modern version of the theory of Plato’s that James started this topic with (adapted by yours truly from an ancient Muslim theory of god which we’re not getting into right now): 1. Things that come to be, come to be for a reason.
(This is reasonable to assume if we’re playing Logic in the first place — if you don’t believe things can be rationalised, then that whole “science” thing wouldn’t mean much to you anyway.)

  1. Existence came to be.
    (After all, existence is our definition of being, before existence, there was no verb “to be”).

  2. Therefore, existence came to be for a reason.

  3. Therefore, there is something beyond existence.
    [color=#666666][size=100]An aside: do notice that “d” doesn’t necessarily follow from “c” — are we omitting a passage here? Yes: “d” is an enthymeme, whose expanded version would be “provided its reasonable to assume existence cannot be itself its own cause, there is something beyond existence.” But what’s that? A doxa — “it is reasonable that” — in the middle of the argument? How dirty!

Well, that’s how it works with metaphysics: I’ll make a bet with you, if you think you’ve found a completely logical argument from which the existence or non-existence of god follows, then there’s an doxa in hiding somewhere. The only things that can make religion (that is, both theism and atheism) look undoubtedly true are a faith leap and rhetoric.[/size][/color]

Lets call the reason for existence “god.” It’s just a name I’m giving to it. Now, if you accept that theory — for the sake of discussion, assume it, I’ve checked it and even pointed its flaws, so you know it is a valid theory and you know what its premises are, even the hidden one — if you accept it, then you’ll have to agree the definition of god is impossible, for god is beyond existence and therefore beyond epistemology: even to metaphysics, according to this theory, a precise definition of god is impossible.

What we can do, according to it, in terms of defining god is just as much as saying “god is beyond understanding,” since god is beyond all there is and therefore “is” not, themselves, anything. In other words, our model of god here states that god is beyond the verb “to be.” So, see, I’m being rational, I’m using a theory whose premises I’m well aware of, and whose conclusions is that there “is” god and god “is” the reason for existence, but which also makes it clear that god cannot be defined.

There you go. Logical faith in god sans definition of god.

But Bruno, I could just as easily gather from everything you just said that God is “the reason for existence”. That’s a definition of sorts, isn’t it?

I mean it just seems to me that by doing this, we’re saying God cannot be defined as anything that is…but really, all we’ve done is define him as something that cannot be defined as something that is, which is really just another definition, albeit a not a precise one (but if god is so vague, who cares about being precise, since we can’t be).

In strictly formal terms, in formal logic, you’re right, that’s a definition of sorts for god. " ‘God’ if and only if ‘beyond being’." But formal logic is not the best you can do, now, is it? In terms of epistemology, god can’t be made into an episteme according to that theory. In terms of metaphysics, god is beyond understanding according to that theory. In terms of science, god is an irrelevant concept. Et cetera. For all schools of thought except for the strictest kind of formal logic, god’s unreachable, and all formal logic can say about god is that they are beyond any inference other than that they are beyond any inference.