The First Cause Argument, also known as the Cosmological Argument or the Kalam Argument, is probably the most common non-emotional argument for the existence of a god – specifically, a creator god.
The argument claims that the universe we live in must have had a cause that initiated its existence and that this cause must not have had a beginning (you may already be seeing logical problems with the First Cause argument at this point). Then the argument is simply used to assert that the this cause must be a conscious being, which for unexplained reasons must be called a “god”.
The most simple and common way the argument is stated in informal debates can be formalized like this:
1. There is something, not nothingness.
2. Nothingness cannot cause anything to happen.
3. Therefore something must have existed before the natural world/universe which caused the natural world/universe to come into existence.
This is the same argument as presented by Christian apologist William Lane Craig. It is probably the most common form of the argument used in formal Christian apologetics:
1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
2. The universe began to exist
3. Therefore, the universe has a [transcendent] cause [outside of the universe, nature, time, and space].
Next, this is another form of the argument that was developed by Muslims which amounts to the same thing:
1. An infinite regression of causes is impossible
2. The universe has to have a beginning
3. Since the universe had a beginning but an infinite regression is impossible, the universe was caused.
Unless specifically stated, all the points mentioned throughout this article apply to all versions of the First Cause argument.
1) Useless conclusion
The first and most obvious problem with the First Cause argument is simply that its premises do not lead to a god as the most probable conclusion. So even if every premise were true and logically valid, the argument would not point to Theism as the conclusion.
This is because no reason has been given for why something, anything, that could have caused the universe to come into existence, would most likely be a conscious being or something we would call a “god”. The “cause” concluded by the First Cause argument has no specific qualities, so it could be anything and work any imaginable or unimaginable way.
Since the First Cause argument indicates nothing of relevance to Theism or Atheism even if its premises were true, it is pointless and moot in regard to debates on religion.
2) The concept of anything being “beyond nature” is meaningless
Asserting that something can be “beyond nature” or “transcendent” is meaningless. Those terms are just words that Theists use them to fill the holes in their arguments, but they do not make their arguments work.
This is because anything that exists in any way, be it a god or universe or anything else, would simply be another part of existence; another “something” that exists, another part of nature. If something is real, then it’s real. What it is or the way it works does not classify it as “nature” or “not nature”.
3) WLC’s version uses an equivocation fallacy
William Lane Craig’s version of the First Cause argument, mentioned above, uses an equivocation fallacy. An equivocation fallacy is a logically flawed line of reasoning where the speaker uses a key term or phrase that has multiple different meanings, and instead of using one consistent meaning throughout the argument, they change to different meanings in accordance with whatever helps lead to their desired overall conclusion. This tactic gives the illusion of a logical argument when it is actually meaningless.
In the case of the First Cause argument, the ambiguous phrase is “began to exist”. The argument uses this term to refer to both the concept of Creation ex material – where something is formed from altering existing material- as well as Creation ex nihilo – where something pops into existence from nothing, yet pretends that it is using a consistent meaning throughout the argument’s reasoning.
But they are two very different concepts, and if a consistent meaning is used, the argument is not logical and it fails to lead to the alleged conclusion. Try it yourself.
4) WLC’s version assumes that our universe comprises everything natural in existence
All of Craig’s points about the first cause are completely dependent on an invented context: that this universe is everything that exists, with of course the presumed exception of the “cause”.
But this ignores the actual reality that we simply don’t know that this universe is everything, whether any gods exist or not, and that actually the Big Bang itself may simply be the other end of a black hole in another universe, or perhaps even within a timeless matrix of universes. For this reason our universe is sometimes referred to as our “local universe” to distinguish it from the concept of a larger cosmos or multiple universes that may exist beyond it.
The Big Bang of our universe may not have been the beginning of the total natural world so the claim that “the universe had a beginning” in reference to the Big Bang does not logically mean that natural reality had a cause.
5) All versions assume that cause and effect always works the same everywhere
The argument makes the assumption that the “laws” of cause and effect observed within our universe are true everywhere in our universe, and that they also apply outside our universe. But we do not know whether or not our concept of cause-and-effect works the same everywhere, so we do not have a logical basis to claim that the universe must have a cause.
Quantum physics is revealing very strange things, among which are the ability for things to occur seemingly without prior cause or even for effects to precede causes.
6) All versions assume there was a “beginning”
We only know our universe had a beginning to its expansion, but we do not know whether or not it may have been eternal before that.
What came before or beyond the Big Bang may have had no beginning, be it the non-expanded universe itself (i.e. the singularity) or a larger universe or a multitude of universes, or something else altogether. The concept of being timeless or having no beginning can apply to a conscious being just as well as it can apply to any aspects of the natural world.
This is important to understand because it means that supposing the existence of a god is just an extra, unnecessary assumption, and it is not a logical conclusion of the evidence. It is even an assumption that time has a linear nature. Time may be stranger than we can even imagine – possibly even circular – and thus the concept of a “beginning” is possibly just nonsensical.
We do not even have a logical reason to think that the natural world started from “nothing”. We have no reason to think that “nothingness” should be a more expected starting point than the alternatives. In other words, there is no reason to consider the mere fact that “stuff exists rather than nothing” to be remarkable or indicative of “a beginning” any more than we would expect “nothingness” to have a beginning.