The Argument from Time and Contingency

This is the third in a series of posts responding to a list of 20 arguments for the existence of god from this article. To be fair, the article does state that these arguments don’t make a case except when taken all together, using the metaphor of a rope, but I am analyzing them individually so I have responses when I encounter the argument later in other sources.

  1. We notice around us things that come into being and go out of being. A tree, for example, grows from a tiny shoot, flowers brilliantly, then withers and dies.
  2. Whatever comes into being or goes out of being does not have to be; nonbeing is a real possibility.
  3. Suppose that nothing has to be; that is, that nonbeing is a real possibility for everything.
  4. Then right now nothing would exist. For
  5. If the universe began to exist, then all being must trace its origin to some past moment before which there existed—literally—nothing at all. But
  6. From nothing nothing comes. So
  7. The universe could not have begun.
  8. But suppose the universe never began. Then, for the infinitely long duration of cosmic history, all being had the built-in possibility not to be. But
  9. If in an infinite time that possibility was never realized, then it could not have been a real possibility at all. So
  10. There must exist something which has to exist, which cannot not exist. This sort of being is called necessary.
  11. Either this necessity belongs to the thing in itself or it is derived from another. If derived from another there must ultimately exist a being whose necessity is not derived, that is, an absolutely necessary being.
  12. This absolutely necessary being is God.

The main problem I see with this argument is in step 5. According to Big Bang theory, the best explanation we have for the evidence right now, the universe as we know it did indeed have a beginning, but that beginning was not a point wherein there existed nothing. The Big Bang acted on a singularity.

Further, step 6 is just flat wrong. We have discovered particles that appear from nothing.

I have nothing else to say about the rest of the argument; as it fails on those two crucial points, it cannot be convincing, because it is not logically (empirically?) sound.


3 thoughts on “The Argument from Time and Contingency

  1. I agree that Premise 5 is one of the biggest failing points of this argument. The idea that there was a moment before time existed is entirely incoherent. As such, claiming that “nothing” existed before time is inherently illogical.

    I’ll actually disagree with you on Premise 6. While virtual particles appear to be uncaused, insofar as we can tell, they come from within the universe, which is distinctly not “nothing.” The philosophical “ex nihilo” is an attempt to describe absolute nothingness– a difficult and somewhat paradoxical concept.

    Another premise in this argument which strikes me as being very poor is Premise 9. The fact that something did not occur even given an infinite amount of time says nothing about whether or not that event was possible. The fact that something is possible does not mean that it is guaranteed to occur, even given infinite time.

    Finally, even if I were willing to grant Premises 1-11, for the sake of argument, Premise 12 does not follow from the previous statements. It’s a complete leap in logic to go from saying “There must exist a necessary being” to claiming “this necessary being is God.” The argument gives absolutely no justification for Premise 12.

    Thanks for posting this! I hadn’t run across this argument, yet.

    1. It’s been demonstrated before that my knowledge of physics (and philosophy) is lacking, so I’ll gladly accept your correction on virtual particles.

      You’re absolutely right about step 9 (I’m not certain “premise” is the proper term for these statements). I knew there was something else wrong with this argument, but could not put my finger on it.

      I don’t think going from “There must exist a necessary being” to “this necessary being is God” is a leap in logic; I think it’s a definition. The argument is defining god as the necessary being. Of course, this does not prove the god of theism! I don’t think it really intends to, though.

      Thanks for your comment!

  2. Sean Carroll’s recent debate against William “I never met a fact I didn’t distort” Lane Craig touched briefly on how the causation in modern cosmological models is, essentially, not important. One of my favorite lines is that he says that WLC is not just wrong about cosmology, but he’s “not even wrong” because classical causality doesn’t work when we talk about the “beginning” of the universe.

    See, we get our notions of causality from observing the physical universe. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about causality in physics, or even older, obsolete notions of causality like those expounded by Aristotle. We can disregarding the implications of an early universe from a quantum mechanics perspective and just note that we cannot talk about causality without a physical universe and we cannot talk about time without a physical universe.

    This is why Craig talks about “non-physical time” as if it means something. But WTF is non-physical time? He assumes its existence because he needs to for his Kalam to work (as he needs to use physics that has been in the trash bin for over 100 years to make A-theory of time work so he has an absolute reference frame). He’s tricky enough to be able to avoid most “begging the question” accusations, but without his intellect for wordplay and his knowledge of physics, and his charisma, these arguments are essentially meaningless when someone else uses them and the fallacy applies because most people who read him and take him seriously aren’t as smart as he is.

    As a quick aside, he actually said that time dilation and length contraction are apparent, but not real. He actually said that.

    So arguments like these shouldn’t ever get off the ground once they start talking about causality without a physical universe.

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