Why 'Everything Has a Cause' Is a Terrible Justification for God's Existence
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"If there's no God, then where did all this come from?"
I've written a fair amount about some of the more painfully bad arguments for religion and against atheism. I've written about the argument that religion is just a story, not meant to be taken literally...a story that still somehow makes people get very bent out of shape when atheists point out that it isn't true.
I've written about an assortment of arguments from wishful thinking, from the insulting (and irrelevant) argument that atheists don't stay atheists when faced with death, to the baffling (and irrelevant) argument that religion gives us a needed feeling of mystery.
I've written about the arguments that essentially tell atheists to just shut up. And I've written about the ways that, when asked what evidence they have for their religious beliefs, many believers simply deflect the question. Instead of saying, "This is why I believe what I do," they offer a list of excuses for why they don't have to show us any stinking evidence.
But that's not true for all believers. When asked why they believe what they do, some believers take the question seriously and sincerely -- and they try to answer it.
I want to return the favor. I want to look at some of these more earnest answers to the question, "Why do you believe in God?" I want to take them seriously, and assume the people presenting them mean them sincerely. And I want to point out, in as much detail as I can, that they still don't hold water. They're less bad than a lot of arguments for God -- at least these people are trying to actually answer the question about the evidence for God, instead of treating the question as stupid or meaningless or patently offensive. But in my years as an atheist writer, not one of them has made me stop and think, "Hm, that's a poser."
Today's argument: But All of This Had to Come From Somewhere! Otherwise known as the "First Cause" argument. "Things don't just come out of nowhere," the argument goes. "Everything that exists has a cause. Therefore, the entirety of physical existence itself had to have had a cause. Therefore, God exists."
Yeah. See, there are some big problems with that argument.
For starters: If everything has to have a cause...then what caused God?
And if God can somehow have always existed or come into being out of nothing...then why can't that be true of the universe?
I agree that the question "Where did the universe come from?" is baffling and intriguing. To say that physical existence either has been there forever or somehow popped into being from non-being...it does seem to call into question our basic understanding of cause and effect. It's a legitimately tough question.
But the God hypothesis doesn't answer this question. The God hypothesis simply begs the question. It simply moves the question back a notch. It gives an answer to the question of where the universe came from ("God"), but then we have to ask the exact same set of questions about God. "Where did he come from... and if he just always existed, how is that possible?" "Where did the universe come from" is a legitimately tough question... but "God” is a terrible answer. No, it's worse than that. It's no answer at all.
What's more, the "God did it" answer cuts off further inquiry into the question.
Many astronomers and astrophysicists think the question "Where did the universe come from?" might someday be answerable. In fact, many of them strongly suspect the answer may indeed call into question our basic understanding of cause and effect...in much the same way Einstein's theories called into question our basic understanding of matter and energy and space, and Galileo's theories called into question our basic understanding of the structure of the universe. (For instance: One idea that's being tossed around is that the beginning of the universe was the beginning, not only of matter and energy, but of space-time itself...and that it therefore makes no sense to talk about what happened "before" time itself began.) They think "Where did physical existence come from?" may be an answerable question... and they're busily researching possible answers.