Monday, July 23, 2012

Change and a Godless Universe

The "argument from change" for the existence of God is an argument put forward by theists for whom "faith" in God is evidently not enough. It is an argument, in other words, less concerned with converting the fallen than with comforting the faithful. Ultimately, it is an argument that worships a God born from a trinity of assumptions in the shape of a Russian matryoshka doll. Those assumptions can be thought of as the Son, the Father, and the Holy Ghost.

    The first assumption is "the Holy Ghost," for it is built on the idea that the law of “cause and effect” is necessarily a finite and linear process. In other words, it assumes “cause and effect” has an origin instead of a genealogy. The second assumption is "the Son," because, as a derivative of the first assumption, it assumes that any “cause and effect” model necessarily requires a belief in a “first cause" to kick start the universe. Finally, the last assumption is that any “first cause” must necessarily emanate from some Father figure described as the “unchanging causer.

The argument from change, however, only raises more questions than it answers. For example, is there really such a law as “the law of cause and effect?”  The Scottish philosopher David Hume didn’t think so. Hume argued there was no such thing as “the law of cause and effect” but only, what he called, a “constant conjunction” of things that give the appearance of "cause and effect" that can never be proven.

 Additionally, does the law of “cause and effect” really lead us to the inescapable conclusion that there was a first cause?   Not necessarily. Hume argued we can never know there is, or was, such a thing as a First Cause. Indeed, arguing for the necessary existence of a "first cause" is the same thing as arguing for the necessary existence of God. In short, this argument proves the existence of God by assuming the universe is an act of a God. This assumed "act" of God, however, poses an inherent contradiction for theists. How can something altogether new be "caused" by something that is truly unchanging?

The first assumption of this argument is why the argument itself so easily comes crashing down. Once the first assumption falls, in other words, the second two fall with it. That first assumption is that existence, through a process of “cause and effect,” necessarily has an origin instead of a genealogy.  Something with an origin has a beginning while a genealogy denotes an every evolving process.  An example would be something like “the origin or my car is a factory in Detroit.” A genealogy, on the other hand would be the evolution of language.  If the universe is the result of a genealogical process, then it would be potentially without an “origin.” What those who employ this argument fail to address, however, is why we must assume existence flows from a starting point, or “origin,” instead of a genealogy, where existence is simply an eternally evolving process.  If it is the latter, than there would be no “kick start” to the universe, and no kick starter required.      

Yet, even if we accept that existence of an origin, from which all “change” flows, and all of the other necessary assumptions this argument proposes, such an argument is still hard to swallow. If we assume there was a “first cause,” for example, how can we further know if it was the result of an “unchanging causer” or an infinite number of “changing causers?” Indeed, perhaps the “first cause” was not the result of an “unchanged causer” but the other way around.

Ultimately, this argument suggests that, since things “exist,” something must have created them. Thus, the real miracle of this argument is how it effortlessly turns our ignorance into answers. In other words, by discovering that we do not know what the universe “is” exactly, or where it came from, or how, we somehow know exactly what the universe is, where it came from, and how - God! Thus, the fact that we cannot explain something miraculously leads us to an ability to explain everything.

  Arguing that an “unchanged causer” caused the “first cause,” however, simply shifts the focus of inquiry from “what caused everything” to “what caused the thing that caused everything?’ As Bertrand Russell observed, “the question of “who made me” cannot be answered since it immediately suggests the further question of “who made God?” In this way, the answer to the first question is made incredibly easy by making the answer to the second question completely unverifiable. It simply offers a potential “who” as the answer for the “what, how, when, where, and why” of it all. In other words, the God of this argument comes from melting its inquiry into the golden calf of its answer, and then asking everyone to worship it and stop asking questions. 

 Lastly, this argument seems to overlook the fact that if the "law of cause and effect" is indeed true, it serves more as evidence against, rather than for, the existence of God.  Here's why...

The law of cause and effect establishes that every "cause" is an "effect" of some cause that preceded it. Thus, this law suggests either a closed system where "cause and effect” run together in an infinite loop, or an open system where "cause and effect" run infinitely without beginning or end. In the latter sense, it is the law, and not God, that is infinite. Either system of "cause and effect" operates by the law without the need for, or any indication of, an external "cause and effect" creator. The "law" of cause and effect is not proof of a "law maker.,"

 Since every effect flows from some cause and every cause flows from some previous effect, God is an idea that violates the law of cause and effect. How?  Because God is “uncaused”, He is therefore a cause that is not also an effect. Therefore, God operates at least partially outside of the law of cause and effect. More specifically, God operates within the rule by being a cause that has an effect, but is outside the rule by being a cause that is not an effect.  Such a God, therefore, is an orphan to the rule.

 Paradoxically, this means that a God that is allegedly “all things” is not however both a cause and an effect.  And the law of cause and effect proves the existence of God only as much as the existence of God disproves the law of cause and effect. Hence, the validity of the latter invalidates the likeliness of the former. Like buckets tied to opposite ends of a rope in a well, where one goes up the other goes down.

[1] Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not A Christian, pg 6.

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