Michael Horner's Blog

    The Beginning of the Universe and God

    Written by Michael Horner

    I am honored to have Dr. Kirk Durston do a guest blog for me. I think I am a reasonably intelligent person, but have you ever met someone who you know is smarter than you? Well for me that is my friend and colleague Kirk Durston. With a PhD in Biophysics and an MA in Philosophy, Kirk is a prolific speaker, writer and debater at both scholarly and popular levels. Enjoy his recent foray into blogging and be sure to ask him some tough questions!

    Below is Kirk’s brief video presentation on the beginning of the universe and God followed by a written summary of his argument. Discussion is welcome!

    Kirk:

    What I would like to question today are two modern beliefs: the belief that science can explain everything, and that the supernatural does not exist. I will define ‘supernatural’ as simply ‘not-natural’, not defined by space-time, matter and energy nor the laws of physics. The short video below presents the argument in a creative way.

     

    An article published just over a year ago in the journal New Scientist, stated that the growing consensus among cosmologists (those scientists who specialize in studying the cosmos, including theories on its origin) is that the universe had a beginning and there seems to be no way out of it, even if one invokes one of the several different multiverse theories. In that same article, Stephen Hawking expresses his discomfort with these findings, stating, “A point of creation would be a place where science broke down. One would have to appeal to religion and the hand of God.” Is Hawking mistaken?

    I am finding that a lot of people are not understanding what a circular fallacy is, so I want to present an example ….

    A Circular Argument

    1. Everything can be explained by natural processes

    2. If everything can be explained by natural processes, then the origin of natural processes can be explained through natural processes.

    Therefore, the origin of natural processes can be explained through natural processes.

    I think most people will sense that there is something wrong with the above argument. It is what might be called, ‘circular’; the conclusion is assumed to be true in the opening premise so that we can ‘prove’ the conclusion is true. This is known as a circular fallacy. One may not know exactly what caused the origin of nature, but one thing we do know is that cold hard logic dictates it won’t be natural. So here is a summary of the argument presented in the video:

    1. The cause of nature is either natural or supernatural. (a true dichotomy)

    2. The cause of nature cannot be natural (to avoid the circular fallacy)

    3. Therefore, the cause of nature must be supernatural.

    4. The cause of time must be either timeless or time-dependent (a true dichotomy)

    5. The cause of time cannot be time-dependent (to avoid the circular fallacy)

    6. Therefore, the cause of time is timeless.

    7. It is logically impossible for a timeless entity to be caused by something

    Therefore, the cause of time is supernatural, timeless and uncaused

    So, cold hard logic suggests that the supernatural exists and is actually the very foundation of the natural cosmos. This is why Hawking said what he did. Is he wrong about his concern? The only way out is to show that one of the premises is false. What say ye?

    Reference: Grossman, L., New Scientist; 1/14/2012, Vol. 213 Issue 2847, p6-7, 2p

    4 Responses to “The Beginning of the Universe and God”

    • jo says:

      I want to know why the circularity is avoided by the second premise. I’m just seeking understanding since I am knew to this logical argument and it might seem obvious to you Kirk but it still doesn’t to me.

    • Antony Burt says:

      Good question Jo.

      I was wondering that too. Circular fallacy is basically an arguement that goes around in circles, but there is no such problem with statement 2: the definition of nature is: the physical world (universe), the definition of natural is : that which is caused by nature.

      So, statement 2 is false: the cause of nature is natural.

      The definitions are valid.

    • Antony burt says:

      Some more thinking, on this… Ok so that which is nature can be caused by natural laws (and why shouldn’t it be) but wat about time?

      Time is a progression of events. Without time, there can be no event progression, and thus no cause could exist.If there is a cause of time, it must be time so as to progress through the causation. If time at one point did not exist, then we still would not have time. Perhaps though that time always has existed, and simply if there are no events to measure the concept of time against. But once the first event, (ie Big Bang) time could first be measured. No need to create time, it always was there (just unquantifiable as nothing happened prior to anything happening.) Time is required to ‘create’ or ’cause’, so therefore you can not create time, it must always have existed, even if nothing happened within the early unmeasurable time.

      The statement that a supernatural timeless entity is illogical to have been created is nonsense. If an entity is argued to able to create outside of time, then it does not preclude that nothing else can also create outside of time. A whole series of timeless supernatural entities could easily exist and create one another, and destroy one another. They could create multiple universes, destroy them, start anew, and do all sorts of things before time is was started by one of them.

      To have any sort of creation outside of time is illogical, even creating time. But if you allow creation of time in your argument, then you must allow any creation outside of time, and that includes supernatural entities.

    • Kirk Durston says:

      My apologies for taking so long to respond. For reasons unknown to me, I received no notification of any of the comments. First of all, let me define two terms:
      Natural: composed of space-time, matter and energy and governed by the laws of physics
      Supernatural: not-natural; not bounded by space-time, matter and energy nor governed by the laws of physics.
      Nature: all of physical reality composed of space-time, matter and energy and the laws of physics. Since a hypothetical multiverse would be composed of various space-time universes, each with its own laws of physics, ‘nature’ includes the entire multiverse (if such exists). The New Scientist article indicates that all scenarios for the origin of nature require a beginning, even a multiverse.

      Premise (2), ‘The cause of nature cannot be natural’, is required by the rules of logic. To say that nature caused itself is a circular fallacy, for one would have to assume that nature already existed to explain how nature came into existence. One would have to say, ‘we have a natural explanation for the origin of nature because nature has a natural explanation’, similar to the famous, ‘the Bible is true because it says it is true’. Both are circular and logically invalid. Premise (2) is logically necessary and cannot be challenged.

      Regarding Antony Burt’s comments on time and the origin of time: space-time is a physical component of the universe. If, as Antony Burt suggests, causality is limited to time-dependent processes, then it produces a serious problem for all of us when we look at premise (1), for the ‘not-natural’ is ruled out by definition of what ‘cause’ means, nature is ruled out by the circular fallacy, the word ‘cause’ must then be factored out and all we are left with is the conclusion that nature began to exist, period. This means there is no explanation, which in turn means that rational thought has nothing to say with regard to the beginning of the universe. Ultimately, believing that ‘nothing’ is the explanation for the universe is a rational thought-stopper.

      However, it is not the case that causality is limited to time-dependent processes. In general, causality can be said to describe any relationship between A and B where A is the antecedent (not necessarily in time) and B is the consequent. Thus, in logic, we can have A logically prior to B (where logical priority is not to be confused with temporally ‘prior’). In mathematics we again see a causal relationship between the axioms and everything that follows from them. In each case within general causality, the consequent B is a result of the antecedent A. In logic, some have attempted to remove the confusion brought about by our tendency to think that causality is only temporal, by designating non-temporal causality as a logically ‘conditional’ relationship, where A is logically antecedent to B but not temporally antecedent.

      In any case, what I am saying is that temporal causality is a special case of the more general notion of causality. If one is inclined to dispute this, then all we have to do is to revise premise (1) to say that the origin of the universe is logically conditional on either something natural or something not-natural and we are solidly back on non-controversial ground. In other words, there is a logical antecedent for the origin of nature and logic entails that it is not-natural. We are forced to deductively infer that the antecedent to nature is something supernatural/not-natural.

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