Dan Barker's Response to the Cosmological Argument

20 March 2006

Elsewhere I have reviewed Dan Barker’s Losing Faith in Faith (see Here). In this critique, I will consider Barker’s response to the Cosmological Argument, which is so abysmally short that I will simply copy the entire thing here:

“‘Everything had a cause, and every cause is the effect of a previous cause. Something must have started it all. God is the first cause, the unmoved mover, the creator and sustainer of the universe.’

The major premise of this argument, ‘everything had a cause,’ is contradicted by the conclusion that ‘God did not have a cause.’ You can’t have it both ways. If everything had to have a cause, then there could not be a first cause. If it is possible to think of a god as uncaused, then it is possible to think the same of the universe.

Some theists, observing that all ‘effects’ need a cause, assert that god is a cause but not an effect. But no one has ever observed an uncaused cause and simply inventing one merely assumes what the argument wishes to prove.” [126]

This all-too-common objection to the Cosmological Argument is answered easily by the Kalam version, which only states that everything which begins to exist requires a cause. God did not begin to exist, and therefore does not require a cause. Yet, contra Barker, it is not possible to think the same about the universe, for two reasons. First, it is impossible for an actual infinity to be actualized in the real world. Infinity is a mathematical concept that cannot be transferred to the real world without contradiction. Furthermore, even if an actual infinity is possible, it is impossible for the past history to be infinite, since history accumulates by successive addition (i.e., second after second). However, it would be impossible for such successive addition to “add up” to an infinite history, just like it is impossible for someone to actually count to infinity, since it is always possible to count one number higher.

Second, and even more damaging to Barker’s case, scientific evidence has proven unmistakably that the universe began to exist. For example, thermodynamics imply that the universe must be finite in existence, or else the universe would already be in a state of equilibrium or heat death (which contradicts observation.) So the rational man is not justified in thinking of the universe as an uncaused cause.

Thus, the Cosmological Argument need not be question-begging, and it is not possible to construe the universe itself as an uncaused cause. It is quite a shock that this sophomoric attempt to refute the Cosmological Argument is all we get from Barker’s large tome on nonbelief, which is oftentimes considered a practical “end-all” to Christian theism.


  1. Your confident assertion in the fifth paragraph that “actual infinity cannot be realized in the real world” is an indefensible statement, unless you’re willing to concede that a non-caused diety is also a possible explanation.

    If you say “preposterous!”, then I ask you a simple question. You can take your time answering, but be very sure of whether or not you will want to publically disgrace yourself as a liar (for the wrong answer).

    Question: Do you know everything there is to know? [all subjects]

    If you answer “yes”, then I call you a liar. And, all it takes will be one contradiction I present to knock your house of logic cards flat.

    If you answer “no”, then there is hope for you. But, you WILL have to concede that the Cosmological Argument (OR ANY OTHER HYPOTHESIS, which cannot be verified) has equal standing. Debate is futile, since no verification is available to us (independent of the sample space – our known universe).

    Science does not have all the answers, and is constantly reminded of this by new discoveries which force a significant re-evaluation of the hypothesis models in use (e.g. the world was flat, then the world was curved but on the back of a great turtle, then it was round but the heavens revolved around the earth, etc… ad nauseum).

    Human beings have been around too short a span of time to have any hope of extrapolating accurately a time-period quadrillions+ of times more than Earth’s existence. It’s all conjecture until there’s no risk of contradiction.

    FrigateSkimmer    Apr 28, 05:11 PM    #
  2. FrigateSkimmer,

    I do, of course, recognize that I am far less than perfect, and that I might be mistaken about any given proposition. Yet, this does not reduce us to a state of absolute ignorance when it comes to the Cosmological Argument. Your statement that “debate is futile, since no verification is available to us” is doubly problematic. First of all, since you are essentially debating me on this issue, your comment, according to your own analysis, is “futile.” Secondly, your proposal that no verification is available to us is, according to your analysis, without any verification. So why should I believe your unverified and ultimately futile comment?

    As to your comment that science does not have all the answers, I agree completely. However, this should not stop us from attempting to find the best scientific theories and apply them to our thinking. The fact of the matter is, multiple convergent lines of scientific evidence point towards a beginning to the universe. Thus, all things being equal, we should believe that the universe had a beginning. Given this, I am fully justified in using this evidence in my exposition of the Cosmological Argument.

    In any case, if you think that science is still at the point that it is so ultimately inconclusive that we should not use its findings in our evaluation of philosophical accounts of the world, then we must apply this belief consistently. Unfortunately, many people are not consistent on this issue. For example, many people argue that the scientific evidence for evolution undermines the creationist view of origins. But if science is so hopeless as you indicate, then scientific evidence is simply irrelevant to the question, and so nobody has any right to criticize young-earth creationists for their alleged failure to follow the scientific evidence.

    So, would you agree that young-earth creationists are on equal rational footing with Darwinian evolutionists?

    Kyle    Apr 28, 07:59 PM    #
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