Tuesday, May 19, 2009

An Observation on Sagan's Cosmos

The cosmos is all there ever was, is, or ever will be. Thus begins Carl Sagan's Cosmos. I recently watched the entire series and have much to say in destructive criticism. But that is for another time. For now, I'd like to pick out one very small portion of the series for comment.

It was Sagan's philosophical (I was under the mistaken impression "Cosmos" was a scientific documentary) debunking of the cosmological argument for the existence of God. Russell made the same blunder in "Why I Am Not a Christian" and countless persons, before and since, I understand, have followed suit.

Let's face facts. The cosmological argument has been around for a very long time. Why people can't come up to date with it is beyond excuse. In the past, Dr. Sagan informs us, people answered the question of why there is a cosmos with, God did it. But, these pre-scientific and unenlightened religionists, we are further informed, were apparently not smart enough to ask where God, in turn, came from. If we counter that God is eternal and uncaused then, why not the universe? Contrariwise, if everything needs a cause, then so doesn't God.

Apparently Sagan forgot at this point the major portions of his program he devoted to the big bang at this point. The simple fact is that the cosmos screams contingency no matter where we look. Stars die. Our own star, as Sagan himself describes in the program, is burning out. The rain slowly but surely destroys rocks on the earth. Asteroids and black holes destroy celestial-solid bodies. On and on we could go. We can never step into the same river twice. The cosmos is in continuous flux. Everything, supposing the cosmos really is everything, is manifestly contingent whether considered in part or in whole. Therefore, it must have had a beginning.

On the other hand, to avoid a causal regress, which Carl ironically seems very concerned to avoid, there must be an uncaused first cause. What is more, an eternal causal agent must ever be and cannot thus, lack existence. Such a being, therefore, always (from our temporal point of view) be. Time came into existence at the big bang. So if a creator transcends the cosmos, this being also transcends the time which is so closely knit to the cosmos. And so God, if we choose to call the first causal agent thusly, must be eternal. In other words, God cannot have a prior cause.

So what is the problem? The universe had to have a beginning and God, supposing there is one, had to lack such a beginning. The only candidate for a beginner (or uncaused first cause) would have to be some type of causal agent transcendent to the cosmos. Such a being all men call God.

Now, when I said before that Sagan ought to be up to date on this argument when speaking as an authority on it, that was not quite correct. I'd be happy if he went only as far as the high-middle ages. Aquinas, for example, had quite a lot to say about the cosmological argument. But it seems it was much easier to blow him off with a wave of the hand, at a straw man, than to actually read what he had to say.

Instead of wasting all that time and money-which, by the way, came from tax dollars, I think-looking for little green men to save us (from what?), Dr. Sagan should have been searching for God. If we search for Him with all our heart we will find Him, the Bible promises us.

While Mr. Sagan has left us there remain today many skeptics still living. When confronted with a logically valid (and I would say logically sound as well) argument for the existence of God, I hope that they would take it seriously. More particularly, when exposed to the cosmological argument they have no right, in light of the above words, to give the who-made-God rebuttal. And if that is all they have, why, they are compelled, with irresistible logic, to admit there is some kind of a God.

2 comments:

scipher said...

You claim that a necessary first mover for our universe is a "being" over reaches your logic. Your argument does nothing to support a thinking being as this causeless-cause over a causeless naturalistic explanation. In this regard, the "causeless cause" aspect of the cosmological argument does nothing to support a god-cause that would fit into the Christian worldview. I think you still have the same problem that Sagan pointed out; with much less vitriol than you managed, I might add.

Larks1965 said...

There are so many fallacies floating around in your "Observation on Sagan's Cosmos" that it is hard to really know where to begin. Your primary fallacy is the circular argument fallacy. You start with the assumption that God (or a set of gods) exists. The statement "If we counter that God is eternal and uncaused then, why not the universe?" begs the question of what evidence (note I did not state "proof") is there that a God or gods exist?

The recourse to the cosmological argument (Thomas Aquinas) is a further example of a real lack of understanding here. Aquinas' four arguments are shown to be bogus in every first year philosophy class. The statement "Let's face facts. The cosmological argument has been around for a very long time." is particularly troubling. It has been known to be a bogus argument for hundreds of years.

There are other fallacies. I won't bother to refute them all, since I'm not paid to teach this stuff. Anyone with a library card can get to the bottom of these statements with my comments in parentheses:

Therefore, it _must_ have had a beginning. (emphasis original)

God _cannot_ have a prior cause. (emphasis original)

The universe had to have a beginning and God, supposing there is one, had to lack such a beginning.(the Cosmological Argument in its simplest form - shown to be logically inconsistent around 500-600 years ago.)

Instead of wasting all that time and money-which, by the way, came from tax dollars . . . (guess which fallacy this one is)

If we search for Him with all our heart we will find Him, the Bible promises us. (. . . and this)

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I am not sure there is really anything more to say. It's not really necessary to restate, but while this "An Observation on Sagan's Cosmos" article would have convinced some people around 750 years ago (when Aquinas first had the Cosmological Argument brain fart), it is indefensible today.