If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

Religion: Cosmological Argument, Part 1

Part 1 of a pair. Tim lays out a classic argument for the existence of God, called 'The Cosmological Argument' -- roughly, the idea that something has to explain why the world is the way it is, and that something is God. He distinguishes two versions: the Beginnings Argument, and the Modal Argument. He covers the Beginnings Argument.

Speaker: Dr. Timothy Yenter, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, University of Mississippi
Created by Gaurav Vazirani.

Want to join the conversation?

  • blobby green style avatar for user Pavlos Kanellakis
    1) The cosmological argument should not be treated as an argument for the existence of God unless the arguer is willing to admit it's an argument from ignorance (an informal fallacy) right from the start. At the very best, one can only go so far as to claim it's a deistic argument, but to go from deism to theism there is a very long, complex road full of obstacles that must be traveled and overcome first.

    2) The particular type of comsological argument offered in this video is known as the Kalam Cosmological Argument (everything which begins to exist must have a cause for its existence). Where the Kalam argument fails is that it implicitly asserts that while everything must have a cause, God needs no cause for his existence (this is another informal fallacy known as Special Pleading). Simply asserting that God need not have come into existence (that he is eternal, atemporal, etc.) is what causes the informal fallacy. The universe may very well be eternal, in fact we know that time itself did not exist until the big bang, so the argument also fails on that count.

    3) Premise 1 ("Whatever begins to exist must have a cause") is based on the informal fallacy of composition (what is true for the parts of something, must be true for the whole). The parts of nature which make up the "cosmos" do seem to require a cause (though quantum mechanics might have an objection to this), however, this does not automatically entail that the whole (the cosmos) must also have a cause. (I see that he covered this in the video, though I wrote it prior to reaching the marker).

    I suspect I'll continue this comment in Part 2.
    (7 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • leaf yellow style avatar for user turtleshell
    At , the argument is stated:

    2: If there is a cause, then it is God.

    I was disappointed that the proof for premise 2 was left out, in both this video and Part 2. *Why must a cause be God?* Without answering that, I don't see any way to tie the rest of the arguments into any sort of conclusion about the existence or non-existence of God.
    (6 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • blobby green style avatar for user Emmanuel Barnabas
      Philosophically speaking, it is plausible to affirm that the uncaused cause which the cosmological argument postulates is a necessary being. Now, Theist on the other hand claims that this necessary being suits their idea of the term God. it is necessarily noteworthy for one to negate with reasons why 'a cause must not be God'
      (1 vote)
  • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user tuannb1997
    Here's what I think about the Cosmological Argument:
    1) Something having a Beginning must have a Cause
    2) Earth has a Beginning
    => Conclusion: Earth must have a Cause.
    But what about God ? Does God has a Beginning ? Unless someone proves that God is part of the Universe, to which the Cosmological Thinking may not apply, there's no reason to believe that God is the Cause that started Life on Earth.
    (3 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • orange juice squid orange style avatar for user Giuseppe
      God does not have a beginning. Therefore, he does not need to have a cause. This premise is essential to the whole argument, If we want to prove that God is the ultimate cause. Another essential premise is that God is not part of the Universe. He is transcendent. If He was part of the Universe, he could hardly be its Creator, right?
      (4 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Aidan Mattingly
    At the mention of the Big Bang, around , there is a mention of it being a solid "beginning" of the universe. Don't some scientists and philosophers postulate an infinite series of Big Bangs and the inverse, Big Crunches?
    (2 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • purple pi teal style avatar for user Maria
      The point of the Cosmological Argument is that there can't be an infinite regress. (Infinite regress is an infinite series of causes going back and back and back forever.)
      There are two kinds of infinity: Countable infinity and actual infinity. Countable infinity starts from a given point and continues on in ONE direction forever.
      Actually infinity doesn't stem from a particular point; it goes on in BOTH directions forever.
      An actual infinite regress is impossible, because an actually infinity would have had to pass before now (not starting from 1). Infinity goes on forever, so we would never have reached the present. Well, we have.
      If the universe is a countable infinite regress, then it had a beginning/ultimate cause.
      We call this ultimate cause God.
      (1 vote)
  • leafers ultimate style avatar for user pascal5
    At the Professor states: ". . . if someone were to say one at the first second and two at the next second and so on could they have gone through an infinite number of seconds by now?" This sounds to me like it has a problem in it, because wouldn't that be arguing that the universe had a beginning but no end? Shouldn't he be talking about an infinity stretching in all directions, or at least counting backward from infinity?
    (2 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • stelly green style avatar for user Marissa.L.Medina
    There is no such thing as the BIG BANG!
    The entire universe was created by God in a period of six whole days!
    Science cannot even prove the theory of the BIG BANG!
    But science can prove the existence of a CREATOR whom we know as GOD!
    (1 vote)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user

Video transcript

(intro music) Hello, I'm Dr. Timothy Yenter, assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Mississippi. I'll be talking about the[br]cosmological argument, which we'll be breaking[br]down into a couple of parts. Now, the cosmological argument is an argument for the existence of God, and like most arguments for[br]the existence of God, it gets its name from its starting point. The cosmological argument[br]starts from the existence of the cosmos, which is the collection of everything that exists. The basic idea at the heart[br]of the various versions of the cosmological argument is that the existence of something, this rock, that bird[br]flying, this universe, requires an explanation. This is often phrased[br]in the following way: the existence of this object,[br]or the whole universe, demands that there be a cause, and this cause must be God. Notice that this is really[br]a two-stage argument. The first stage is to establish[br]that there must be a cause. The second stage is to explain[br]what this cause is like. In these talks, I will be[br]focusing on the first stage, but at the end I'll[br]have a little bit to say about what we could know about the cause of the universe from these arguments. The cosmological argument[br]has two versions. It actually has many versions, but I'll be talking about two of them. The first one, I'll call[br]"the beginnings argument." It's sometimes also called[br]"the Kalam argument." Then the second one is the modal argument. And I'll explain what those terms mean. You don't need to know what they are yet. The beginnings argument is that whatever begins to[br]exist must have a cause. The universe began to exist. Therefore, the universe must have a cause. Two premises and a conclusion. A very simple, direct argument, but one with potentially[br]profound implications. We'll begin by examining[br]the second premise. There are two kinds of[br]arguments that attempt to show that the second premise is true: philosophical arguments[br]and scientific arguments. The philosophical arguments attempt to rule out the possibility[br]that the universe exists, but has no beginning. So let's think about this first. Chances are, you're watching[br]this on a computer. Where did your computer come from? Well, it was probably[br]assembled in a factory from a variety of metals and plastics, which were, in turn, formed[br]or refined in factories from materials present in the earth. These elements in the earth were formed through various natural processes over long periods of time. Each step of the way,[br]there was some combination of matter and energy. And at each of these steps,[br]we could talk about where that matter and energy came from, by describing some[br]previous state of the world that contained matter and energy. And we could explain that by going back to an earlier stage, and so on. At each step, there is[br]a cause that explains why things are the way the are. In theory, this kind of[br]explanation could go on forever. Or could it? Does it make sense to talk about an infinite series of causes? Well, we seem to deal with[br]infinite series all the time. For instance, there is an[br]infinite series of whole numbers, that is, one, two, three, four, and so on. And we have an OK grasp of what[br] that means in some obscure way. But does it make sense to say that there is an infinite series that has actually passed by now? This would be more like someone counting off the whole numbers, one per second. If someone were to say "one" at the first second, and "two" at the next second, and so on, could they have gone through an infinite number of seconds by now? Now, that's tough. A lot of ink has been spilled over whether there are real or only imagined paradoxes involving infinite series. Some have claimed that[br]there is no problem at all with infinite series already passed. For instance, just to mention one. Imagine a super counter. A super counter is someone[br]who counts like this: In the first second, they say "one." In the next half second, they say "two." In the next quarter second,[br]they say "three." In the next eighth second,[br]they say "four." Super counting this way, they could count an infinite number of times before the next second passes. As long as at least two seconds[br]have passed in the universe, and we could all agree to that, then an infinite series has passed. Now some philosophers[br]have argued that this is the wrong sort of infinite series. Something to think about is whether causes could work in this super counting way. But we will set this aside,[br]because there's another way to defend the second[br]premise of this version of the cosmological argument. The second kind of support for the claim that the universe had a beginning is that this is what our best science has shown. Isn't the big bang just a claim that the universe had a beginning of a particular, interesting sort? We have considered objections[br]to the second premise. What about objections[br]to the first premise? An important objection[br]to the first premise is that the principle is a good one, but it's a good principle within the universe. It's not a principle that can be applied to the universe as a whole. This objection could be[br]stated in various ways. A specific version of this response is that the big bang is not a beginning as we usually think of beginnings. It is not a beginning[br]of something in time, but the beginning of time itself. So the usual rules do not apply. A second way to put this objection: by saying that there is a fallacy of composition going on. A fallacy of composition is saying that because the parts of an[br]object all have a property, then so must the whole. It's a fallacy because,[br]while it seems attractive, it's not a reliable argument. Consider this argument. All the atoms of your body are invisible to the naked eye. Your body is just these atoms. Therefore, your body is invisible[br]to the naked eye. But this conclusion is obviously false, even though both the premises are true. Is the same mistake happening in the case of the universe having a cause because it has a beginning, in the same way that[br]things within the universe must have a cause because[br]they have a beginning? Is there some mistake[br]going on from the move from the part to the whole? Perhaps to answer this question will turn on whether[br]or not we can establish that the principle stated[br]in the first premise is only true in our universe, or is a metaphysical[br]principle that applies to the universe itself. We will consider this issue more as we work through the other version of the cosmological argument in the next video. Subtitles by the Amara.org community