*I first heard this argument in 1973!*

The above picture was published
on a Facebook thread by an atheist. It was used as the basis for a rebuttal of
the first cause argument for God. The idea of getting something from nothing
was also tendered as perfectly OK providing we use the “sophisticated” concept
of “nothing” used by physicists, such as, perhaps, the quantum vacuum. Below I
publish the answers I gave. I’ve always agreed that the Kalam First cause
argument (as promoted by William Lane Craig, for
instance) is a poor argument for God, although I took issue with the “something
from nothing” argument.

**First Cause Argument. **Arguments which presuppose
a well-defined concept of “cause and effect” in order to either deny or affirm
theism are in my view fundamentally flawed.

Firstly:
In physics time appears as just another coordinate of the space-time canvass on
which the patterns of matter in motion are impressed. This loss of time as a
special coordinate immediately raises a question over the preferred use of time
as the basis for some kind of “cause and effect” notion requiring the arrow of
time to define it. The arrow of time is a little problematical in physics
(although not in human subjective experience!)

Secondly:
Physics is about the mathematical description or understanding of pattern. In
some of these patterns, in particular the highly disordered patterns of
randomness, the concept of cause and effect is rather ill defined. (Note:
“cause and effect” is probably most well defined in Newtonian physics)

In
the light of these considerations I’ve long suspected the Kalam first cause
argument for God to be bogus. (Even though I’m a theist).

**Something for nothing? **Perhaps the concept of an
empty or null set is the nearest we can come to defining “nothing” with any
mathematical rigor. But on this reckoning we find that the complex set of
mathematical objects describing a “quantum vacuum” which could (conceivably)
generate our current universe is far from “nothing”. The one-liner mathematical
basis for this indictment of the notion of “something coming from nothing” is
found in data compression theory: It is impossible to compress a data set to
“nothing” (i.e. no data). Ergo, “something from nothing” simply doesn’t stack
up from a mathematical point of view.

**The problem of contingency** A corollary of this is
that contingency is necessarily built into the mathematical objects with which
we attempt to understand and describe the cosmos: Physical theorizing always
entails the preferential selection of particular mathematical objects: Viz: Of
all the possible mathematical objects that occupy platonic space only a tiny
apparently arbitrarily selected subset has been “chosen” to work for our
universe. This asymmetry of selection can be expressed by the question: “Why
has one small set of mathematical objects been put up for physical reification
in preference to others?”

Physicist
Max Tegmark has realized that this contingency issue needs some explaining and
so this has prompted him to come up with his “Mathematical Universe” concept. Here,
the “preference enigma” is removed by simply postulating that somehow *all *mathematical
objects, and not just some, have been reified as truly existing ontologies and
our universe is just one of those reified ontologies. This theory of Tegmark’s
is a form of extreme “Copernicanism”.

The
fact is physical “explanation” is philosophically shallow and actually only
goes as far as providing us with descriptive understandings of the status quo.
In one sense “explanation” of this kind utterly fails to satisfy our
intuitively felt yearning for answers to the problem of contingency; Viz Why
this particular Universe? Our intuitions seek to appeal to some deeper obliging
logic, than “It just is!”

Tegmark’s
MU is just one attempt to provide something deeper; it’s not a good answer in
my view but it at least takes our philosophical yearnings seriously, as do
other attempts such as the simulation argument, various multiverse arguments
and theism itself. They all represent attempts by the mind of (wo)man to go
beyond a mere understanding of the status quo and make sense of that enigmatic
cosmic contingency by immersing it in some higher level justifying narrative.

***

That the problem of brute fact contingency
will always be with us is a mathematical truism. It is conceivable, though,
that for some people “scientific explanation” in the sense of providing a
complete descriptive understanding of the contingent cosmic status quo will be
enough to fully satiate their curiosity, perhaps to the extent that they may
even regard the asking of any deeper question about “why” to be meaningless. (cf Wittgenstein: “*Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent*”.). But the
fact is the restless and inquiring spirit of (wo)man is unlikely to be
satisfied with that, as Max Tegmark, in his own eccentric way, has
demonstrated. The inevitable logical hiatus
left by science will always invite further imaginative speculation and revelation.