The Kalam cosmological argument goes something like this.
- Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
- The universe began to exist.
- Therefore, the universe has a cause.
Their conclusion is a separate agency, a God must exist outside of space and time that caused the cosmos to come into existence.
The doubt really starts with the first premise, beginnings and causes. I noticed in the claim that it’s a simple linkage. A single cause has the effect – Linear causality.
However, in Buddhism, it recognises there are multiple causes and conditions for anything to exist.
Take the Potter and pit metaphor. Yes, the Potter created the pot, but it’s that all of the causes and conditions? There also has to be the clay itself, that a condition. Knowledge in the Potter’s mind, where that came from.
There also will be another condition, a prospective buyer of the pot. Making a pot to fulfil a need. So a market economy needs to exist, demand for containers.
What you see then is the simple cause and effect is a myopic understanding of a Web of causes and conditions.
This is the understanding that the cosmos is like a web or net; all existence is interconnected and empty of self, Sunyata. Events happen because of a collection of causes, which in Buddhism is called Dependant co-arising.
As such, in Buddhism, there is no first cause. In Buddhism, they see the cosmos as eternal.
Causality in their worldview is so simple. Linear progress from causes to effect. Yet we can see how multiple reasons and conditions are needed for things to exist or happen.
Such complexity is impossible to grasp, so we resort to simpler models. It’s what science does in controlled trials. Filter out multiple causes and focus on just one.
Therefore, theists’ idea of causality as simple linear progress mirrors the scientific method: reductionist.
As theologians have pointed out, the reductionist view of life can’t do justice to its complexity and richness. So why are they clinging to it when explaining causality?
It’s the scientists to understand the complex web of causes better.
What we have here is a myopic understand of the cosmos, a complex web, reduce to a single liner causality.
Another question mark is over the idea of beginnings. Consider the Continuum paradox, (related to the Sorites).
Consider a smooth gradient from black to white through all the shades of grey. The number of greys is infinite.
The question is, ‘at what points does black become white?‘ Black and white are not the only states that exist. There’re numerous states in-between.
In simplifying the world, we chop it up into pieces, giving a label to each. To chop up, define is to make boundaries—for example, Ten shades of grey as below.
The chopped version is an abstraction of reality. It doesn’t contain all the grey tones; therefore, it’s more straightforward, and importantly, it has beginnings and endings.
All of our ideas and knowledge are like this, abstractions of reality, but not reality itself.
This points to the dichotomy of the Map and the Territory.
Beginning and endings are what we create in the changing world around us. In Buddhism this points towards the idea of Emptiness or Sunyata.
No thing arises or ceases to exist, because there is no Self, the cosmos is therefore eternal.
To say there is a first cause it like asking ‘Which comes first the breadth or width of a rectangle?’ or ‘Does a rule begin at the first centimetre?’
Another point about Eastern religion is those cultures don’t see time as linear, but circular.
From very close up, a circles edge will look like a line. But a circle has no beginning or end.
It’s a shift in perspective about cosmology, and the world, a liberation of our myopic understanding. Everything that begins to exist is a reordering of things that already exist.
We also forget that every beginning we experience can be seen as an end. The beginning of the Olympic Games is also the end of the preparation for the Olympics.
So if there is a begging of the universe, there is the ending of another.
The argument and others also posit the idea of God as outside of time and space; but what does this mean?
How can something exist outside space and time? This is making the cosmos to be like a box, with us in it. But that again suggests the cosmos and its contents are separate.
Buddhism recognises we are not in the cosmos; we are the cosmos.
It’s where the anthropomorphising of gods leads to confusing implications and complications. For example, we make choices in time: There’s a before the election and an after. So for God to choose, God must be subject to time by the same reasoning.
To be outside space and time is not to exist, or not to matter.
Separate or not?
If God is the cause of the cosmos, then it’s not outside of the cosmos but a part of the interconnected play of causes and conditions. You can’t define something as both separate and connected.
To be outside the cosmos is to be unconnected from it or non-existent.
If God decided to create the universe, that’s a change god undergoes. Making choices is change, so God must change.
What we have here is a misunderstanding of the Subject-object duality. Again is the same mistake as above. A Potter making a pot is not independent of the pot.
Cause and effect is a connection that takes place over time. The effect happens after cause, linear time. Both change, and both are subjects, therefore, to time. Where does it prove cause and effect are separate?
With a cosmos so small at the earliest stages, we can’t use Aristotelian ideas to explain it. It’s what Sean Carroll was saying to William Lane Craig. Aristotle is no longer practical to describe this time in history.
Or conceptual worldview of the universe is outdated.
However, at the subatomic level, the causal principle, “everything that begins to exist has a cause”, appears to break down. There is no time at the quantum level, and the big bang has a quantum state before the expansion.
Theists forget ideas are not reality. They point to reality. People over-invested in their worldview alter facts to fit theories instead of fitting theories to fit facts.
It’s called Hypostasis or Reification. The Physicist Feynman called it ‘The Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness.
Apologists’ mistake is trying to squeeze the cosmos to fit into the ideas of Aristotle. They mistakenly think Aristotle had the last word on causality, infinities, metaphysics and cosmology.
The mistake here is that of Naive Realism. An assumption that the cosmos works as we describe it. Also, it presupposes is we have the mental faculties to understand it.
Our description reality is just that; there’s no obligation on the part of the cosmos to conform to our descriptions.
We could all be wrong, and as science progresses, we discover how.
The thing about cosmological arguments is you have to make certain assumptions and follow specific needs.
- The universe requires an explanation
- Infinite regress is impossible
- Everything that begins to exist has a beginning
- Everything requires a cause
If your preference is to have explanations, then you would gravitate to metaphysics and the supernatural, and the arguments put forwards by Aquinas, philosophers and apologists would appeal.
If you don’t accept the above assumptions and don’t need explanations, then cosmological arguments have no appeal, value or validity.
What all this seems to point to is a myopic understanding of reality.
Biases keep some from noticing that our knowledge and ideas are artificial. We forget that such knowledge is not something the cosmos follows. We adapt our knowledge to fit it.
We’re mistaking the map for the territory. Or, in Buddhist terms, become lost in the illusions of the mind.
Vague language, imagination, and ambiguity allow such misunderstandings to slip in, clouding the issue further.
Many unsupported assumptions and complexities get brushed over in this argument. The issue is more complicated than our intuitions present.
Apologists put forward ideas that are not settled in science or philosophy.
An argument like this is based upon a western philosophy and shows its influences whilst also highlighting the lack of understanding apologists have of eastern philosophy and religions.
Buddhism and modern science can accept the ideas that the cosmos is infinite and doesn’t need a creator.