Response to Rev. Brewster’s cosmological argument

Rev. Michael Brewster (left) and Justin Vacula (right)
Rev. Michael Brewster (left) and Justin Vacula (right)

Reverend Brewster presented a formulation of a cosmological argument during the August 31 “Does the Christian god exist?” debate I participated in (see video and audio-only versions for context). I will address his claims in this piece by re-presenting some objections I put forth in the debate and providing further analysis of his assertions.

Brewster presented the following assertions in his opening statement: (1) what is finite requires a cause, (2) a cause must be greater than or equal to its effects, (3) all effects must have a cause, (4) an effect is anything that requires a beginning, (5) anything that has a beginning must have a cause, (6) the universe has a beginning, (7) God — as described in the Bible — is harmonious with this first cause.

A reformulation of Reverend Brewster’s argument  is as follows:
(1) Whatever is finite and had a beginning had a cause
(2) The universe is finite and had a beginning
(3) The universe had a cause
(4) God, as described in the Bible, is harmonious with the first cause of the universe
(5) God is the cause of the universe

Brewster’s argument fails to point to the Christian god; he merely assumes that the Bible is true in his argumentation and says that God, as described in the Bible, is harmonious with the first cause of the universe. Mere harmony with what Brewster thinks aligns with the first cause of the universe is not sufficient to establish the existence of the Christian god.

Why prefer the Christian god as an explanation when compared to other explanations? Why is the Christian god a better candidate for cause of the universe when compared to a team of gods, an all-evil god, an impersonal creator being with limited powers, or advanced technology such as a computer simulation?

Further problematic, Brewster’s cosmological argument does not allow us to arrive at supposed truths about Christianity such as ‘God sent Jesus to die on a cross for the redemption of sins’ or ‘saved individuals go to Heaven while the unsaved suffer eternal torment in Hell.’ The argument also doesn’t point to an all-loving, all-knowing, or all-powerful god. This cosmological argument, then, as presented, is useless.156604039

Worse yet, Pastor Brewster’s assertions concerning cause and effect are problematic. The principle of sufficient reason (PSR), the idea that all effects have a cause, is an inductive judgment based on events we experience in this world. For instance, we believe that a ship does not materialize out of thin air, but rather is assembled by a team of shipbuilders because of our experience and knowledge concerning ships and shipbuilders. Most of what we experience and know — at a macro level, visible to us — operates under the PSR, but this reasoning breaks down when applied to the cosmological and quantum level.

Much unlike experience and knowledge of ships and shipbuilders, we lack experience and knowledge of events occurring at cosmological and quantum levels. Our knowledge of events occurring at the quantum and cosmological levels — when compared to events at the macro level — is very limited. We can’t simply apply PSR (from the macro level) to quantum and cosmological levels because different rules apply and the situations by which we know of causation are very dissimilar. PSR simply faces challenges when dealing with modern discoveries/theories in science such as quantum fluctuations, quantum foam, and virtual particles. These modern discoveries/theories should lower our confidence in PSR when applied at all levels of reality.

Finally, Brewster’s argument assumes the universe is finite and had a beginning. Brewster, though, does not provide justification for these assumptions. Perhaps the universe is not finite and did not have a beginning. Brewster suggests whatever is finite has a cause, so if we are to assume this is true — for the purposes of discussion — and also assume that the universe is not finite, the universe does not need a cause.

I find cosmological arguments — like Brewster’s — to be unconvincing and based on dubious assumptions such as whatever has a beginning has a cause, all effects require a cause, the universe is finite, and the universe had a cause. At best, cosmological arguments lead us to believe that the universe had a cause and even if we for some reason believe that the cause of the universe is a transcendent being this is a far shot from the Christian god.

Justin Vacula

Justin Vacula hosts the Stoic Philosophy Podcast; serves as co-organizer and spokesperson for the Northeastern Pennsylvania (NEPA) Freethought Society; and has hosted monthly Stoic Philosophy discussion groups for the Humanist Association of Greater Philadelphia.

He has appeared on and hosted various radio shows and podcasts; participated in formal debates and discussions; was a guest speaker for college-level courses; was featured in local, national, and international news; and has been invited to speak at various national, local, and statewide events.

Vacula received bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy and Psychology, a minor in Professional Writing, and the distinguished W.A. Kilburn Memorial Award for Philosophy from King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. He is currently living in the Scranton, PA area attending Marywood University’s graduate-level Mental Health Counseling program and has worked with the Arc of Luzerne County’s Transition to Community Employment program as a teacher’s assistant and job coach alongside adult learners with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

He also plays poker; volunteers as a member of the website and media team for the Greyhawk Reborn Dungeons & Dragons campaign while playing at events in the Eastern United States; and enjoys metal music.