This is an old post from an Islamic discussion forum I participated on. I have been interested in making a post regarding the ontological argument for God and I recalled that I had previously discussed a version of the cosmological argument and thought I should post that first. The quoted elements are from my interlocutor:
This is completely rational and to argue against it is to go against the laws of logic i.e. it is illogical to contend otherwise.
I thought this was an interesting challenge, and since I am not above making a clown of my self (cue the rimshot), I’ll risk illogic and attempt to contend otherwise.
Josh contends that to posit an infinite regression of causal events is an absurdity and cannot logically exist in space and time. Rather, it is only a mathematical function that has no point of contact with reality. In fact, the truth of this is demonstrated by the very definition of infinity and space/time (and thus is known a priori). To defend this position, Josh offers a scenario to demonstrate its impossibility:
You are in a queue at a shop counter. There are 3 people in front of you. It takes 1 minute for each person to be served. After each person is served, it causes the next person to step forward and be served. Therefore, you will wait 3 minutes before you are served. If there were 10 people in front of you, you will wait 10 minutes. If there were 100 people in front of you, you would wait 100 minutes, and so forth. However, if there were an infinite number of people in front of you i.e. there was no beginning to the queue, you would be waiting an infinite time to get to the front. In fact, you (a cause) would never happen because you exist at the end of infinity. This can be said for every cause in this absurd example. No causes could happen in infinity.
At first glance, this does seem like a very good argument, in fact, an impossible conundrum for anyone wishing to propose an infinite regression as the source of our present universe. But, I began to wonder why it didn’t satisfy me, and it dawned on me that there was something missing, and that was that while he deals with the time it would take for any point in the continuum to arrive, he doesn’t deal with nature how much time is allotted to each point to reach its destination. Allow me to illustrate:
You are in a queue at a shop counter. There are 3 people in front of you. One person is served each minute. After each person is served, it causes the next person to step forward and be served. Therefore, three people will be served when three minutes has passed. If you wait 10 minutes, ten people will be served. If you waited 100 minutes, there would be 100 people served, and so forth. However, if you waited an infinite number of minutes i.e. there was no beginning to when you started waiting, there would be an infinite number of people served. In fact, you would have already been served since you have been among the infinite already served. This can be said for every person in this absurd example. Every event that takes a finite amount of time could happen in infinity.
As you can see, all I have done is reversed the focus of consideration from how how much time an infinite series of finite events takes, to how many finite events can occur in an infinite amount of time. This one small redirection of our attention completely transforms the outcome, despite me retaining the basic structure of his example.
Essentially, Josh’s example is a modification of a more famous example of an infinite regression paradox, Zeno’s paradox (and the Kalam cosmological argument), although in Josh’s case, each task has a fixed amount of time (both, however, have as the center of their paradox the question of how to deal with an infinite number of events, or causes). The solution to paradox is to recognize that if you posit an infinite number of tasks, your scenario includes not only the number of tasks, but the amount of time we have for these tasks to occur, and so clearly it is possible to be at one point of a continuum and actually be, for though there are an infinite number of events that had to proceed you, an infinite amount of time has passed in order for them to have occurred and so arrive at you. In other words, by proposing an infinite number of temporally finite tasks that precede you, you have implicitly proposed an infinite number of finite time spans which preceded you, and so it is no problem to have reached the point where you are, since there has been an infinite amount of time to get there.
There were a couple of other interesting things that were brought up. The first was that the universe is governed by a principle (or law) called causality, and that this law has been demonstrated by science. Clearly this is not the case, and the impossibility of science, an empirical discipline, to prove it was fairly conclusively demonstrated by David Hume. Rather than prove it, science is built upon the presupposition that there is causality, and depends on this presumption for all of its conclusions. (You can read more about this, and Kant’s fascinating “solution” here: Kant and Hume on Causality).
The second interesting idea was the assumption that the universe was deterministic, when in fact it seems that our best scientific opinion is that it is not deterministic except at the statistical level. And even beyond this, should there have been an infinite regression of universes that preceded this one, there is nothing that requires us to posit that they were deterministic (there is actually no way to posit any knowledge of them at all except that they preceded us). Thus, we have no grounds for assuming anything on the basis of our current conditions because we have no justification for extending them outside of our present point, let alone outside the period of the existence of our universe (a consequence of the problem of causality that Hume also observed).