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Explaining the universe Michael Lacewing

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1 Explaining the universe Michael Lacewing enquiries@alevelphilosophy.

2 What we need to explain ZWhy does the universe exist at all? ZWhy do we exist? (Why is the universe set up so that life is possible?)

3 The Kalam argument ZOf anything that begins to exist, you can ask what caused it. For example, what caused me (my birth)? In a sense, my parents. But then, we can repeat the question: ‘what caused my parents?’ And so on. We can go back to the beginning of the universe, and then ask ‘what caused the universe?’. If Zthe universe began to exist, then it must have a cause of its existence. Something can’t come out of nothing. ZWhat we need is something that causes things to exist, but the existence of which isn’t caused itself. ZOnly God could be such a thing.

4 Science is inadequate ZScience can’t explain the origins of the universe. It uses causal explanations, so it has to assume the existence of something to explain anything. ZOf anything science assumes to exist, we can ask ‘what caused that?’.

5 Objection 1 ZMust every event have a cause? David Hume famously argued that we cannot know this. It is not an analytic truth (by contrast, ‘every effect has a cause’ is an analytic truth; but is every event an effect?). Z‘Something cannot come out of nothing’ is also not analytic. ZBut our experience is that everything so far has a cause. ZBut can this principle can be applied to the beginning of the universe?

6 Objection 2 ZBecause time came into existence with the universe, the universe didn’t ‘happen’ at a time, so in a sense, it has no beginning. ZTrue, but science suggests the universe has a finite past (it is about 15 billion years old). Whatever has a finite past must have a cause of its existence. ZIn the case of the universe, that cause can’t exist in time if time didn’t exist before the universe. ZBut that doesn’t mean there was no cause, only that the cause must exist outside time. Which God does.

7 Objection 3 ZEven if this universe has a beginning, perhaps it was caused by a previous (or another) universe, and so on, infinitely. Something has always existed. ZDoes this make sense? ZThe universe gets older as time passes. But this couldn’t happen if the universe was infinitely old, because you cannot add any number to infinity and get a bigger number: ∞ + 1 = ∞. So if the universe is infinitely old, it is not getting any older as time passes!

8 Objection 3 cont. ZTo have reached the present, an infinite amount of time would need to have passed. But it is not possible for an infinite amount of time to have passed. ZIf we have an infinite series of causes, although each cause can be explained in terms of the previous cause, we may wonder what explains the whole series.

9 Richard Swinburne: an inductive argument ZThe Kalam argument does not prove God exists. But the hypothesis that God exists is the best explanation. ZAgain, science can’t offer a good explanation. ZWe should not simply say ‘there is no explanation’. This is not good science nor good philosophy.

10 Personal explanation ZWe can explain the universe if we give a personal explanation in terms of God: God wanted life to exist, so created the physical laws to make this possible. ZWe use explanations in terms of persons - what we want, believe, intend - all the time. ZThese are not explanations that make use of scientific laws.

11 Is this a good explanation? ZDoes it improve our understanding? Or does introducing God just invoke one mystery to explain another? Z‘What explains God?’ is no better than ‘What explains scientific laws?’ ZSwinburne: that we can’t explain God is no objection. A good explanation may posit something unexplained. This happens in science all the time, e.g. subatomic particles.

12 Does the universe need explaining? ZThe lottery argument ZIt’s incredibly unlikely, before the draw, that whoever wins will win. ZBut someone will win. ZWith enough chances, the incredibly unlikely can become inevitable. ZIf there are lots of universes, one of them would have the right conditions for life.

13 Why us? ZWhy this one? No reason: but if it wasn’t this one, we wouldn’t be here to ask the question! ZIt’s all a big coincidence.

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