Friday, July 1, 2011

Cosmic Etch A Sketch

Lately I have come up with a helpful analogy regarding my disagreement with the cosmological argument. For a summary of that argument and previous discussion, see these three posts:

Now on to my analogy:
Think of the universe like an extremely complicated drawing on an Etch A Sketch. The shape of the drawing defines all that our universe is- the physics (the force of gravity, the charge of an electron, the speed of light, etc), the amount of matter that comprises it, the location of everything inside of it (a star made of this material is over here, a planet made of this material is over there). The drawing started at the big bang, and has been expanding outwards ever since.

Then we (humans) came along, and we started to make observations about the drawing. We learned a whole heck of a lot, and even started looking into the past. Using astronomy and astrophysics, we extended our sight all the way back to the point where the drawing started to expand outward- the big bang.

At the big bang, the Etch A Sketch was shaken up. With our current understanding, we can't know what anything was like before that. Maybe there was a picture on the Etch A Sketch before- we wouldn't know what it looked like. Maybe there was no picture before- we have no way to test this. Maybe there was no Etch A Sketch, maybe there was a different kind of Etch A Sketch, maybe a divine being created the Etch A Sketch and started turning the two little wheels, maybe anything.

We don't know whether or not we can apply our cause and effect reasoning to anything that occurred before the big bang because our cause and effect reasoning is intrinsically linked to our own picture. If a different picture existed, we would have no warrant for saying that our reasoning would extend into that separate picture.

Now, Christians claim that a higher being created everything. This means that they are outright stating that before our universe started, things did not work the way they currently do. Therefore, it is an error to apply our reasoning to something completely outside of our picture.

The cosmological argument makes a claim which inherently places the subject material it seeks to explain in the category of 'unknowable'.

If there were some similarity between our picture and whatever came before (if anything), then we would have the ability to apply at least some of our logic to it and try to explain it. If there is no similarity between our picture and whatever came before (for example, if there were no matter, no time, no motion), then there is no way our minds can grasp anything about it. Specifically, we cannot apply cause and effect reasoning to it.

What happened before the big bang? The only acceptable answer is "we do not know" at this point. What 'caused' the big bang? Well, before the big bang what does 'cause' even mean or have to do with anything? We can look at our own picture all we like- but once we reach the big bang we see the point at which the Etch A Sketch got shaken up, and we cannot see any further.


  1. In response to your statement, "What happened before the big bang? The only acceptable answer is "we do not know" at this point."

    What about Primum movens? The "unmoved mover," which is generally accepted as "God"? It can be argued that it was this force that set everything into motion initially, and it just snowballed from there on.

    Also, there is the argument for the Second Law of Thermodynamics- in which in a closed system the measure of entropy of that system will either remain the same or increase unless an outside force were to act upon it. That Etch A Sketch doesn't just draw itself, you know?

    Have to play the Devil's Advocate every now and then. ^.^ Nice blog by the way.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Cyra! It brings me great joy that you like my blog!

    In response to your comment, I recommend that you check out my previous posts on this topic! I think that I have already answered your questions.

    I am extremely familiar with the idea of an 'unmoved mover' and the argument from the Second Law of Thermodynamics- and I used to be an advocate of those lines of thought. However, after being a proponent of them for years I think that I have effectively demonstrated that they are fallacious. For my arguments against them, check out the 3 links at the top of this post! (Why the Cosmological Argument Fails)