The Second Premise
Having discussed the deficiencies of the first premise in my previous article (Part 1) we can now move on to the second premise. The second premise states that “The universe began to exist”.
Now I have actually written an article before about why it is exactly that it is misleading to say that the universe has a beginning, see “Why the Universe had No Beginning”, but I’ll explain here why, relevant to the cosmological argument, I think the premise fails.
The Universe Without a Beginning
It’s very much ingrained in the public’s scientific consciousness that the universe has a beginning in the Big Bang, and that this is the uncontroversial position of the scientific community. While it is true that the Big Bang is pretty uncontroversial in scientific circles, the universe having a beginning is not something that properly gets discussed in mainstream scientific discourse.
This question is more one of philosophy, it’s an interpretation of the data that the Big Bang theory gives us. The Big Bang theory itself makes no such claim that the universe had a beginning. All it claims is that the universe as we know it was crushed into a infinitesimal point around 14 billion years ago. This does not imply the universe had a beginning, in fact there is a significant group in the cosmology community that are investigating “oscillating universe” models in which the universe goes through repeated Big Bangs and Big Crunches.
Even if you don’t subscribe to the Oscillating Universe picture and think the Big Bang is the only game in town, it is still unwise to say the Big Bang is a “beginning” of the universe.
A much more appropriate way of putting it is that at the Big Bang, you can no longer travel backwards in time. Call this a beginning if you like, but more accurately this is a beginning only for things within the universe, not the universe itself.
Category Errors Again
My objection to the second premise is very similar to my objection to the first, the premise “the universe began to exist” is a category error. That is we’re applying the term “began” to the wrong kind of object. We can only apply “began” to things that are within the universe, we can’t apply it to the universe as a whole.
And this comes back to the same point I made before that the universe contains time. Time is a part of the universe, the universe is not a part of time. “Began” is a temporal term, and we can only apply it to things that are embedded in time – objects within the universe for example.
We cannot say that the universe has a beginning because that would require that it is embedded in time. Time however is a part of the universe and not the other way around.
What seem like two fairly common-sense premises in the cosmological argument are in fact both incorrect. The fallacy of each premise is to try and ascribe things to the universe which we only know can be applied sensibly to things within it.