The Fallacy of First Cause

This is an analysis of The Deductive Evolutionary Design Argument by A.J. Rogers, found here.  At first glance this argument seems to be rather technical, but upon further review one will find that the premise is precipitously suffused with presuppositions and common fallacies.  Instead of commenting directly on his blog, I thought it might be better to address these in a post.  In doing so I hope to (1) improve my understanding of his argument and (2) entertain counterarguments.  Therefore, I shall address each of his five points separately and allow for the debate – if he wishes to engage in one – begin.

1.) Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR): Everything has an explanation. No thing can begin to exist and no fact can begin to be real or actual, and no proposition can begin to be true, without there being a sufficient cause for its being so and not otherwise.

To accept this principle in an unlimited capacity one must allow for the possibility of self-necessitated beings, such as God.  Without this admission the principle nullifies the very premise one is arguing in favor of; namely, that god(s) exists.  This concept is closely related to what other philosophers have called the First Cause or Prime Mover.  They have assessed the natural world and surmised that everything within it is dependent on the existence of something previous to it.  The sun, for example, shines in our sky because fusion occurs in its core; fusion occurs in its core because gravity, long ago, pulled gas ever closer, causing temperatures to increase; and an initial event caused this gravitational collapse to begin.  Such a cause – fusion, in this example – requires preceding causes, culminating in a First Cause; otherwise, we are left with a seemingly unintelligible answer: infinite regression.

I have italicized “requires” because as sentient beings we are intrinsically enticed by solutions.  “I don’t know” is an unacceptable answer.  Our issue here is that a natural explanation has yet to be discovered for the existence of something ex nihilo – unless you accept L. Krauss’ latest theory.  Therefore, we have extended the application of a perfectly reasonable principle to include an exception.  Specifically, an exception that expressly supports one’s own objective – to logically prove the existence of god(s).  But in doing so we have contradicted the principle and rendered it worthless.

Moreover, the complexity of god(s) has been ignored, while the complexity of the contention is at the root of the proposed solution.  That is, the complexity of “existence” exceeds our current state of knowledge, and so, to enable an immediate solution an infinitely more complex being has been interjected, with an exception creatively at its side.  Ockham’s razor hardly seems worth mentioning.

  2.) If B is explained by A, then A must have at least as much design as B.

If existence, represented by B, is explained by God, represented by A, then who designed A?  Again, I presume God is labeled as a self-necessitated being, but why?  Why should we yield and allow for such favorable exceptions? But I have played with the intent of this point.  This point is, rather, intended to support the succeeding argument wherein human life is represented by B and “the conjunction of the state of the universe…” is represented by A; thereby inferring that the universe was also designed.  On the surface this seems perfectly logical, but there is a presupposition cleverly concealed – design.  Removing this presupposition we arrive at a more humble axiom: If B is explained by A, then A can similarly be explained.  This eliminates languid conjecture and permits reason to dutifully follow substantive evidence.  If, therefore, evidence points to design rather than natural processes, the axiom remains true.

3.) If human life is explained by the conjunction of the state of the universe at time T₁, physical constants, and natural laws (including natural selection), then the conjunction of the state of the universe at time T₁, physical constants, and natural laws (including natural selection) must have at least as much design as human life.

Again, this point presupposes that human life was designed.  As I discussed above, the more humble approach is to abandon assertions and permit substantive evidence to independently support the axiom.  That is, if we replace the presupposition of “must have at least as much design as human life” with “can similarly be explained as human life,” the following occurs: “If human life is explained by the conjunction of the state of the universe at time T1, physical constants, and natural laws (including natural selection), then the conjunction of the state of the universe at time T1, physical constants, and natural laws (including natural selection) [can similarly be explained as human life].”  Because we lack evidence to conclude that god(s) exists, it is more reasonable to conclude that life occurred absent a designer.  This sensibleness agrees with previous human experience explicitly related to explaining phenomena.

4.) A God who created human life via the conjunction of the state of the universe at time T₁, physical constants, and natural laws (including natural selection) would have to be at least as powerful and intelligent as a God who could only manage to create human life ex-nihilo.

Fair enough, but you have yet to prove the necessity for the existence of God.

5.) If the inference from human life created ex-nihilo to an intelligent and powerful designer is justified, then the inference from human life created via the conjunction of the state of the universe at time T₁, physical constants, and natural laws (including natural selection) to an intelligent and powerful designer is justified.

I would agree with the overall principle, but I believe my analysis of the preceding points renders the argument, in full, unjustified.

The problem with this argument rests with its initial ill-founded assertion – God exists. Peculiarly, it begins by a contradiction of logic: everything has a cause except God.  Now, I have been slightly unfair to Rogers considering his objective.  It is evident that the scope of this argument was simply focused on presenting a logical framework for evolution by design via deduction.  However, an argument burdened by certainties demands substantiation, and it should be absent exceptions.  I would therefore enjoy reading a more robust argument for the initial assertion, if time and interests permit.

Categories: Religion

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24 replies

  1. Naturalism is not required to provide an accurate explanation of everything in order to disprove theism. This is because:

    1. There is no need to disprove theism, since it isn’t proven to begin with.

    2. Theism does not provide a complete explanation – it defers all questions to “God did it” but either doesn’t attempt to, or fails to explain what God is, and why/how he did it.

    3. Since naturalism is replacing an incomplete explanation, it doesn’t need to be complete, only plausible, and preferably (but not necessarily) more plausible than the explanation it replaces – God.

    4. Since there is no evidence for God, ANY explanation which excludes God is more plausible than one which includes God.

    • What you described seems obvious to us, but our camps (theism and atheism) operate under different definitions of evidence. For them, there is evidence for God all around. Some of them even argue that it’s tangible. But others, like Rogers, argue on a more abstract level. They attempt to use logic to prove the existence of God. That’s fine; however, they should use sound logic.

    • John I so agree with you.
      It is assumed that what god is, is known and this question is brushed aside every time the theist defends his god.
      Intelligence is characteristic of human beings and every time someone says the being that created the universe must be extremely intelligent is to anthromorphise[ I don’t if there is such a word] without showing why this must be the case.
      Why can’t the universe be a sufficient cause? What does positing god, apart from increasing the complexity, help with?

    • Theism is complete when it says “God did it”. Saying naturalism does not need to be complete is not scientific at all and could be considered lazy or even cowardly (too lazy to finish the job, too cowardly to admit there is a first cause that I call God).Naturalism never explains where the first bit of matter came from.

  2. Am I reading premise #2 correctly? It would seem to preclude any sort of reductive explanation. Is he saying that analysis is invalid in principle? I guess that would be an honest admission on the part of a teleologist, but it would be uncharacteristic. I must have this wrong.

    • I agree, the complexity of premise #2 certainly precludes a reductive argument. Where are you seeing “analysis is invalid in principle?” I do not see that, but it would not surprise me if I missed something… it was very late when I began this.

      • I was hoping you’d clear it up for me straight away! It seems like he is saying that an explanatory cause must encompass all the qualities of the thing explained. If that is necessarily so, then what can you learn about a thing, be it an object or event, by looking at its parts, which would appear to be explained by their parent entity and not vice versa, or its relationship to the explaining cause, as that relationship may only be explained by an entity with at least as much design as the system in question?

        • I see what you’re getting at. It is difficult to interpret his intent, because as I have shown there is a contradiction in his logic. It’s not necessarily his fault, as this particular contradiction has been accepted for centuries by dozens of leading philosophers. As I said, the first principle is reasonable enough, so long as exceptions are not introduced.

          His second principle certainly seems to imply that “an explanatory cause must encompass all the qualities of the thing explained,” but I don’t think that’s what he meant. I believe he intended to apply this at a macro-level, as it’s obvious that two objects/events don’t necessarily have to share specific qualities. That is, one wouldn’t necessarily find commonalities between the parts of A and B beyond the overall cause of their existence. Take a natural law, such as gravity, and compare it to human life. The commonality between them is supposedly design, but nothing else (unless you become very abstract). You couldn’t learn much about either of them by simply analyzing portions thereof, which I don’t think he is implying.

          The problem that you and I may be having, with respect to this chain of thought, is the assertion found in the second principle: design. It’s too specific for such a broad application. We may have to wait for a response from Rogers to have this cleared up. Thoughts?

  3. This is totally circular. To even enter the “discussion” (and I don’t consider this any kind of proof or discussion), you have to accept the premises which are NOT premises, but in and of themselves, conclusions.

    1. PSR – Who says?
    2. Nonsense.
    3. Yo mama.
    4. Having rejected 1, 2, and 3 … it just figures I’m not going to accept 4 either. Seriously. WHO SAYS?
    5. Using big words doesn’t prove you know anything at all. I can sling terminology with the best of them, but it doesn’t prove anything and neither does this.

    If you accept the premises, you are forced to accept the results. But I DON’T accept the premises, so whatever follows is specious.

    My version is funnier:

    In closing, let me say this about that:

    A big elephant is BIG
    A little elephant is LITTLE
    A big fly is BIG
    A little fly is LITTLE

    THEREFORE: A big fly is bigger than a little elephant.

    See? I’ve proved the impossible.

    • Well, the PSR is a perfectly reasonable and valid principle for certain applications. It doesn’t, for example, work at the quantum level. But yes, to enter this particular discussion one has to accept the first principle before moving on. However, the second seems to be entirely independent of the first; it supports the first insofar as it prepares the foundation for the third. And you are correct, once one of the principles fails, the succeeding principles do as well.

      I think the beauty of logic is the very problem you have with this argument: “If you accept the premises, you are forced to accept the results. But I DON’T accept the premises, so whatever follows is specious.”
      That’s actually quite beautiful in my opinion. Conversely, it also means that if there is a flaw anywhere in the logical processes, the system fails entirely. We each become the judge of whether this was logical or not, and you and I agree: it is specious. 🙂

      Your link did not work, by the way. Another try? I’m intrigued. And thank you for the last tidbit! You made me smile with that paradoxical logic!

  4. This is an engaging look at first cause cosmological arguments. Reading classical and contemporary theist philosophy,I am not aware of one who begins with a contradiction of logic: everything has a cause except God.

    Is it possible that you are mixing two different cosmological arguments, namely kalam and contingency, the former having everything that begins to exists has a cause, at its major premise, while the latter having everything that exists has an explanation of its existence (either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause), as its major premise ?

    • Well, of course they don’t view this as a contradiction in logic. If they did, they would not propose it… at least I hope they wouldn’t. I can see how there is some confusion with respect to my counter-argument, however. I had to make assumptions concerning Mr. Rogers’ argument. If you review his page, he has not written an essay, but rather a hybrid reductive/deductive argument by way of bullet points. Because of this, I wrote a broad counter-argument. Rightfully, Rogers took exception to some of the things that I said. Instead of perpetuating assumptions, I have decided to write an essay that will address the shortcomings of the cosmological argument – in my opinion, of course. I have been contemplating the approach for more than two weeks and I’m perhaps 50% done with the writing, so please allow me to expand on my thoughts in the near future, rather than justify them tersely here.

      Thank you very much for visiting, by the way. Moreover, thank you for the intriguing and engaged comment. I look forward to reading more of your work, as soon as time permits.

  5. Consider the lowly toaster. A piece of bread placed in it, a toasting cycle was completed, and voila, a picture of Jesus appeared on the toast. Comparing this one example of design with the myriad pieces of toast that come out of the toaster with “no design” I have to conclude that a) design occurs because of random events and b) design exists in the eye of the beholder (if you look really hard at those blank pieces of toast, you can see things, really!).

    • Yes, I believe Neil deGrasse Tyson uses similar imagery to rebuke ID. I’m paraphrasing, but he said, people always see pictures of Jesus and God’s fingers when they look at distant galaxies, at craters on mars, and at giant nebulae gas clouds. I wonder why they don’t magnify spiders and trees with the same fervor. People see what they want to see. Our brains are wired to recognize faces and patterns – a thing most of us are acutely aware of. Why don’t they, too, recognize this?


  1. Response to R.L. Culpeper on Design | ajrogersphilosophy

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