Philosophy of Religion: The Cosmological Argument
Behold! The sequel to my previous post on the Teleological Argument: the Cosmological Argument for God as a creator! With the premise: “If the universe has a beginning, is God the best explanation for it?”
Aristotle was the first to establish the idea of a Prime Mover who actualises the potential in everything else. According to Aristotle, God causes without being affected, setting Him apart from all other things. He is already everything he can be, and has no potential. Aristotle theorised that God must be eternal, exist independently, be immaterial and be perfectly good- due to an ignorance of any other state of being.
Later, Thomas Aquinas became keen to use Aristotle as proof of God as a creator. He wanted to link the logic of Aristotleian thought with Christianity so that people would not have to choose between their faith and common sense. He wanted to show that faith and reason could work alongside each other. However, there is a significant contrast between Aristotle’s Prime Mover and the Biblical God. The Christian God consciously creates, but the Prime Mover cannot as it is unable to change- it draws things towards itself only unconsciously. The Biblical God performs actions which indicate that He has a physical presence, but the Prime Mover cannot physically exist. They also differ in terms of knowledge- the Prime Mover is aware only of itself whilst the Christian God is all-knowing. However, they are similar in the sense that they are both essentially considered to be the creators of the universe.
Aquinas established the “Three Ways” based on Aristotle’s thought. First: the Unmoved Mover- God sustains the universe as it would not be changing and moving without His guidance. Second: the Uncaused Causer- infinite regress is impossible, therefore there must be a “First Cause”- God. Third: contingency- the world consists of contingent beings who depend on each other for their existence. God brought about these beings, and is the only non-contingent being in the universe.
However, many criticise Aquinas’ argument for God as the creator of the universe. Some criticise his denial of infinite regress, as there is no reason why a cause and effect chain could not be infinite- there doesn’t necessarily have to be a beginning. However, others such as Leibniz argue that even if everything moved the next thing in an infinite chain, that does not explain the chain’s existence. In addition to this, the idea of God as an Uncaused Causer is self-contradictory- God does what is claimed to be impossible. Aquinas argued that God is exempt as He is not a “thing”, but a unique being who exists uniquely. Also, there may be evidence to suggest that everything in the universe is contingent, but this does not mean that the universe as a whole is contingent- it could be energy, or eternal. Finally, others-such as Hume- have argued that the Cosmological Argument need not lend itself to just one cause; there could be a variety of causes and none of these need be the Christian God.
There is another version of the Cosmological Argument in Islam called the Kalam Argument. Muslim philosophers developed the argument using Aristotle, much as Aquinas later did from a Christian perspective. The Kalam Argument claims that everything which begins to exist must have a cause. The universe must also have a cause- there must have been a time when it began to exist. This must have been a real point in time rather than infinite regress- as infinity can exist only as a mathematical concept.
William Lane Craig is a supporter of the logic of the Kalam Argument, although he writes as a Christian. He elaborates on the view that infinity cannot exist in reality, using the example of a library with infinite books. If one was taken out, the library would still have to contain an infinite number of books, and if all of the volumes were loaned out, the shelves would still have to be full. There must have been a time when the universe didn’t exist, as it cannot have existed infinitely long ago. There was once the possibility of the universe coming into existence or not coming into existence, and something must have made the choice between the two possibilities. This being must be intelligent, and must exist outside space and time- according to William Lane Craig, this being is God.
However, there are many criticisms for Kalam as an argument for God as a creator. Some argue that Kalam misunderstands the nature of infinity- it must exist, even if we cannot imagine it. Also, no intelligent being was needed to make the decision of existence or non-existence; the universe could have begun at random. Even if the argument is accepted, critics say, it does not provide evidence of a God endowed with the qualities many theists claim God has. Finally, the Kalam argument is also self-contradictory, as it denies the existence of infinity in reality in order to prove the existence of an infinite God.
Leibniz also offered an alternative form of the Cosmological Argument, in which he tried to avoid the problems raised by the suggestion of infinite regress. He argued that even if the universe has always existed, this does not offer an explanation as to why it exists- everything, according to Leibniz, must have a “sufficient reason”. This principle explains that there must be reasons to explain facts- even if we do not know the explanation. However, Hume argued that just because everything in the universe has a reason, does not mean that the universe as a whole has a reason. We cannot logically move from individual causes of individual things, to the view that the totality has a cause. He argued that it is possible for something to come into existence without a cause.
Kant added to the criticisms- he argued that our ideas about order, design and causality come from the way we perceive the world around us. Our minds like to have order, but perhaps we impose the order that we see upon the world, and it is not objectively there. Kant did not think that it is sound reasoning to assume that there is a God who “necessarily exists” by definition.
In the mid-20th century Frederick Copleston and Bertrand Russell took part in a famous radio debate over the origins of the universe. Copleston took the religious stance- presenting the idea that nothing in the world contains the reason for its own existence, and therefore there must be an external explanation. He asserted that it was meaningful to talk of a “necessary being” whose essence involves existence, and that it was also meaningful to talk of there being a cause of the universe. He agreed with Leibniz, saying that everything must have a sufficient reason for its existence- except God, who is his own sufficient reason.
Russell offered a non-religious counter-argument to this stance. The concept of a “necessary being” had no meaning to him as the term “necessary” can only be applied to statements of logic and not to things- therefore, it makes no sense to talk of God as “necessary”. He argues that the concept of the universe as a whole having a cause was meaningless- we cannot grasp the concept of the entire scheme of things and then hope to find an explanation for it. He argued that the concept of cause is not applicable to the universe- “the universe is just there, and that’s all”. Finally, scientists in the late 1940s were beginning to discover that not everything needed a Prime Mover or a sufficient reason to exist.
The development of the Big Bang Theory lends support to Russell’s argument that not everything needs a creator. There is significant evidence that the universe began with a singularity and rapidly expanded. No reason is necessary for this expansion; it simply happened. Russell’s argument seems particularly logical due to the evidence we now possess. Science gives perfectly plausible reasons for the origin of the universe, and it is possible that it had no real cause- rendering God irrelevant.
Religion can never offer a definite answer to the questions of origin, as all of its conclusions require the acceptance of faith in some capacity- for example, the assumption that there is a “necessary being”. What proof theists can offer is often effectively countered or disproved by science and logic. Science may never fully and definitely answer the question of origins, but it requires no faith- only the acceptance of hard facts. Therefore, the scientific explanation for the origins of the universe seem the more effective, as it is founded on things that can be observed, tested and demonstrated.
Let us know what you think by commenting below. Who knows- you may even spark a philosophical debate!