The cosmological argument is not a single argument but actually an entire family of philosophical arguments (logos; See: Logic) found in natural theology. There are subtle differences between versions of the cosmological argument and seek to demonstrate, by way of a priori and empirical (a posteriori) arguments, a "Sufficient Reason or First Cause" for the cosmos. The family of cosmological arguments hold together through a common metaphysics. Theism throughout the history of the argument has been necessary so that any version requires a transcendent First Cause. Or, to put another way, a space-less, timeless, beginning-less, eternal, supernatural being of unimaginable power, namely God, is the cause of the origin of the universe. It is from this position then that a short traverse can be made into apologetics for the resurrection of Christ as how God has revealed Himself to humanity. (See: Minimal facts method)
|“||It uses a general pattern of argumentation (logos) that makes an inference from certain alleged facts about the world (cosmos) to the existence of a unique being, generally identified with or referred to as God. Among these initial facts are that the world came into being, that the world is contingent in that it could have been other than it is, or that certain beings or events in the world are causally dependent or contingent.||”|
It is a central theme of the cosmological argument that there need not be a beginning to the universe and to physical space-time, but that the First Cause actually endures existence at every moment. In other words the most prominent historical defenders, outside of the Islamic inspired kalam version, do not formulate the argument with concern for a beginning of the universe (See: Big bang theory). Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) thought the beginning of the universe could not be understood by way of philosophical arguments but rather by divine revelation. This fact of the Aquinas worldview is why contemporary defenders of the cosmological argument do not consider their philosophizing requires support for a beginning of the universe and time. Philosophy cannot approach the question about the beginning of the universe according to Aquinas, one of the, if not the most famous defender of the cosmological argument.
Certain versions of the argument attempt to show the universe as having a beginning like the kalam cosmological argument. It does not assume that there was a beginning however but demonstrates the premise by appealing to both a philosophic method and scientific methodologies. Scientific evidence like the big bang theory or philosophical arguments like reasons why an actual infinite cannot exist are used to defend particular premises. However outside of the kalam cosmological argument, the history predominately does not rely on a beginning of the universe. The Leibnizian cosmological argument helps express the argument through introducing proper language.
There are premises that help sketch out a general pattern of approach for the cosmological argument. It takes into account both medieval and more modern formulations. As follows is the general premises;
- Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
- The world is contingent.
Georg Wilhelm Leibniz (1646–1716) is famously known for advancing a particular version of the cosmological argument with Samuel Clarke (1675–1729) reaffirming. The Leibnizian version has five premises. Its main focus is on "sufficient reason" to a greater degree than other versions. Contingencies and necessary beings make up his discourse. This leads to the fact that there must be something outside of the universe of contingencies, and thus explains those contingencies. It has to in of itself be non-contingent and so is the necessary being God.
The Leibnizian cosmological argument states;
- Every contingent fact has an explanation.
- There is a contingent fact that includes all other contingent facts.
- Therefore there is an explanation of this fact.
- The explanation must involve a necessary being.
- That necessary being is God.
- Main Article: Kalam cosmological argument
The kalam cosmological argument is a version of the cosmological argument founded within medieval Islamic philosophy of religion. Kalam is different to the more general cosmological argument when the history of its development is analyzed. This is because kalam contends for a first or beginning cause of the universe. The cosmological argument merely argues for there to be a necessary cause that endures contingent things in existence at all times. There isn't a requirement for a beginning of the universe with the latter.
Although first posited by al-Ghazili within Islam, Christian philosophy, through the work of William Lane Craig has continued the legacy. William Lane Craig, a world-renowned philosopher is the most prominent defender of the kalam cosmological argument in the public sphere. From his contemporary work on the subject is where the argument is taken from. The kalam cosmological argument contains two premises and a conclusion. It is from the premises that the conclusion follows necessarily. The whole argument is internally logical and therefore consistent. There are no defeaters for the self-evident premises as well once a priori and a posteriori arguments are presented in defense of the premises. There are however defeaters for a natural cause of the universe which is the current mainstream position within the scientific establishment being opposed to theism. Therefore the argument leads inexorably that the cause of the origin of the universe coheres with and is best explained by theism rather than atheism.
The kalam cosmological argument is;
- Whatever begins to exist has a cause. (Premise 1)
- The universe began to exist. (Premise 2)
- Therefore, the universe has a cause. (Conclusion)
Misrepresenting the argument
A very popular misinformed criticism of cosmological arguments was made by Bertrand Russell (1872 to 1970) in his work titled Why I Am Not A Christian regarding the first cause argument. Many contemporary atheists and evolutionists also misread it. Their objection is usually couched in the kalam cosmological argument. It is represented by the question; "who/what created/caused God?" In support is usually a reformulation of the argument into; "everything has a cause; so the universe has a cause; so God exists." A very subtle change to the wording through deletion effects the general layout of the classical argument. Because of this change of syntax, it simultaneously strips away any historical substance. The argument is altered into an ahistorical misreading. Because of this it becomes a minor, less important philosophical question to ask, and argument to advance. Atheists and general critics who take this route fundamentally address what they envisioned rather than what has been defended throughout the history of the cosmological arguments development within the philosophy of religion. The classical argument states that; "everything that begins to exist has a cause." Classical theism supports an eternal God, a personal being that is timeless. God did not ever begin to exist as is implied by the misrepresented argument. Therefore the popular approach of attack by critics is rendered useless as it does not actually address any of the arguments premises.
Not only are academic scientists and philosophers of prominence like Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennet guilty of trying to advance such lines of criticism, but this tacit approval of addressing fictitious ahistorical cosmological arugments then filters down to the popular culture. Many lay people that read their popular works and then take part in public debate and discussion with friends and family end up defending the exact same misinformed argument. Many critics setup against the cosmological argument of natural theology consider the critique to be devastating but it really lacks any teeth if historical criticism, or even common sense, is brought in to work.
Professional philosophers are taken to task and discredited by defenders of the cosmological argument. Douglass Groothius confronts the misinformed critique by atheists and evolutionists head-on. It is actually logical fallacy called a straw-man.
|“||This is a classic straw-man fallacy. No cosmological argument claims that "everything must have a cause." Rather, these arguments (in their varied forms) have claimed that there is something about the universe itself--either its contingency and need for explanation or its finitude in time--that requires a cause beyond itself, a cause that is self-existent and without need of a cause.||”|
Robin Le Poidevin is an atheist philosopher who is also guilty of attempting to eschew the classical cosmological argument. Both he and Daniel Dennett have articulated within their writings attempts against the cosmological argument. Edward Feser, a critical philosopher of both Le Poidevin and Dennett, is especially taken aback by the popular level works of those two authors. Edward Feser determines this line of attack as "intellectually dishonest" and what Feser has coined as "meta-sophistry". Feser states that the reason why approaches of misrepresentation are futile is because;
|“||... none of the best-known proponents of the cosmological argument in the history of philosophy and theology ever gave this stupid argument. Not Plato, not Aristotle, not al-Ghazali, not Maimonides, not Aquinas, not Duns Scotus, not Leibniz, not Samuel Clarke, not Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, not Mortimer Adler, not William Lane Craig, not Richard Swinburne.||”|
Another way atheists will try to attack the argument is providing an alternate method of the Universe being created, like quantum fluctuations. They state that the universe can come out of a quantum vacuum, meaning there's no need for an alternate creator. But the quantum vacuum is not nothing; it is "teeming with virtual particles that constantly wink in and out of existence." This also requires the amount of energy in the universe to be zero, due to the First Law of Thermodynamics not allowing new energy to be created. This assumption only poses more questions that must be answered by assumptions. Trying to use quantum mechanics to account for our universe is an ad hoc explanation, and ruled out by Occam's razor.
- J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (IVP Academic 2003), pg 465
- Cosmological argument by Bruce Reichenbach. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2008
- So you think you understand the cosmological argument? Question 3. "Why assume that the universe had a beginning?" is not a serious objection to the argument By Edward Feser. Saturday, July 16, 2011
- So you understand the cosmological argument? By Edward Feser. Objection 3
- Cosmological Argument By Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. First published Tue Jul 13, 2004; substantive revision Thu Sep 11, 2008
- William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland, The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology (Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 2009) pg. 25-26
- J. Howard Sobel on the Kalam Cosmological Argument Response by William Lane Craig (requires free registration)
- New Atheist Arguments Against God's Existence Refuted (1 of 5) By William Lane Craig
- Douglass Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (IVP Academic 2011), pg. 209
- Meta-sophistry Edward Feser blog
- So you think you understand the cosmological argument? By Edward Feser. Saturday, July 16, 2011
- Physics - Focus: The Force of Empty Space, December 3, 1998, Phys. Rev. Focus 2, 28
- What Part of "Nothing" Does Lawrence Krauss Not Understand? By James Barham February 27, 2012
- Divisions Unresolved by Andrew Kulikovsky. April 1, 2001
- Edward Feser & Jonathan Sanford - Science and Faith Conference
- Brutal Facts about Keith Parsons By Edward Feser