Cosmological Arguments

The family of cosmological arguments follow the general pattern of moving from inferences about the world to postulating the existence of a unique, cosmologically-responsible entity (God).

The arguments are problematic because inferences are often based on inaccurate premises about the alleged condition of the cosmos – that the world came into being through an act of creation, that the world is is contingent (rather than necessary), or that certain beings in the world are causally dependent or contingent.

Theologists have moved from these assumptions to infer, either deductively or inductively, that a first cause, a necessary being, an unmoved mover, or a personal being (God) exists and is responsible for the cosmos.

Human curiosity naturally led early humans to questions about the existence of the world, and in the absence of scientific knowledge, cosmological speculations abounded. These speculations became more sophisticated over time, particularly when they were adopted by professional churchmen in attempts to prove the existence of a 'God' for which the earliest conceptual origins had been forgotten in the mists of time. The Western historical record dates the cosmological argument back to Plato (Laws, 893-6).

Three types of cosmological argument are recognized:
1. as advocated by St Thomas Aquinas, these arguments are based on the impossiblity of an essentially ordered infinite regress.
2 the kalām argument holds that an infinite temporal regress is impossible because an actual infinite is impossible.
3. Leibniz and Clarke espoused the Principle of Sufficient Reason.

Historical versions of the cosmological argument:

Plato ~ Laws, 893-6 ~ (cosmic) motion was started by an first cause (unmoved mover).

Aristotle ~ Physics (VIII, 4-6) and Metaphysics (XII, 1-6) ~ Prime Mover or Unmoved Mover.

Arabic philosophers (falasifa) ~ atemporal argument from contingency.

Thomas Aquinas (1225-74) ~ Summa Theologica (I,q.2,a.3) and Summa Contra Gentiles (I, 13).

Islamic and mutakallimūm theologians ~ kalām argument ~ temporal version of the argument from the impossibility of an infinite regress.

  • al-Ghāzāli (1058-1111) argued that everything that begins to exist requires a cause of its beginning
  • Bonaventure (1221-74) ~ Sentences (II Sent. D.1,p.1,a.1,q.2).
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) appealed to a strengthened principle of sufficient reason (PSR), according to which “no fact can be real or existing and no statement true without a sufficient reason for its being so and not otherwise” (Monadology, §32).

Samuel Clarke reiterated the principle of sufficient reason.

Cosmological arguments are fraught with problems:

The cosmological argument came under serious criticism in the 18th century by David Hume and Immanuel Kant.

Hume attacks both the view of causation presupposed in the argument (that causation is an objective, productive relation that holds between two things) and the Causal Principle — every contingent being has a cause of its being — that lies at the heart of the argument. (Hume, David, 1980, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Indianapolis: Hackett. [Available Online].)

Kant contends that the cosmological argument, in identifying the necessary being, relies on the ontological argument, which in turn is suspect.

Contemporary philosophers continue to contribute detailed arguments on both sides of the debate. Both theists and non-theists in the last part of the 20th century generally have shown a healthy skepticism about the argument.

Alvin Plantinga (1967, chap. 1) concludes “that this piece of natural theology is ineffective.”

Richard Gale contends, in Kantian fashion, that since the conclusion of all versions of the cosmological argument invokes an impossibility, no cosmological arguments can provide examples of sound reasoning (1991, ch. 7).

Michael Martin reasons that no current version of the cosmological argument is sound (1990, ch. 4), as do John Mackie (ch. 5) and Quentin Smith (Craig and Smith, 1993).

William Lane Craig defends the kalām argument. See Some Comments on William Craig's "Creation and Big Bang Cosmology" by Adolf Grünbaum.

Richard Swinburne, rejects deductive versions of the cosmological argument, but proposes an inductive argument which is part of a larger cumulative case for God's existence. “There is quite a chance that if there is a God he will make something of the finitude and complexity of a universe. It is very unlikely that a universe would exist uncaused, but rather more likely that God would exist uncaused. The existence of the universe…can be made comprehensible if we suppose that it is brought about by God” (1979, 131-2).

Cosmological Argument, from Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.
Existence of God, by William Lane Craig (Biola University).
Articles on the cosmological argument for the existence of God, list of articles published on the web, from RS-Web, designed and written by R. Bowie.
Critique of the Kalām Argument., by Graham Oppy (Philosophy, Monash University).
Cosmological argument as evidence for atheism, by Quentin Smith (Philosophy, Michigan State University).

"The Existence of God and the Beginning of the Universe" by William Lane Craig. Craig's own summary of the kalam argument.
Reichenbach, Bruce, "Cosmological Argument", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2006 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), url.

Craig, William Lane. The Kalam Cosmological Argument. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1979.

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