Friday, August 14, 2009

Argument from the Contingency of the Universe

This will be a series of weekly posts dealing with some basic theistic arguments. The purpose here is to introduce the reader to the idea behind each argument. Strengths and weaknesses will be presented after each summary. As these are only summaries (entire books can be written for and against each) these are not debate starters (with further books written in the comments), but springboards for further study in the theistic arguments. See Reason for the Hope Within for more.

An Argument from the Contingency of the Universe


The universe didn't have to be here, and even if it has always been here it didn't have to be the way it is. This means the universe is a contingent thing. But all contingent things depend upon a cause which is itself contingent, but it is not possible that everything is contingent. Thus there must be a necessary (indeed, self-necessary) being which is the ultimate cause of the universe. God is the self-necessary ultimate cause of the universe.

Greatest Strength: Pure contingency is logically untenable, so it is difficult to believe that the universe is both contingent and uncaused.

Greatest Weakness: The contingency of the universe as a whole is difficult to establish convincingly unless one is already convinced that it has a cause.1

1 William C. Davis, Reason for the Hope Within (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman's Publishing Co., 1999), p. 25.

10 comments :

Mike Felker said...

Hey Brian, thanks for starting a series like this. I'm really looking forward to the rest of the posts!

Marcus McElhaney said...

Brian, this is going to be an awesome series thanks! I'm going to be following this and promoting your series as much as I can!

I like this argument, but I agree that the weakness is a problem when talking to atheist or even Mormons who believe that the universe is eternal. I think we have to be careful about this particular argument is used.

Surrealium said...

Marcus:

You wrote:

". . . but I agree that the weakness is a problem when talking to atheist or even Mormons who believe that the universe is eternal."

While I think this is an important consideration, I remain unconvinced that it constitutes a strong objection to the argument. To avoid the conclusion that the universe is contingent, the objector needs a justification for regarding the universe as (metaphysically) necessary. Affirming the eternality of the universe, however, is inadequate, for "eternality" isn't a sufficient condition for metaphysical necessity. The universe might be eternal in this possible world while failing to be eternal in another possible world. Put differently, the universe's being eternal in this possible world doesn't guarantee its existence in all possible worlds.

If this reasoning is legitimate, then although the universe doesn't need a first, productive cause, it nonetheless requires a sustaining cause, something to account for its existence (since, according to the argument, it could've failed to exist).

Peace,

-- Surrealium

Lee said...

Changing the name of the first cause agrument to another name doesn't make it a good argument.

Have to go

Lee

Lee said...

He is a quickie

What came before God thought - "I will make a Big Bang"... another thought perhaps? Where does it stop?

Who caused God, why is God the exception to the rule, why can't the universe be the exception?

If time and space came into 'existence' at the Big Bang... without time, how can you have a before?

Must go, my youngest is waking up…

Lee

Matthew said...

Actually, the weakest link is probably the principle of sufficient reason.

Alexander Pruss and Richard Gale have a paper in which they show that "Every contingent truth can have an explanation" implies a personal creator

Lee said...

All words... trying to talk a God into existence.

Here's another challenge - first define the God of your belief, ask what evidence should I expect to see if my belief is true, and what should I expect to see if my belief is false.

Lee

Surrealium said...

Lee:

>> "Changing the name of the first cause agrument to another name doesn't make it a good argument."

I'm afraid the contingency argument isn't a first cause argument, for, as I alluded to in my previous post, the former argument isn't dependent upon there being a first (productive) cause. Partially echoing Matthew, the argument relies on their being a sufficient reason for the universe's existence, and it appears tenable for that reason to be a sustaining cause. To illustrate, we (following
William Lane Craig
) might formulate the argument as follows:


(1) Everything that exists has an explanation for its existence, either in an external cause or in the necessity of its own nature.

(2) If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.

(3) The universe exists.

(4) The universe has an explanation of its existence.

(5) Therefore, the explanation of the universe's existence is God.

As presented, no first cause is appealed to, only an explanation (or sufficient reason) for the universe's existence.

>> "What came before God thought - "I will make a Big Bang"... another thought perhaps? Where does it stop?"

Before attempting to answer this and your other questions, it's worthwhile to note that a question--even an excellent one--isn't an argument. So merely posing questions about a position (such as theism) isn't the same as presenting arguments against that position.

As regards the above question, it seems unproblematic to furnish a plausible terminus for the sequence in God's thoughts, thereby avoiding the regress you're alleging. (And even if nothing particularly plausible occurs to us, this shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Endeavoring to understand the infrastructure of the content of God's mind is, at least, likely to be complicated.) For example, God may well regard it as intrinsically good for human (and perhaps other) agents to freely enter into and enjoy an everlasting relationship with Him.

But, since we're speaking about God's thoughts "before" He created anything, including time, we mustn't use temporal language. We can instead speak of God's thoughts in terms of logical or explanatory priority. Thus, logically or explanatorily prior to thinking, "I will make a Big Bang," it seems reasonable to suppose that He thought, "It's intrinsically good for human agents to freely enter into and enjoy an everlasting relationship with me."

Peace,

-- Surrealium

Surrealium said...

Lee:

>> "Who caused God, why is God the exception to the rule, why can't the universe be the exception?"

Even if we approach this as a rule to which there's but one exception, an important question will consider what elevates the universe as a superior exception. What about the universe suggests that it serves as a more promising candidate for the office of "metaphysically necessary, explanatory ultimate"? Is the atheist prepared to defend the idea that the universe is metaphysically necessary or that it materialized into existence uncaused out of utter nonbeing?

Many (perhaps most) cosmologists appear convinced that the universe came into existence approximately 14 billions years ago. If the atheist wishes to contend that the universe is metaphysically necessary, she must either deny this aspect of Big Bang cosmology or argue that our universe is one of an actually infinite series of concurrently existing or prior universes. The kalam cosmological argument, however, provides reasons to think that actual infinites are metaphysically impossible, or unactualizable. And even apart from this argument, an infinite regress of events seems intuitively implausible, if not untenable, not to mention the respective notions (i) that every fundamental particle in the universe is a metaphysically necessary being or (ii) that the universe is a brute contingent.

>> "If time and space came into 'existence' at the Big Bang... without time, how can you have a before?"

As you suggest, there is no "before" or "prior" in the temporal or chronological sense. But, with respect to states of affairs "before" time existed, we still have at our disposal causal priority, where "causal" isn't necessarily construed in a temporal manner. Employing this terminology, then, the theist can hold that God exists causally (but not temporally) prior to the universe.

Peace,

-- Surrealium

Lee said...

Hi Surrealium,

thanks for your reply.


I hope the reply to my other question/request is coming soon - I look forward to your thoughts.

Have to go now to get a train

Lee

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