The Cosmological Argument


AS - Level (Year 1) Philosophy (4b) Traditional Arguments for the Existence of God - Cosmo.) Slide Set on The Cosmological Argument, created by Summer Pearce on 10/03/2016.
Summer Pearce
Slide Set by Summer Pearce, updated more than 1 year ago
Summer Pearce
Created by Summer Pearce about 8 years ago

Resource summary

Slide 1

    The Cosmological Argument
    Cosmology = the study of the universe The Cosmological Argument supports the idea of God as the cause of the universe's existence, and seeks to prove God through looking at the order of the world. It is an a posteriori and inductive argument, as it reaches conclusions by observation. It is sometimes called the 'metaphysical debate'. It is supported and developed by; Aquinas' Three Ways Leibniz's Principle of Sufficient Reason Copleston in the 1948 Copleston-Russell radio debate.

Slide 2

    Cause and Effect
    Caption: : The first domino must be knocked over for the rest to topple also. This is similar to Cosmological argument, as it demonstrates the chain of cause and effect. Aristotle argued that the world was constantly in motion (or state of change) and that something must have started the cause and effect cycle to begin.
    Caption: : As in another example, nuclear fission can only take place once the first neutron has hit the target nucleus. The target nucleus becomes unstable, and it splits into daughter nuclei and more neutrons. These products have the energy to collide and create more fission reactions.

Slide 3

    The universe exists because something has caused it to exist. Everything in the universe is the same, however, there cannot be an infinite chain of causes. Therefore, there must be something that can cause things to exist, but doesn't need a cause itself. Aquinas' argument can be summed up in 5 statements; Everything has a cause. Nothing is its own cause. A chain of causes cannot be infinite. There must be a "first cause". God is this "first cause." The first cause cannot be caused by anything else, so is very powerful.  Only God meets the criteria of a first cause. Aquinas' argument is an a posteriori one because he uses his experience of the world to say that "nothing comes from nothing," as everything in the universe has a cause.
    Aquinas' Cosmological Argument is concerned with the "impossibility of an essentially ordered infinite regress." This means that no matter how far back you go down the chain of causes, you may never find a definitive first cause.  Aquinas' argument must be true, because if you remove the first cause, everything else would cease to exist.  How Aquinas challenges Biblical belief The universe must have had a beginning, as the chain of causes cannot be infinite, and this contrasts with God's eternity. Something cannot come from nothing, so there must be a need for a first cause. This is contrary to Biblical accounts, which say, "In the beginning, there was nothing.'

Slide 4

    Aquinas' Five Ways 
    "Nothing comes from nothing." Aquinas argued therefore argued that because the universe exists, God must have made it.  First Way: Motion - Aristotle theorised that everything is constantly in motion, or a state of change. Aquinas developed this by saying that this change must be caused by something, as changes do not happen by themselves. There can be no infinite regression of causes, as there would be no first cause. Therefore, there must be what Aristotle called the Prime Mover. Second Way: Causation - Because everything is caused by something else, it would be illogical to say that something can cause itself because that would mean it was there before it began. Therefore, there must be a first cause; God. Third Way: Necessity - Everything in the universe is contingent, because it relies on something else for its existence and it doesn't have to exist. If the universe's existence isn't necessary, it is possible for it not to exist, so we can assume that at one point the universe didn't exist. There must be something that is necessary (God), that can cause contingent things to come into existence, but doesn't rely on something else for its existence.
    There must be a necessary being, as otherwise there would be an infinite chain of contingent causes, as each of them requires a cause. Aquinas calls this necessary being God.  Predestination Aquinas' arguments can be used to argue the existence of predestination, that is, that our lives are planned out by God and we follow this plan to reach our predetermined destiny.  If God was the first cause of the universe, and God is the ultimate form of wisdom (omniscience) then he is fully aware of the consequences of the effects he can cause.  This means that God must have anticipated the various outcomes he could produce, and has chosen to make the world the way it is. Similarly, he has chosen our destiny and planned our lives according to the chain of cause and effect he started.

Slide 5

    Leibniz's Sufficient Reason
    This argument claims that all things must have a sufficient reason for their existence. This amount to a total causal and epistemological explanation. The total explanation must have an end point. The explanatory chain of cause and effect cannot end in a contingent being, as one can always ask 'why?' of a contingent being. As the individual links in the chain are contingent, they are incapable of being their own sufficient reason and at any point could have failed to exist. That they didn't, and that they exist at all is evidence for the existence of something which is both the sufficient reason of itself and also the thing on which all other contingent things are dependent - a necessary being maintaining a contingent cosmos. The necessary being is not generated. It cannot be, because then it would cease to be necessary. It is necessary in that it cannot not exist. The sufficient reason is God. 
    Caption: : Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz

Slide 6

    The Copleston-Russell Debate
    In 1948, Father Frederick Copleston and Lord Betrand Russell were invited to take part in a radio debate about the existence of God. Copleston was a Catholic priest and Professor of the History of Philosophy, whilst Russell was a member of English aristocracy who described himself as agnostic and later became one of the greatest British philosophers. They both agreed that the definition of God was 'a supreme personal being - distinct from the world and creator of the world.' Copleston on Contingency Bases his argument on Aquinas' third way and Leibniz's Principle of Sufficient Reason.  He asks us to view the world as objects which do not contain within themselves the answer for their own existence. For example, a person will depend on their parents, food and air for survival.
    He states that the universe is the real or imagined aggregate of individual objects, none of which are capable of explaining themselves. The world is not more distinct from its objects than the human race is from its individual members. Since no object contains the reason for its own existence, Copleston concluded that there must be an external reason for their existence. This reason is a necessary being that Aquinas described. Copleston further developed the argument by postulating that either the necessary being is the reason for its own existence or not. If it is, then the argument stops there. If it is not, then there will be an infinite chain of causes to account for the being's existence. Copleston proposed that the latter would be absurd, as we would have no explanation for the universe at all.  So in order to explain the existence of the universe, there must be a being whose own existence is the first cause of itself.

Slide 7

    The Copleston-Russell Debate cont'd
    Russell's Rebuttle Russell disagrees with Copleston and suggests that the term 'necessary being' has no meaning outside of analytic propositions. He claims he could only accept the term if it could be demonstrated that this being was one whose existence would be self-contradictory to deny. In fact, he argues that the term cannot be applied to an a posteriori argument. Copleston suggests once you are certain of a contingent being, you can deduce that there must be a necessary being.  COPLESTON: Does the question, "Does the cause of the world exist?" have any meaning?RUSSELL: If you state "God exists," this can never be analytic, as the world can only have meaning a priori.
    The Principle of Sufficient Reason Copleston suggests that if anyone saw God, they would know that he exists. God's essence and existence must be identical or we would need sufficient reason beyond God. Russell questioned whether Copleston has explained the principle of sufficient reason. He asks whether a match striking against the side of the box is sufficient reason enough for the resulting flame. Copleston replies that the principle of sufficient reason is only a partial explanation, and sufficient reason must be a total explanation, to which nothing further can be added. Russell argues that this is something that cannot be found, and Copleston is foolish to try, as some ideas are effectively beyond our epistemological limits.

Slide 8

    The Copleston-Russell Debate cont'd 2
    What is the universe? Russell believes that the term has no meaning, and that it is without explanation. Copleston states that the universe is intrinsically unintelligible without God, as contingent beings are unable to explain their existence without God. Russell states that the universe is just a brute fact; "I should say that the universe is just there, and that's all," so that it doesn't require a purpose or cause. Copleston replied that you cannot rule out the legitimacy of the questions of where the questions of the universe came from.  Russell refuted his argument by proposing the fallacy of composition; just because every man has a mother, it doesn't follow that the whole human race has one single mother, as that's a different logical sphere. Similarly, just because each part of the universe has a cause, doesn't mean that the entire universe has one. Copleston disagrees. If he were looking for a phenomenal cause, this would be true, but instead, he is looking for a transcendent one. 
    Quantum Physics Key question: Does the universe even need to have a cause at all? Copleston states that scientists pre-suppose a cause, as do metaphysicians. Russell argues that this doesn't mean that everything has a cause. Like a man looking for gold, even though gold exists and can be found in some places, this doesn't mean that gold can be found everywhere. Ultimately, looking for a cause of the universe is a mistake. Copleston continues to argue that scientists assume that the universe is not discontinuous, but ordered and intelligible.  Russell counters by saying that they don't assume they will always find a cause, just that it is likely that they will. Copleston replies that they don't hope for more than probability, but assume that the question of explanation has meaning.  Copleston asks whether it is an illegitimate question to ask the cause of the world, to which Russell agreed it was. The debate moved on to a discussion of religious experience, before they both agreed to disagree. 

Slide 9

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