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Alastair Stewart 1

How convincing is the Cosmological Argument?

The Cosmological Argument is an a posteriori argument which deals with metaphysics,


the area of philosophy that looks at the nature of reality; going from the observed world
to an eternal creator responsible for all existence. The argument has a long history, going
back to the great classical philosophers of Plato, Aristotle, Leibnitz, Spinoza, Kant,
Hegel, Locke and Berkeley who all believed that the Universe was the result of a
transcendent reality called ‘God’. Although these philosophers may have had different
ideas about ‘God’, they all agreed that the Universe was not self-explanatory, and must
have had a sole cause in order for it to have come into existence. Although there are
various forms of the cosmological argument, each version does focus on key fundamental
questions: Why did the Universe begin? Why was the Universe created? Who or what
created the Universe? The case for the Cosmological Argument is best put forward by St.
Thomas Aquinas in his book Summa Theologicae which contained his ‘Five Ways’ or
‘Five Proofs’.

The first proof, ‘Motion’, states that some things in the Universe are in motion, and
some things are at rest. Those things that are in motion have had their potentiality
actualised by something that is in a state of actuality. This is not dissimilar to a game of
pool, where all balls on the table are stationary until one is moved and hits another.
Aquinas believed that ‘God’ was the ‘first mover’ that started motion in the Universe.

Aquinas’ second proof, ‘Cause’ argues that the Universe must have a ‘first cause’ that is
‘uncaused’ – it would not caused be caused by anything else. Aquinas makes the point
that the chain of cause and effect must have a first cause, otherwise it would regress
infinitely – something Aquinas could not believe. The argument attempts to demonstrate
the existence of God through the very existence of our own world, and that everything in
our experience from it has taught us that nothing causes itself; there are several causes.
For something to have caused itself it would have had to exist in the first place,
something again that Aquinas found impossible, saying ‘nothing can be the cause of
itself so there must be a prior cause’. If one takes a coffee mug for example, we can say
that it is the sum of many different causes: the materials that it is made from, and the
people who made it and so forth. From our experience we therefore know that something
cannot come from nothing, Aquinas says regarding this “there is no case known (nor is
it possible) in which a thing is found to be the efficient cause of itself”. He argues that
this is true of the Universe also, believing that the ‘first cause’ must be a being that
necessarily exists; which “all men speak of as God” as Aquinas put it.

The third proof that Aquinas put forward in his Summa Theologicae is ‘Contingency’.
Because everything is contingent, and comes into existence and can go out of existence
(through human experience we know this) Aquinas believed that there must have been a
time when the Universe did not exist. He concluded that it could only be a transcendent
reality/being that brought the Universe into existence. This other reality/being would
have a necessary existence; otherwise there would be nothing at all in order to create the
Universe. The philosopher Leibniz supports Aquinas and his argument that there must be
a necessary reality/being, saying “We assume that things in the world happen for a
Alastair Stewart 2

How convincing is the Cosmological Argument?

reason, why can’t we assume this about this about the world as a whole?” Here,
Leibniz is saying that if we broaden the perspective of our understanding from
experience, we can apply it to the Universe, thus finding a way to comprehend what
otherwise may seem incomprehensible. This supports Thomas Aquinas by using logic
gained from human experience.

Contrary to the logical outline of Thomas Aquinas’ Cosmological Argument, there have
been various criticisms made against it. One such criticism is the idea of infinite regress
that Aquinas is avidly against. Although he says there must be a first cause, it is entirely
possible there was no such cause, but rather an eternal transcendent being. If we assume
for a moment that infinite regress exists, then in that amount of ‘time’ anything could
happen if it was repeated long enough. For example, if someone was trying to roll a dice
to get a six one million times in a row, however unlikely that maybe to comprehend now,
if an infinite amount of time was had, it would happen. If the Universe was therefore
infinite, it would surely have been destroyed many times, and succumb to ‘the big
crunch’. If this occurred, and we are here now, the only explanation for this would be a
transcendent and necessary fixed factor that is present eternally to ‘reset’ if you will, the
Universe when it is destroyed with an established set of pre-conditions. Although
Aquinas’ first cause argument is logical, there is no reason why the Universe can’t be
infinite, with ‘God’ being the necessary marker that sets-up the ‘original’ set of pre-
conditions. Aquinas is detracting from a possible argument for the existence of God by
refusing to concede to even the possibility of infinite regression.

David Hume provides an in-depth attack on Aquinas’ argument. Hume’s first point is
that if ‘God’s’ existence as a necessary being can be considered, then there is surely no
logical reason why the non-existence of such a being cannot be considered also. It is
possible, for instance, that the first cause now ceases to exist, but did once exist when it
created the Universe. Hume also asks why we cannot think of this material world as
necessarily independent, and then it would be the cause of is own existence. Hume
argued that the seemingly random proclamation by Aquinas that ‘God’ is the cause of the
Universe is a way for Aquinas to go from the existence of the Universe to the reason the
Universe exists, which according to Hume does not necessarily follow, as you are going
from logical cause to logical reason, which is a way to provide a ‘God’ for religion.
Hume also asked why there must be a beginning for the Universe, as it is entirely
possible that infinite regress is possible, and if this is so it would be impossible for it to
have had a first cause. The issue of experience is also a cause for concern with Hume.
Because we have no experiences of Universe being made, and the cosmological argument
is a posteriori argument, then nothing can be correct for what actually caused the
Universe. Although we may know what causes things in the Universe that does not give
us the knowledge to know what caused the Universe. Furthermore, Hume believed that
“there is no necessary connection between cause and effect” meaning that when we
look at one thing and believe that we are seeing it is causing an effect on another, what
we are really seeing is one thing happening very close to another, thus creating the image
of effect. In relating to the world, Hume believed that even if it did have a cause for
being, then it would be quite impossible to see what it was, as we could not get out of the
Alastair Stewart 3

How convincing is the Cosmological Argument?

Universe to see what caused the world and Universe when nothing was there before it.
Therefore if knowledge comes from experience, then the experiences we have are not
adequate enough for us to know if God created the Universe or if he did not. In fact, the
idea that we perceive cause and effect may be a psychological interpretation as we
humans believe that cause ultimately leads to effect.

Hume’s views are also supported by Bertrand Russell, who argued that just because we
see individual things as having a cause, does not mean that the whole world, or indeed the
Universe need have a cause also. Bertrand Russell is best known for saying that although
every human being has a mother, this does not mean that the whole human race must also
have a mother. Russell commented in his book Why I Am Not a Christian that he believed
that the Universe was just a “brute fact” that was “just there, and that’s all there is to
say about it.” Although the Universe is ‘there’ it does not mean it has a beginning,
although it may mean it may have a final cause resulting in the end.

Kant, also objects to the Cosmological Argument put forth by Thomas Aquinas. Kant
says that the idea of cause and effect is only true in this world due to our sense
experience, but the concept of ‘God’ could very well be free of cause and effect, and be
different. The idea that we can apply our reasoning that we have learnt from this world to
‘God’ is impractical, as God may be entirely different. Kant asserted that it would be
impossible to go from physical world reasoning to a metaphysical conclusion.

Modern scientists say that Aquinas’ argument rests on the an assumption no longer held
– that is, everything must have a cause. They argue now, for example, that sub-atomic
particles can come into existence without a cause. Scientists today do not believe that it is
a ‘law’ that everything must have a cause, especially at the subatomic level in modern
quantum physics. This is particularly damaging to Aquinas’ argument because one of the
conditions is that everything in the Universe has a cause, and this leads back to the
original or first cause. Stephen Hawking also comments, saying that ‘if the Universe
was completely self contained it could neither be created nor destroyed” which can
be interpreted as saying that there need not necessarily be an outside cause for the
creating of the Universe, or indeed a beginning.

Although it can be argued that Aquinas’s reasons for the Cosmological Argument are to
reinforce the faith in a justifiable way, as he himself was a Roman Catholic monk in the
13th century, others choose to defy his critics and claim that his teachings have been
misinterpreted. Frederick Broderick argues that there are two different ways of viewing
‘God’. The Temporal First Cause (Cause in Fieri) argument can be explained in the
analogy of a parent and child; with the parent giving birth to the child and then leaving
the child to live later on. In relation to the Universe, this would be God creating the
Universe, and then leaving it alone. However, Broderick believes that what Aquinas
meant when he was speaking of ‘God'; was the Ontologically Ultimate Cause (Cause in
Esse). The analogy for this is friction causes heat, meaning that the first cause that was
started (i.e. the heat by the friction) must be maintained in order for the heat to continue
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How convincing is the Cosmological Argument?

(i.e. the Universe to continue). This is an effective argument, and brings possible new
interpretation to Aquinas’ arguments.

This continuous questioning and pondering is part of human nature; as conscious beings
we cannot accept that the Universe may be a reality in itself, instead we believe that there
must be some external intelligent creator, responsible for what we perceive as the ordered
regular structure of things. Aquinas’ argument is product of this human belief that we are
the subject of design, in a series of causes and effects that can be traced back to one
definite cause which is itself, uncaused. The argument put forth by Aquinas is logical and
understandable, but it is in the realms of human logic and experience in which it is
trapped, and its ultimate flaw is that it fails to look at what could be beyond human
experience, something that we cannot ourselves image but rather speculate over, as we
will never know what was there before the Universe. Hume’s criticisms consider these
possibilities, making sense logically, as they, like the cosmological argument are logical
with a sound premise in which follows sound reason. Kant, similarly, outlines the
limitations of human experience, and how that it would be false to proclaim the
cosmological argument as the sound reasoning by which to prove the existence of God,
as there is no way of proving, or indeed disproving such an existence of such a being.
Furthermore, the advances made in recent years in modern science in showing that an
effect does not necessarily need to follow on from a cause, shown by advances in
quantum physics whereby particles seem to come into existence with no explanation, is
particularly damaging to Aquinas’ argument of everything cause is followed by an effect.
Aquinas’ arguments, although impeccably logical, are brought into question as human
advances are made, and clichés aside, further exploration of the Earth, and indeed the
Universe at new levels (quantum physics for example) will ultimately prove that as our
scope of understanding broadens, not everything need have a cause and effect, or indeed
lead back to a sole cause (God) responsible for everything we see around us. Aquinas’
logic is sound, and the argument believable, but it is the expansion of human
understanding that will eventually disprove that logic as we encounter the unbelievable,
thus his convincing argument will deteriorate over time.