I wanted to do a little bit of a series on Natural Theology, namely, that area of theology which does not appeal to revelation, but rather solely to rationality and experience as justification. This covers all the traditional arguments for the existence of God: the cosmological argument, ontological argument, teleological argument, moral argument as well as other issues regarding the immorality and the existence of the soul, the relationship between rationality and faith, religious language, and the problem of evil. The four arguments I mentioned don’t exhaust the number of arguments for God’s existence but represent the most popular arguments. There is for example, the conceptualist argument and the argument from reason, which we will perhaps take a look at. The purpose of the series is mostly to answer some of the most popular objections to the arguments. I thought I’d start us off the with the cosmological argument: one of the oldest and most classical arguments, stretching all the way back to Aristotle’s Metaphysics.
Most basically, the cosmological argument infers the reality of God based on the contingency of the universe in some sense or another. “Contingency” is meant here in quite a broad sense to capture the lack self-sufficiency of the universe. This can be extrapolated to mean the necessity of a beginning to the universe or the more broad non-necessity of the universe ( that it might not have been). The Leibnizian cosmological argument depends upon the “principle of sufficient reason” (that everything in existence must have an explanation) and asserts that, based on this principle, the universe must itself also have an explanation. The Thomistic cosmological argument asserts the existence of God also based on a sort of contingency of the natural world. Everything is in motion, but everything needs to be moved by something else to be moved. Either we terminate the regress with an Unmoved Mover or, transparently, we have to deal with an infinite regress, which I think is clearly untenable. The Kalam cosmological argument, the more well-known argument, asserts the existence of God based on the beginning of the universe. I should note before delving into objections, that there is a ginormous amount of literature on the cosmological argument, which one can reasonably expect from an idea that has been around for centuries. But consequently, I am familiar with only some of the literature and cannot do justice to all of it.
An excerpt of writing one will often find on the cosmological argument in anthologies on the philosophy of religion is a snippet from J.L. Mackie’s The Miracle of Theism which is a classic work in philosophy of religion. One of these objections questions whether the principle of sufficient reason can be considered universal, and whether we can truly expect to apply to the universe as a whole. According to Mackie we have no right to assume that the universe will fall in with our “intellectual preferences”. This seems to be a popular mode of argument, and one that I’ve heard more than once. However, our “intellectual preferences” are what drives our rational capacity and so to question it is to question the our very capacity to search out answers and to be correct about those answers to questions which we are discussing now or even more mundane questions. Our intellectual preferences are what we have to guide us in our search for answers. We cannot question them without destroying the entire enterprise of philosophy, science and knowledge. Mackie also objects to the argument by raising doubts about the coherence and possibility of a necessary being ( I will address these in the following post).
Paul Edwards, the Austrian-American philosopher, raises another common objection to cosmological argument by asserting that the success of the cosmological argument would not establish the existence of God. “it would not show that the first cause is all-powerful or all-good or that it is in any sense personal… Defenders of the causal argument usually concede this”. I am dubious about whether the latter is true ( that defenders of the first cause argument accept that objection). A.C. Grayling contended something similar in The God Argument. Anyway, let’s start by saying that at the very least the cosmological argument establishes something supernatural, something that transcends matter. Since this being explains matter, it must itself be immaterial or it must transcend the material. Since it is the explanation for time and space it must transcend temporal and spatial limitation. This very clearly denotes some kind of supernatural being. I quoted William Craig in an earlier post explaining why the cause had to be transcendent and immaterial and why it had to be personal. One reason why it must have a personal nature is because there are only two types of explanation: personal and scientific. Since the universe cannot have a scientific explanation (because any explanation of the natural world as a whole would need to refer to something outside of nature, which means that we have exited the intellectual “jurisdiction” of science) But there will come back the objection that it is not necessarily one being, but can be one of many cooperating with one another to create the world or some such thing. But notice, for the atheist to make such a statement is already a cop out. If polytheism is true then the atheist is wrong. So, one may stop here and say that it is true that one does not know whether it is one being or many who serve as explanation for the universe. But on either explanation, the atheist and agnostic has already lost. The supernatural has already been established. I imagine one reason to suppose it is only one God and not many is Occam’s razor. Imagining a scenario where a bunch of different gods came together and cooperated to create the universe is a much more elaborate and complex scenario, and we must therefore opt for the more simple scenario- one God. ( Obviously, what one considers to be “simple” is relative to the purposes at hand. The cosmological argument implies that there must be at least one being, meaning that one being is the most simple, less gratuitous, metaphysical postulate.) There is no need to multiply gods when one god will do just fine. In addition, quite apart from Occam’s razor, many gods cooperating to make the universe seems much more likely to meet in abject failure than if a single God created it independently. With many gods, there is heightened chance of disagreement and friction and therefore failure, whereas with a single God, there is more chance of success in creation. Occam’s razor is often cited in support of atheist arguments, because atheists are generally taken to be and take themselves as beacons of metaphysical frugality. The metaphysics of atheism is undoubtedly much less “crowded” than the metaphysics of theism, particularly a religious theism like Christianity. So, it might seem at face value that atheists exemplify Occam’s intellectual virtue more aptly than theists. However, it should be noted that Occam’s razor only contends that we should not multiply metaphysical objects unnecessarily. This means that if we have an argument that demonstrates theism then we are adding to our metaphysics because it is necessary. We have reason to add metaphysical objects. But in the case monotheism or polytheism as conclusions of the cosmological argument, we have no reason to choose polytheism, which means that the simpler option is most likely ( hence monotheism).
In my next post I will look at a few more objections to the cosmological argument, before we move on to the teleological argument.