Strengths and weaknesses of the cosmological argument

AS RELIGIOUS STUDIES REVISION – THE COSMOLOGICAL ARGUMENT

AO1 material – ie “what goes in part a?”

How the argument goes

The cosmological argument begins with the observation that the universe exists. It then asks the question “why is the universe here?” or “why is there something rather than nothing?”

P1: Everything in the universe has a cause.

P2: The universe itself must have a cause.

P3: To avoid infinite regress of causes there must be an uncaused cause, C: This uncaused cause is God.

Type of argument

  • Inductive – Inductive reasoning is where the premises support the conclusion, but they do not entail it. It is usually based upon information coming from the senses (the order and complexity we observe with our eyes). It is therefore not deductive, which is where the premises of an argument do entail the conclusion, ie the conclusion is necessary, eg 1+1=2.
  • A posteriori – Based upon experience: it comes “after the fact” of order and complexity; it is not a priori which is based upon reasoning before experiencing.
  • Synthetic – A proposition whose predicate concept is not contained in its subject concept. In other words, if you say “all triangles have three sides” the fact that a triangle has three sides (predicate) is contained in the definition (subject). In the statement “there is design in the universe” there is doubt because the predicate (design) is not contained in the subject (universe). We have to use our senses to verify the truth of this statement.

Scholars whose versions of the argument you must explain … (you need to do it in detail)

Thomas Aquinas – the first three of the Five Ways

  • Unmoved mover – Everything that moves is moved by something else. There must be an initial cause of movement in the universe. There is an unmoved mover called God.
  • Uncaused cause – Everything has a cause. There cannot be an infinite regress of causes. The first cause is God.
  • Possibility and necessity – Everything in the universe exists contingently, ie it could not exist. It is conceivable for everything in the universe to go out of existence. There must be something which cannot not exist (that exists necessarily). That something is God.

Aquinas argued that the world depends on God now for its existence.

The Kalam argument

This was suggested by Islamic scholars such as al-Ghazzali and argues that God is the originating cause of the universe. It goes: everything that has a beginning of existence must have a cause; the universe began to exist; the universe has a cause; the cause is God. Modern versions come from scholars such as William Lane Craig.

Frederick Copleston – the radio debate

Copleston debated the existence of God with Bertrand Russell on the radio. Copleston provided a new version of Aquinas’ Five Ways.

AO2 critical evaluation – ie “what goes in part b?”

Remember to read the question on the exam paper first before just regurgitating.

The strengths of the cosmological argument

The strengths of the cosmological argument are the strengths of inductive reasoning: inductive arguments begin with something that we can observe. Inductive reasoning begins with experience which may be universal (ie everyone has had it) or it may at least be testable. The argument does not rely upon fixed definitions that we must accept (unlike the ontological argument). The cosmological argument fits in with the God of classical theism (omnipotent, omnibenevolent, omniscient). It makes sense to think that there is an initial cause to the universe: this fits with our experience of events within the universe. Most scientists would argue that the universe has a beginning, which fits in with the cosmological argument.

The weaknesses of the cosmological argument

The weaknesses of this argument are the weaknesses of inductive reasoning: the conclusion does not necessarily follow from the premises. Just because things in the universe have causes, doesn’t mean that the universe as a whole has a cause: we have no experience of universes being caused so cannot claim we know that they need a cause. (Bertrand Russell) The universe is just here and that is that: we do not need to ask why. (Bertrand Russell) There is no logical absurdity in claiming that things can come into existence without a cause. (Hume) Only analytic propositions (eg 1+1=2) can exist necessarily. (Kant) Perhaps the universe has always been here (Buddhism) and fluctuates in and out of existences (Big Crunch theory).

 

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