The Cosmological Argument from Existential Causality

Thomas Aquinas

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)

The Cosmological argument is really a family of many philosophical arguments, that all seek to show that God exists necessarily. They do this by pointing out facts about the cosmos and appealing to a cause or reason for these facts. Many people like to combine and reshape them. For now I will only outline briefly one such argument, comment of two possible refutations, and show what we could deduce about God if the argument is successful. 

 

The Cosmological Argument from Existential Causality

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), famous for his mammoth work Summa Theologiae and his five reasons for God’s existence (which cover only about two pages). His first three reasons were cosmological type arguments of which the following is a summary.

 

1) There are contingent (limited and dependant) beings that exist.

2) Adding contingent beings together will not give an unlimited and independent whole. 

3) Therefore, the sum total of contingent beings (the universe) is itself contingent

4) Therefore, the ultimate cause of the continuing existence of contingent beings must be a necessary being.

 

Two Common Refutations:

It is non-specific

The objecting is the argument does not identify God, but only a non-specific first cause which could be a natural phenomenon like elementary particles or the big bang.

It is true the argument is limited in its scope and what it contends to prove. The argument is enough, however to defeat atheistic naturalism which holds that the universe is a closed causal network. Further, a uniquely identifying characteristic is all one needs to identify an object (even if it is the only characteristic you know of), and the argument does give us a uniquely identifying characteristics.

 

Composition

The objector will say the argument commits this informal fallacy because if all the parts of the universe have one property it does not require the whole universe to have that quality. This fails to distinguish between emergent properties and additive properties. 

Placing one tile next to another tile, next to another tile and so on creates a tile floor. This is an additive property. It’s clear that the floor will be tiled if the entire floor is composed of tiles, or if every tile added was green, the tile floor would be green. In the same way, as every part of the ocean is wet, the ocean will also be wet. 

But an emergent property is susceptible to the fallacy of composition. An example would be because every tile is cheap, the entire floor is cheap. The property of expense is emergent. In the same way, because every part of the ocean is lightweight, it does not follow that the ocean is lightweight. 

Weight and expense are emergent properties while greenness and tiled-ness are additive properties. Contingency is also an additive property and so we rightly draw the conclusion that the sum total of the contingent beings (the universe) is contingent itself. It is like the watch with no spring. It doesn’t matter if there is an infinite series of cogs, there still needs to be a prime mover. 

 

Considerations

What follows about the nature of this first cause, or prime mover? 

 

Uniqueness:

This property of the first uncaused cause requires an additional sub-argument. Aquinas resolves this by supposing there were two first uncaused causes, FC1 and FC2, and employing the logical law of identity – if two things are exactly alike in every respect then they are the same. If FC1 differed from FC2 in anyway then one would have a characteristic the other would not. If FC1 lacked something FC2 had then it would be limited or caused not to have it. But that is impossible because FC1 is uncaused. Therefore any two uncaused first causes have to be strictly identical and therefore there would only be one of them.

 

Simplicity:

Strangely it is not a slight to call God simple. It means that God has no contingent parts. Therefore he is immaterial. It also means that God is changeless for he cannot add or subtract parts of what He is, and God is one thing. Together the attributes of simplicity and uniqueness form logical boundaries for the concept of God and the doctrine of the Trinity. 

 

Perfection:

A necessary, uncaused first cause will be itself be unlimited. Not limited by spacial or temporal confinements, he is therefore omnipresent and eternal. The scope of this being expands out to include much of what is known as “perfect being theology.”

 

Personhood:

Both Francis Schaffer and Norman Geisler expand Thomas’ original argument out with sub-arguments to include the faculties sufficient for personhood, namely knowledge and will. Briefly, the argument says that since the universe contains persons who are rational, social, moral and free the first cause must also posses these attributes.

 

Modern proponents:

Norman Geisler, Winfried Corduan

3 replies
  1. Win Corduan
    Win Corduan says:

    Stuart, thank you for a nicely put-together summary of the cosmological argument based on existential causality. Concerning the first alleged objection, i.e. non-specificity, it appears that most objectors who take that line have not read St. Thomas himself in the Summa Theologica past v.1, q.2, a.3, since otherwise they would know that Aquinas is hardly finished, but that he continues to derive the attributes of God through q. 43.
    Have a wonderful happy New Year. In Christ, Win.

  2. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    It’s interesting, Stuart; I hadn’t really read this when you first posted it, but looking at it now, (4) is basically the same conclusion I use in support of my argument for exhaustive divine determinism. I wonder how Aquinas would have felt about that—if I recall correctly, he was a libertarian with regard to the will?

    There are some things I find suspect about Aquinas’ reasoning in your section ‘Considerations’ above:

    If FC1 differed from FC2 in anyway then one would have a characteristic the other would not. If FC1 lacked something FC2 had then it would be limited or caused not to have it. But that is impossible because FC1 is uncaused. Therefore any two uncaused first causes have to be strictly identical and therefore there would only be one of them.

    I understand the intuitive appeal of this argument, but it’s unclear to me that it’s even reasonable (let alone self-evident) to say that if FC1 lacks something, then that limitation would be caused. What sorts of characteristics does Aquinas have in mind here? Can we not suggest independently-existing noncontingent things? I’m not sure how such a thesis could be ruled out, even if it is merely speculatory.

    Briefly, the argument says that since the universe contains persons who are rational, social, moral and free the first cause must also posses these attributes.

    Again, this argument enjoys intuitive support, but can we not construct a parallel argument? Viz:

    1. Properties contained within the universe must reflect properties of its creator.
    2. The universe contains objects with the properties of mass, energy, etc.
    3. Therefore, the creator must exemplify the properties of mass, energy, etc.

    It’s hard to see how (1) can be modified to avoid this conclusion. We could try to differentiate based on contingency, but of course all created properties are contingent, so we’d have to formulate additional arguments to show that some contingent properties necessitate non-contingent ontological grounds. An argument from abstracta could be constructed with regards to knowledge, which in turn would entail rationality. That in turn would entail personhood. But it doesn’t get us socialness or freedom. Are there ancillary arguments for these? I haven’t read Schaeffer or Geisler on this, so my critique is admittedly very hasty, and based on a very hazy understanding of what I’m critiquing.

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