Unit 1C – Philosophy of Religion
The Cosmological Argument is a posteriori, it draws on evidence and experiences we have all had. It is also inductive, because it has premises which lead to a likely conclusion. It is sometimes called the First Cause Argument because it suggests that the world must have had a first cause.
Richard Swinburne states that, “A cosmological argument is an argument to the existence of God from the existence of some finite objector, more specifically, a complex physical universe.”
The most well-known version of the Cosmological Argument was put forward by St Thomas Aquinas in his book, Summa Theologica. In this book, Aquinas puts forward five ways to the existence of God. The first three of his ways make up the popular version of the Cosmological Argument.
Point to note: Aquinas avoids the word ‘proofs’. He realises that it is impossible to prove that God exists, but seeks to provide the reader with a way to belief in the existence of God.
mmanuel Kant defined a cosmological argument as one which starts from “experience of existence in general.”
Aquinas believed that ‘proofs’ for the existence of God are needed because the existence of God is not self-evident – it is not obvious that God exists and it is quite easy to think of the world existing without God.
“No one can think the opposite of that which is self-evident … But the opposite of the proposition ‘God exists’ can be thought … Therefore the proposition that God exists is not self-evident.” (Aquinas)
Aquinas believed that human reason and thought could lead to belief in God. “He was confident of the power of the human reason to attain knowledge of God’s existence.” (Copleston)
“It is clearly the case that some things in the world are in the process of changing. Now everything that is in the process of changing is changed by something else, since nothing is changed unless it is potentially that towards which it is being changed, whereas that which changed is actual. To change something is nothing else than to bring it from possibility to actuality, and a thing can be brought from potentiality to actuality only by something which is actual … Whatever is changed must be changed by something else … but this cannot go on forever, since there would then be no first cause to this process of change … We are therefore bound to arrive at a first cause of change which is not changed by anything, and everybody understands that this is God.” (Aquinas)
. The First Way – Motion / Change (ex parte motus)
In other words ...
Everything that moves is moved by something else;
That mover must also be moved by something else;
But you cannot have an infinite chain of movers, or there would be no reason for movement to get started at all;
Therefore, there must be an unmoved mover, producing movement in everything, without itself being moved;
This unmoved mover is what people understand to be God.
Wood is potentially hot.
Fire is actually hot
Fire makes the potentially hot wood actually hot.
Aquinas argued that every change that happens in the world is caused by something else, which is turn is caused by something else. He believed that this chain can not go on for ever. Like Aristotle, whose work Aquinas greatly admired, he felt that there was no such thing as infinity and rejected the idea of infinite regression. Therefore, Aquinas believed that there must be a first mover who causes movement (or change) in other things and who begins a chain of movement. As this first mover must be different to the things he moves, he himself cannot be moved by anything else. For Aquinas, this first mover is God.
2. The Second Way – Causation
“The Second way is based on the nature of an efficient cause. We find that there is a sequence of efficient causes in the observable world. But we do not find that anything is the efficient cause of itself. Nor is it possible, for the thing would then be prior to itself, which is impossible. But neither can the sequence of efficient causes be infinite, for in every sequence the first efficient cause is the cause of an intermediate cause, and an intermediate cause is the cause of the ultimate cause, whether there are many intermediate causes, or just one. Now when a cause is taken away, so is its effect. Hence if there were no first efficient cause, there would be no ultimate cause, and no intermediate causes. But this is plainly false. We are therefore bound to suppose that there is a first efficient cause. And everyone calls this “God.”
First efficient cause
In other words …
Everything has a cause;
Every cause has its own cause;
You can not have an infinite number of causes;
Therefore there must be an uncaused cause, which causes everything to happen without itself being caused by anything else;
Such an uncaused cause is what people understand by “God.”
As with motion, the chain of causes and effects can not go on forever. Therefore, there must be an uncaused causer who sets the chain in motion, but is not itself caused by anything else. For Aquinas, this uncaused causer is God.
3. The Third Cause – Being / Existence
“The third way is from the nature of possibility and necessity. There are some things which may either exist or not exist, since some things come to be and pass away, and may therefore exist or not exist. Now it is impossible that all of these should exist at all times, because there is at least some time when which may possibly not exist does not exits. Hence if all things were such that they might not exist, at some time or other there would be nothing. But if this were true there would be nothing in existence now, since what does not exist cannot begin to exist, unless through something which does exist. If nothing had ever existed, it would have been impossible for anything to begin to exist, and there would now be nothing at all. But this is plainly false, and hence not all existence is merely possible. Something in things must be necessary. Now everything which is necessary either derives its necessity from somewhere else or does not. But we cannot go onto infinity with necessary things which have a cause of their necessity, any more than with efficient causes, as we proved. We are therefore bound to suppose something necessary in itself, which does not owe its necessity to anything else, but which is the cause of necessity of other things. And everyone calls this “God.”
In other words …
Ordinary things start to exist and later stop existing (they are finite or contingent)
Therefore at some time none of them was in existence;
But something only comes into existence by being caused by something else that already exists;
Therefore there must be a being whose existence is necessary and therefore not limited by time. This being is what people understand by God.
Everything in the world has contingent existence, which means that it could easily not have existed at all. For example, if my grandparents had chosen different schools for my parents, they might never have met and I might never have existed. There was a time in the past when I did not exist and there will be a time in the future when I will not exist. Everything in the universe would have been able to carry on whether I existed I not and therefore my existence is contingent. Aquinas states that everything which exists is caused to exist by something else. Again, this chain can not go on forever, so if we trace the chain of contingently existing beings back, we will eventually arrive at a being with necessary existence, who is not dependent upon anything to exist or to ‘be.’
Aquinas asks us to consider things we have observed and experienced in the universe, such as motion, cause and effect and things existing contingently, and to believe that these things point to something beyond themselves (an unmoved mover, an uncaused causer, a being with necessary existence). He then asks us to believe that this thing is God.
Other Versions of the Argument
Richard Swinburne does not feel that any argument which starts from our experiences can be an absolute, deductive proof. However, if an argument seeks to find the simplest explanation for the existence of the universe, using Ockham’s Razor, it can be likely that the conclusion of the existence of God can be drawn from the premises of the argument. (An inductive argument).
“The starting points of cosmological arguments are evident facets of experience …It seems … evident that no argument from any such starting [which] points to the existence of God is deductively valid.”
Swinburne does not like Aquinas’ version of the cosmological argument, stating that, “Aquinas’ ‘five ways’ … seem to me to be one of his least successful pieces of philosophy.” Swinburne instead prefers the version of the argument put forward by Gottfried Leibniz (1646 – 1716) in his book, “On the Origin of Things.”
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Version of the Cosmological Argument – The Argument for a Sufficient Reason
Leibniz supported the Cosmological Argument because he believed that there has to be a “sufficient reason” for the universe to exist. He felt that the universe must have a cause.
“Suppose the book of the elements of geometry to have been eternal, one copy having been written down from an earlier one. It is evident that even though a reason can be given for the present book out of a past one, we should never come to a full reason. What is true of books is also true of the states of the world. If you suppose the world eternal, you will suppose nothing but a succession of states and will not find in any of them a sufficient reason.”
Leibniz believed that the idea that the universe has always existed (has infinite existence) is not a satisfactory explanation for its existence. He felt that God is the first uncaused cause on which everything else depends.
“Leibniz makes the point that a backwardly infinite series of states of universe, each explained by an earlier state without any cause acting from outside, would leave the existence of the universe at all totally unexplained … Like Leibniz, I conclude that the existence of the universe over finite or infinite time would be, if only scientific explanation is allowed, a brute inexplicable fact … the existence of the universe over time comes into my category of things which are too big for science to explain …”
(Swinburne: The Existence of God)
The Kalam Argument is a version of the Cosmological Argument which comes from the Islamic tradition. ‘Kalam’ is an Arabic term which means to ‘argue’ or ‘discuss’. Like Aquinas, the Islamic thinkers behind the Kalam Argument were influenced by The Philosopher, Aristotle, who rejected the idea of infinite regression, stating that infinity can not exist. The Kalam Argument states that:
Everything that begins to exist has a cause for its existence;
The universe began to exist;
Therefore the universe must have a cause.
Rejection of Infinite Regression:
An actual infinite number can not exist;
Therefore, the series of causes for the world being as it is now cannot be an infinite temporal (worldly) sequence;
So, the sequences of causes in the world can not be infinite;
Therefore, the world began to exist at some point in the past.
There was a time in the past when one of two states was possible – that there should be, or should not be, a universe.
God as the temporal first cause
The Cosmological Argument seeks to prove the existence of a being that began the temporal (worldly) series of events which we experience today. It states that everything must have a cause and that this first cause is itself uncaused and is God. God is connected to the world as the first mover, first cause, and the One with necessary existence who begins the lives of all those whose existence is contingent.
God as the sustainer of motion, causation and existence
The God of Aquinas’ Cosmological Argument is one who is linked to a world which is ontologically dependent on Him. If God, as the necessary being, stops His creative action, then the world will no longer exist. As God begins the chain of motion and the chain of cause and effect, God can also stop them by withdrawing from the world. Thus, as the first mover, the first cause and the necessary being, God is responsible for all movement, all causes and effects and the existence of everything. Without the continuous creative activity of God, there could be no movement, no chain of cause and effect and nothing could exist.
God as the explanation of why there is something rather than nothing.
“Nothing can come of nothing.” (Shakespeare: King Lear)
Some philosophers argue that:
The universe exists; Premises
Nothing can some from nothing;
There must be something behind the existence of the universe.
It is likely that the universe was caused by something outside of it: God. Conclusion
We know from our experiences that the world does exist. It seems likely that there is an explanation as to why the universe exists at all. Bede Rundle states that the question ‘why is there something rather than nothing?’ is “Philosophy’s central and most perplexing problem.” Rundle believes that there has to be something behind the universe. Theists conclude that the ‘something’ is God who began motion, causation and being.
Leibniz argued that ‘nothingness’ is spontaneous and so can exist without any effort. However, the universe requires an explanation – God. Following on from Leibniz, Swinburne argued that nothingness is natural, because it is simpler than the universe. If nothingness is more natural and therefore more likely, then the existence of the universe is quite unlikely and so must be explained. Again using Ockham’s Razor, Swinburne argues that the simplest and therefore most likely explanation for the universe is God.
1. The Possibility of infinite regress and the universe as a brute fact
Aquinas stated that the universe can not have existed infinitely, as infinity is impossible. However, he goes on to say that God is infinite, which leaves him open to the criticism that he contradicts himself. (Supporters of the Cosmological Argument state that God is unique and so the laws of nature do not apply to Him.)
Could Aquinas be wrong? Is it possible that the universe has just existed forever? Should we accept that the universe is just a brute fact?
Bertrand Russell- The Universe as Brute Fact
In his famous radio debate with Copleston, Russell argues that the universe is a brute fact which does not require an explanation. He states that, just because some individual things have explantions, it does not follow that the universe needs an explanation. For example, just because every human being has a mother, it does not mean that the universe must have a mother. “The Universe is just there, and that’s all.” (Russell)
his is a scientific theory which undermines the Cosmological Argument as it states that the universe has no beginning or end – it has always been here and will always be here. The energy in the universe is constantly redistributed, so that new galaxies form to fill in the spaces left by older galaxies as they move apart with the expansion of the universe. The rate at which these new galaxies are created is steady and is always the same. “The universe is a huge self-regulating, self-sustaining mechanism, with the capacity to self-organise ad infinitum.” (Paul Davies). However, this theory has been largely rejected by scientists, who now favour the Big Bang Theory.
Swinburne – Rejecting the idea of infinite regress and brute fact
Swinburne argues that the existence of the universe, whether finite or infinite, requires an explanation as it is “too big” for science to explain. Following Leibniz, Swinburne argues that, “a backwardly, infinite series of states of the universe, each explained by an earlier state, without any cause acting from outside, would leave the existence of the universe at all totally unexplained.
Like Leibniz, Swinburne feels that there must be a ‘sufficient reason’ for the existence of the universe. If we think of the universe as an infinite chain of cause and effect, we will never arrive at this sufficient reason. For Swinburne, the sufficient reason must be something outside of the universe and states that theists use their personal explanation of God to arrive at this sufficient reason.
“The existence of the universe over time comes into my category of things too big for science to explain. If the existence of the universe is to be explained, personal explanation must be brought in, and an explanation given in terms of a person who is not part of the universe acting from without.”
. The Fallacy of Composition
The Fallacy of Composition occurs when one states that the whole of something has the same characteristics as its parts. For example,
Atoms are not visible to the naked eye
Humans are made up of atoms
Therefore, humans are not visible to the naked eye
This idea is clearly false because we know that humans are visible to the naked eye, even those the atoms which make human bodies up are not.
Theists who support the Cosmological Argument state that because all things in the universe are contingent, requiring something else to bring them into existence, the universe must also be contingent and require an explanation. As we have seen, Bertrand Russell denies this, stating that it is a Fallacy of Composition. Just because the things on earth require an explanation for existence, does not mean that the universe itself requires explanation. We can ask for the cause of individual things within the universe, but we can not ask for the cause of the universe as a whole.
How can Theists answer this criticism?
Theists argue that the whole can have the same characteristics which make it up. For example, it is wrong to state that as bricks are small and walls are made of bricks, all walls are small. However, it is not wrong to say that the wall is brick because it is made out of bricks! The universe, theists argue, is like this second example, and so it does resemble its parts and does require an explanation. If everything in the universe ceased to exist, the universe itself would cease to exist. This means that the existence of the universe is contingent and not necessary. All contingent things, theists go on to say, require an explanation and therefore the universe cannot be a brute fact and God must have created it.
. The identity of the necessary being as God
If the Cosmological Argument does lead us to accept that there is a first mover, first cause and necessary being, does it follow that this being is the God of classical theism? The argument is a posteriori because it asks us to use our experiences of motion, cause and effect and contingent existence to get to God. If we use our experience of the world of death, suffering and evil, should we assume that the necessary being Aquinas talks of is evil, unloving and uncaring? Might there be many necessary beings? Looking at the imperfections of this world, perhaps it was the first creation of a necessary being who, unimpressed with his efforts, left the world and went onto bigger and better things.
"This world is very faulty and imperfect, compared to a superior standard, and was only the first rude essay of some infant deity who afterwards abandoned it, ashamed of his lame performance ...” (Hume)
Aquinas realised that it is difficult to get to the God of classical theism through the Cosmological Argument. “The existence of a thing having been ascertained, the way in which it exists remains to be examined if we would know its nature.” However, Aquinas believed that we can get to some understanding of the nature of the necessary being in two ways.
(i) What God is not
As a Christian, Aquinas believed that it is impossible to understand what God is like. However, it is possible to know what He is not, and so eliminate characteristics which do not apply to Him.
EG. God is not material, because he is Himself unmoved, uncaused and necessary. He is unlike the material things He has created.
“Creatures have a real relation to God, they depend on God and derive their perfections from Him. Therefore, because we have an understanding of perfection, wisdom, goodness etc in human beings, we can go some way towards understanding what it is to be perfectly good and totally wise, as God who gives these qualities is. Aquinas realised that we can never reach a total understanding of God, but felt that we could go some way towards understanding Him in this way.
Does the human quality of evil also come from God?
Swinburne and Ockham’s Razor
Swinburne argues, using Ockham’s Razor, that it is most likely that there is one simple God, who has perfect qualities like all-goodness. A God with a finite amount of intelligence and goodness would raise the question of why He has not more of these qualities and so it is more likely that God has infinite amounts of these things.
“The simplest explanation is … the most probable. Hence it is more probable, if there is such a God, that there is the simplest kind of God; and that … is a God of infinite power, knowledge and freedom … And even less simple, and so less probable, is polytheism …”
4. Drawing a conclusion which goes beyond the evidence
“Since the time of Kant, Aquinas’ arguments have been widely regarded as patently invalid.” (Copleston)
“All attempts which have been made to prove the principle of sufficient reason, have, according to the universal admission of philosophers, been quite unsuccessful.” (Kant: The Critique of Pure Reason)
Kant felt that the Cosmological Argument failed because it began by appealing to our experiences of this world and concluded with something outside of this world, which we can have no evidence for.
“We shall thus spare ourselves much severe and fruitless labour, by not expecting from reason what is beyond its power, or rather by subjecting it to discipline, and teaching it to moderate its vehement desires for the extension of the sphere of knowledge.” (Kant)
David Hume believed that all knowledge comes from our sense experiences. He stated that we should never assume a connection between a cause and an effect unless we have experienced it through our senses. He believed that we assume a connection between some events because we have a habit of doing so. Hume states that we have no reason to assume that the universe has a beginning and even if it did have a beginning, it does not mean that anything caused it to exist.
As we have no direct experience of a universe being created, Hume argues that we can not speak about the creation of the universe. There is not sufficient evidence to prove that the universe was caused or has a cause.
“How can anything that exists from eternity have a cause, since that relation implies a priority in time and a beginning to existence?” (Hume: Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion)
How can Theists answer this criticism?
A theist might argue that humans can have knowledge and ideas of God a priori because God created humans and is linked to the world. Therefore, because of God, humans can have ideas which go beyond the world of experience.
Most people believe that there was a beginning to the universe and this is inline with current scientific thinking. It does seem reasonable to suggest that if there was such a beginning, something must have started the creative process Swinburne argues that the simplest and therefore most likely explanation is that God began this creative process.
How far does the Cosmological Argument prove that God exists or show that it is reasonable to believe in God?
There is quite a chance that, if there is a God, he will make something of the finitude and complexity of a universe. It is very unlikely that a universe would exist uncaused, but rather more likely that God would exist uncaused. Hence the argument from the existence of God is a good inductive argument.” (Swinburne)
Swinburne believes that the Cosmological Argument is a strong inductive argument as it leads to a conclusion that it is likely that the God of classical theism is the unmoved mover, uncaused causer and necessary creator of the universe. He states, using Ockham’s Razor, that the fact that the universe exists needs to be explained and that the simplest and therefore most likely explanation for the universe is God.
The fact that the Cosmological Argument is an inductive argument means that it cannot be, and is not meant to be, an absolute proof. Aquinas himself calls his arguments ‘ways’ rather than proofs. Aquinas wanted to suggest that God exists, although he realised that he could not provide an absolute proof and that he could not prove that the necessary being is the God of classical theism,
“[Aquinas’ ways] do not prove that there is a God who is the uncaused cause or first mover, for (as Hume or Kant would readily show) that is beyond the possibility of human reason. However, they do point towards the sort of reality that a religious person is thinking about when he or she uses the word ‘God’. (Mel Thompson)
A (b) question asking whether or not the Cosmological Argument makes it reasonable to believe that God exists would also require you to examine the strengths and weaknesses outlined earlier and later in this booklet.
1. Dawkins vs Polkinghorne
The Anthropic Principle and Polkinghorne
The Anthropic Principle states that it is remarkable that the universe is so finely tuned as to allow intelligent life to flourish. A minute change, such as the charge of an electron, would have made it extremely unlikely that life would evolve on earth. The physicist and theologian John Polkinghorne argues that religion is needed to answer the questions of why the scientific laws of the universe are so perfect as to allow intelligent life to form. Polkinghorne agrees that the Big Bang started the chain of motion and causation, but states that God controlled the Big Bang. If there was a slight variation in the conditions of the Big Bang, for example, if there had been more gravity, the chains of motion and of cause and effect would have been different and the universe as we know it today would not have been created.
In his book, Unweaving the Rainbow, Dawkins argues that scientific advances in ideas about the universe mean that we no longer require God as an explanation. It is scientific advances, he argues, that have enabled us to understand the intricacies of the universe and its origins in the Big Bang. We should not allow superstitious and religious people to state that these intricacies are down to God, but should reject religion. Dawkins feels that evolution has led to people who are stubborn and refuse to accept evidence which counters their beliefs. Humans should let go of these religious ideas and progress.
Dawkins goes on to say that if God really did set the world in motion, then there would be lots of evidence for God in the world. He states that believing that God created the world is the same as believing that there are fairies at the bottom of the garden – just because you cannot prove that there are not there does not mean that they are there,
“There may be fairies at the bottom of the garden. There is no evidence for it, but you can't prove that there aren't any, so shouldn't we be agnostic with respect to fairies?” (Dawkins)
To counter Dawkins’ argument that there should be evidence of God in the world if he did begin the chains of motion and cause and effect, Polkinhorne argues, “We are not now looking to the physical world for hints of God’s existence but to God’s existence as an aid for understanding why things have developed in the physical world in the manner that they have.” (Polkinghorne: Belief in God in an Age of Science)
2. Is the Argument Enough to Lead us to Faith in God?
Aquinas felt that providing ‘ways’ to get to God was necessary, as the existence of God is not self-evident – we can think of the world existing without God. He did not feel that the arguments could prove God’s existence and presented 5 different ways, perhaps feeling that all of them together would provide cumulative weight and lead people to belief in God.
Aquinas also accepted that the God suggested in the Cosmological Argument is difficult to understand as the God of classical theism. He used methods like analogy to suggest the qualities of the necessary being, but accepted that, as all theists believe, one can never arrive at a total understanding of God.
Brian Davies argues that, although the Cosmological Argument can not prove the existence of God alone, it could establish the existence of God when taken together with other evidence, such as the Teleological Argument:
“As an argument for a first cause of all existing things, the cosmological argument seems a reasonable one. But it does not itself establish the existence of God with all the properties ascribed to Him.” (Davies: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion)
Leaky Bucket Argument
Some philosophers argue that the different ‘proofs’ for the existence of God can not have cumulative weight as several bad arguments together do not make a sound argument, just as several leaky buckets can not hold water.
Perhaps this argument cannot lead to faith in God. When St Anselm developed his Ontological Argument for the existence of God, he stated that the arguments for God’s existence should serve to help believers to understand their faith, rather than to lead disbelievers to have faith, “I am not seeking to understand in order to believe, but believe in order that I may understand.” It is possible that Aquinas felt the same way, which would account for his title of ‘ways’ rather than ‘proofs’. Perhaps Aquinas’ ways are ways for people to understand their faith?
3. The Nature of this Proof
As this argument is a posteriori, it is based on human experience. The argument asks us to use our experience of everything which moves being moved by another, everything which is caused being caused by another and also of contingent existence – the fact that all living things die. This is a strength of the argument, as it uses our own sense experience as a starting point.
However, both Hume and Kant argue that the conclusions of the argument step out of the realm of our experiences to a first mover, first cause and being with necessary existence which we have no experience of at all. Even if we accept this necessary being, our lack of experience of him/her means that we can not know what the being is like or if there is more than one ‘being.’ The conclusion of God, some would argue, is a leap of faith totally removed from the evidence.
As this argument is inductive, we can accept the premises (that everything that moves is moved by another etc) without accepting the conclusion (God). Although Swinburne argues that God is the simplest and therefore most likely explanation, we can reject the God conclusion. This makes the argument less successful than a deductive argument. (One in which we have to accept the conclusion if we accept the premises.
4. Russell vs Copleston
1948 – Radio debate on the existence of God
Russell was a famous philosopher and Copleston is a Jesuit priest. The form of the Cosmological Argument supported by Copleston was the third of Aquinas’ five ways, the Argument from Contingency.
The Argument from Contingency as presented by Copleston
All things which we observe have contingent existence, as they will eventually die and, if they had never existed, the universe would have carried on in the same way as it does now. Copleston states that the existence of contingent things can only be explained if we accept that there is a being with necessary existence who started off the chain of all other existent things. There must, Copleston argues, be a sufficient reason for the existence of all contingent things and this must be God, who contains within himself the reason for his existence.
“We know that there are some beings in the world which do not contain within themselves the reason for their existence. For example, I depend on my parents … since objects or events exist and since no object or experience contains within itself the reason for its existence, it must have a reason externally to itself and that reason must be an existent being. This being is either itself the reason for its own existence or it is not. If it is, well and good, if not then we must proceed further. But if we proceed to infinity … then there is no explanation of existence at all. So in order to explain existence, we must come to a being which contains within itself the reason for its own existence, that is to say, that which cannot not exist.” (Copleston)
I could only admit a necessary being if there were a being whose existence it is self-contradictory to deny.
Certainly the question does the cause of the world exist is applicable and it has meaning, but if you say yes, God is the cause of the world where you are using God as a proper name … God exists will not be a statement that has meaning. That is the position that I am maintaining. (Russell)
Copleston’s rejection of infinite regress
“What we call the world is intrinsically unintelligent apart from the existence of God. … If you add up chocolates to infinity … you get an infinite amount of chocolates, if you add up contingent being to infinity, you still get contingent being, not a necessary being.”
The whole concept of cause is one that we derive from our observation of particular things. I see no reason to suppose that the total has any cause whatsoever. (Russell) (The idea of a cause outside of this world is in a different sphere of logic from our observations of causes in this world and therefore it has no meaning.)
Swinburne and modern versions of Aquinas’ Argument
Swinburne stated that, “Aquinas’ ‘five ways’ … seem to me to be one of his least successful pieces of philosophy.” We have seen that Swinburne preferred Leibniz’s version of the argument regarding sufficient reason. Modern thinkers, such as Copleston, have also put forward new versions of the Cosmological Argument, suggesting that the argument has weight and is still an argument that people find compelling. These thinkers have tried to modify the argument in light of philosophical criticism.
However, thinkers like Bertrand Russell have argued that these modern versions of the argument also fail as they move away from our ‘sphere of logic’ and conclude with concepts which we can not experience and are therefore meaningless.
If asked to examine the strengths and weaknesses of the Cosmological Argument, you could also consider points raised earlier in this booklet.
What is the value of this argument for religious faith?
Aquinas stated that the existence of God is not self-evident as we can imagine a world without God. He intended the argument to point people towards a belief in God and to suggest that there is evidence for religious faith. It is possible that the Cosmological Argument could bring someone to belief in God or strengthen a religious person’s faith.
However, Aquinas himself referred to his ideas of ‘ways’ not ‘proofs’ and so it seems unlikely that an atheist would begin to have religious faith after reading about the Cosmological Argument. As the argument is inductive, the conclusions are not conclusive. Swinburne asserted that the argument makes it very likely that God does exist, but it is doubtful that anyone except a religious believer would be convinced by the argument.
Anselm stated that the argument for God existence are there to enable believers to understand more about their existing faith, rather than bringing atheists to belief in God. There are many flaws in the argument, which have been pointed out in this booklet that could be used by a disbeliever to discredit the argument and maintain their atheistic standpoint.
We have also seen that the argument points to a necessary being and first mover / cause rather than the God of classical theism. Perhaps thinkers who support the argument can, at best, expect agnostics to lean towards the idea that there might be a ‘sufficient reason’ for the existence of the universe. They can not expect them to be led to the all-powerful, all-loving God of Christianity, as the sufficient reason could be an evil God, or many gods.
Therefore, this argument might serve to strengthen existing religious faith and might give believers an argument to justify their belief in God. However, it is unlikely that a person who is not a believer will be drawn to faith in the Christian God by the Cosmological Argument.