A cosmological argument takes some cosmic feature of the universe - such as the existence of contingent things or the fact of motion - that calls out for an explanation and argues that this feature is to be explained in terms of the activity of a First Cause, which First Cause is God. A typical cosmological argument faces four different problems. If these problems are solved, the argument is successful.
The first problem is that although some features, such as the existence of contingent things, call for an explanation, it can be disputed whether an explanation exists. I shall call this the Glendower Problem in honor of the following exchange from Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part 1, Act III:
Glendower: I can call spirits from the vasty deep.
But will they come when you do call for them?
(Shakespeare 2000, p. 59)
A typical solution to the Glendower Problem involves a causal or explanatory principle, such as the claim that all things have causes or that all contingent facts possibly have explanations, together with an argument that the principle applies to the cosmic feature in question and implies the existence of an explanation for it.
The second issue that must be faced in defending a cosmological argument is the Regress Problem - the problem of how to deal with an infinite regress of causes or explanations. Hume stated that if we had an infinite regress of explanations, Ei explained by E2, E3, E4, and so on, then everything in the regress would be explained, even if there were no ultimate explanation positing some First Cause.
The third difficulty is the Taxicab Problem, coming from Schopenhauer's quip that in the cosmological argument, the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR) is like a taxicab that once used is sent away. The difficulty here is in answering what happens when the explanatory principle that was used to solve the Glendower Problem gets applied to the First Cause. A popular formulation is: "If God is the cause of the universe, what is the
The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology Edited William Lane Craig and J. P.Moreland © 2009 BlactorellPublishingLtdlSBN: 978-1-40517657-6
cause of God?" Typical solutions argue that the case of the First Cause is different in some way that is not merely ad hoc from the cases to which the explanatory principle was applied.
The final difficulty for cosmological arguments is the Gap Problem.1 Granted there is a First Cause, but does anything of religious interest follow? There is a gap between the statements that there is a First Cause and that there is a God. Aquinas, in his Five Ways, proves the existence of an unmoved mover and then says: "et hoc omnes intelligent Deum" ("and all understand this to be God"). Some critics have taken this to be his way of papering over the difficulty of moving from a First Cause to God; however, that reading is mistaken in light of the fact that succeeding sections of the Summa Theologiae give careful and elaborate arguments that the First Cause is wholly actual, unchanging, simple, one, immaterial, perfect, good, and intelligent. Rather, Aquinas is simply marking the fact that the theist will recognize the unmoved mover to be God. Aquinas knows that an argument that the First Cause has, at least, some of the attributes of the God of Western monotheism is needed and offers such an argument.
The solutions to the Glendower and Regress problems tend to go hand in hand and, probably, the best way to classify cosmological arguments is by how they address these problems. There are then three basic kinds of cosmological arguments: kalam, Thomistic, and Leibnizian. The kalam and Thomistic arguments posit an intuitively plausible Causal Principle (CP) that says that every item of some sort - for example, event, contingent being, instance of coming-into-existence, or movement - has a cause. The arguments then split depending on how they handle the Regress Problem. The kalam argument proceeds by arguing, on a priori or a posteriori grounds, that the past is finite and hence, in fact, no infinite regress occurred. The Thomistic argument, exemplified by Aquinas' first three ways, does not rule out the possibility of an infinite past but uses a variety of methods to argue against the hypothesis that there is an infinite regress of causes with no First Cause. The most distinctive of these methods is an attempt to show that there is an intrinsic distinction between intermediate and nonintermediate causes, where an intermediate cause of E is an item C that is itself caused by something else to cause E, and that this distinction is such that intermediate causes are, of necessity, dependent for their causal activity on noninter-mediate causes, which then end the regress.
Leibnizian arguments, on the other hand, invoke a very general explanatory principle, such as the PSR, which is then applied to the cosmos or to some vast cosmic state of affairs, or else a nonlocal CP that can be applied to an infinite chain or the universe as a whole. In the PSR-based versions, the Regress Problem is typically handled by showing that an infinite chain of causes with no First Cause fails to explain why the whole chain is there. The main challenge for Leibnizian arguments here is to argue for an explanatory principle or CP that is (a) plausible, (b) applicable to the cosmic state of affairs in question, and (c) not so strong as to lead to implausible conclusions such as the denial of contingency or of free will. In this chapter, I shall defend several Leibnizian arguments.
The basic Leibnizian argument has the following steps:
(1) Every contingent fact has an explanation.
(2) There is a contingent fact that includes all other contingent facts.
(3) Therefore, there is an explanation of this fact.
1. I got the term from Richard Gale.
(4) This explanation must involve a necessary being.
(5) This necessary being is God.
We shall see, however, that the first step, the assumption of the PSR, can be modified in various ways, with the resulting argument maintaining the distinctive feature of Leibnizian arguments that the relevant explanatory principle or CP is to be applied to a global state or proposition.
2. The PSR
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