One of my personal favorite areas of philosophy of religion is studying the arguments for existence of God. One type of argument for God is the Cosmological Argument, and one of these arguments was developed by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz.
A simple version of the argument, in syllogistic form, goes as follows:
1) Everything which exists has an explanation of its existence
2) If the universe has an explanation for its existence, that explanation is God
3) The universe exists
4) The universe has an explanation of its existence
5) Therefore God exists (Craig, 54ff)
Now I think this outlining of Leibniz’s argument is a little forward. Premise 2 may be a bit strong. I’ve edited it some, though I’m sure many others have outlined it similarly, to become:
1) All entities which exist have explanation of their existence. This explanation is either their own necessity or (for contingent entities) an external cause. (P1)
2) The universe exists (Axiom [A] 1)
3) The universe’s existence is not found in its own necessity (P2)
4) Therefore, the universe has an external cause (P1, P2)
5) There cannot be an infinite series of non-necessary causes (A2)
6) Therefore, the cause of the universe is transcendent (external) to it and necessary (4, A2 [I’m skipping a few steps here, but it would end up here eventually, as follows from 4 and A2])
What the Argument Demonstrates
I’m content with settling for the conclusion found in 6). Demonstrating that an external, necessary entity caused the universe is as close as to God as many arguments can go. A being which causes the universe would obviously be exceedingly powerful, the argument itself states it is transcendent to the universe, and the being exists necessarily. Many (most?) theists tend to agree that the other attributes Classical Theism has generally assigned to God follow quite easily from the acknowledgement that such a being exists.
The question must now turn towards reasons why we should believe that this valid argument is true.
Defense of the Premises
1) seems as though it should be accepted simply as a given. I don’t think I should need to defend 1). If we abandon the idea that everything which exists has an explanation (either contingently–from something outside of itself, or necessarily–from its own necessity), then we should expect any number of utterly random things to pop into and out of existence for no reason whatsoever! After all, it would be the height of self-delusion to think that, while all things require reasons to exist, it just so happens (how fortuitously!) that our universe is the only thing which exists for no reason. I’ll leave it at that for now… such ideas are more important for the Transcendental Argument, after all.
2) simply doesn’t need a defense.
Step 3) is alongside step 1) as the only two premises which are capable of being denied (for 2 is, again, obvious, and 4) follows simply from the first 3; we will discuss step 5 shortly) to avoid the conclusion. Denying step 1), I think, is clearly unacceptable, so denying step 3) is really the only way to go for the anti-theist. But what reasons do we have for thinking the universe exists necessarily? I think this is patently not the case. After all, everything which exists necessarily exists (necessarily) forever! Therefore, a necessary universe must have existed for an infinite amount of time (for time is part of the universe). But if this is the case, we run into the insurmountable problems which an infinite past brings up (these problems are also important for the Kalam Cosmological Argument).
I’ll pick just one problem to demonstrate: if the past is actually infinite (as it must be, granting a necessary universe), then we could never get to the present moment, for we would have had to traverse an actually infinite amount of time to get here! Not only that, but as time passes, there is no time being “added” to what came before. Infinity is infinity and it cannot be increased by adding to it or decreased from taking away from it. Therefore, every second which seems as though it is lengthening our lives is actually not doing anything of the sort, despite every commonsense notion with which we have lived out whole lives saying otherwise! The universe, on this view, is a deceptive place, in which nothing is as it seems.
Not only that, but if the universe were necessary, then it seems as though hard determinism–that is, the view that there is no freedom of the will whatsoever–must be the case. For, if the universe exists necessarily, then it has possessed all of its parts necessarily, forever.
Furthermore, there doesn’t seem to be any reason as to why the universe could not have been different. To assert the universe exists necessarily, once again, means to assert that no part of the universe could have failed to exist. Think of it this way: the universe in which I ate breakfast this morning (as opposed to this universe, in which I did not [shame on me, I know]) is logically impossible. Why? Because things which exist necessarily cannot change!
Worse yet, the explanation of a necessary universe leads to the question of why exactly everything is as it is. The anti-theistic view of such a universe is that, necessarily, the universe exists as it does, which happens to have an extraordinary amount of order, laws of nature which happen to allow for life, etc. (this objection was brought to my attention through Stephen Parrish’s God and Necessity, 241).
Thus, even if we grant that it is possible the universe exists necessarily, the individual properties of the universe still call out for explanation: why is it that the universal constants are what they are, and don’t deviate by the infinitesimal amount which would have prevented the existence of life? Ultimately, then, the necessary universe theory falls victim not just to objections against the idea of a necessary universe, but it also falls victim to the objections against the universe existing for no reasons whatsoever.
This means that we have established 1-4. Step 5 is an axiom which I have proposed, because it seems to me quite clear that an infinite regress of contingent causes is a vicious regress–an impossibility. Everything in such a chain would have to, by 1), have a cause outside of itself. If we take C1 to be caused by C2, but both are contingent, then C2 calls for an explanation, C3, which calls for C4, which calls for C5… ad infinitum. I don’t see any reason to deny that this regress is vicious.
Thus, 1-5 have been established. If this is the case, however, then 6 follows, simply because at some point the series of causes C1…C5… would have to be terminated in N1 (a necessary cause). Furthermore, this cause would be external to the universe, from step 1). Thus, the Leibnizian Cosmological argument provides us with powerful reasons to think that a transcendent, powerful, necessary entity brought the universe into existence. I don’t see any reason to call this entity anything but God. There are many reasons to think that an entity with these properties (namely, necessary existence, transcendence, omnipotence) would possess many or all the other properties generally assigned to God.
Therefore, God exists.
Craig, William Lane. On Guard. David C. Cook Publishers. 2010.
Parrish, Stephen. God and Necessity. University Press of America. 1997.
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