Summary: Cause For Celebration: An Examination Of The Cosmological Argument
Often the classics rank among the best. Even though time passes and intellectual fashions change, certain insights and perspectives address something so profound they forever earn a place as a steadfast pillar among sifting seas of opinion. Much of what comes after such a point simply serves as either confirmation, renunciation, clarification, or criticism. Though he lived and labored during the Middle Ages in the 1200‘s, the cosmological argument of Thomas Aquinas has withstood the test of time as one of those stalwart pillars of the mind pointing to a rational basis for belief in God.
Though the term “cosmological argument” sounds intimidating and the concept it strives to convey seems profound, this series of propositions endeavors to express a most elementary idea in a highly rational form. The thrust of the cosmological argument seeks to prove that the universe must have a cause and that only God can serve as an adequate explanation for the existence of the universe. Norman Geisler in Introduction To Christian Philosophy states the basic argument in the following manner: “(1) Finite changing things exist. (2) Every finite, changing thing must be caused by another. (3) There cannot be an infinite regress of causes. (4) Therefore, there must be a first uncaused cause of every finite changing thing that exists (page 267).” From here, Aquinas proceeds to argue that only God is powerful enough to serve as an explanation behind this uncaused cause.
This assertion is buttressed by Aquinas’ notion of contingency and the need for a necessary being. A contingent being, according to Ronald Nash in Faith & Reason: Searching For A Rational Faith, is one whose existence depends upon another and whose nonexistence is possible; likewise, a necessary being is one that must exist, does not depend on another being for its existence, and whose nonexistence is an impossibility (128). The necessary being ultimately serves as the sufficient reason for all contingent beings.
Despite the power of the cosmological argument, it has not escaped its share of scrutiny throughout the course of its distinguished existence. For while the conclusions of the cosmological argument seem to flow naturally within the framework of traditional Judeo-Christian theism, they are not quite as obvious to adherents of other philosophies and systems of thought or to those seeking to undermine them through a process of intense rationalistic analysis. Skeptics and opponents of the Judeo-Christian assumptions that the cosmological argument seeks to prove can call upon a number of criticisms and counterclaims in support of their contrarian position.
The first brand of criticism stems from those advocating worldviews hostile to Christian presuppositions that possess a considerable stake in finding an explanation for the origins of the universe through causes other than an instant of divine creation. Foremost among the systems opposing the premises of the cosmological argument stand the various strands of naturalism.
According to James Sire in The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog, the naturalist says matter is all there is and God does not exist (54). Or as Carl Sagan use to say, “The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.” Corliss Lamont, the 1977 Humanist of the Year, writes, “Humanism...believes in a naturalistic cosmology...that rules out all forms of the supernatural ... that regards nature as the totality of being and as a constantly changing system of events existing independently of any mind or consciousness (Understanding The Times, 117).”
Thus, as David Noeble of Summit Ministries responds in Understanding The Times, “For the Humanist, no personal First Cause exists; only the cosmos... There was no beginning and there can be no end. Of course, there is no need for a God to explain a beginning that did not happen (120).” Naturalists, therefore, find their explanation for the universe elsewhere
Whereas theists such as Thomas Aquinas posit the answer to this important question with God, naturalists find it in a complex interaction of matter, physical laws, and a healthy sprinkling of chance.
David Nobel writes of the naturalist perspective, “Nature...cannot create but she can eternally transform (120). “ Naturalists attempt to abolish the so-called Thomist arguments for a creator denying the very concept of creation itself.
While it is not too difficult to confront the opponents of theism over those points where such glaring differences exist, the criticism couched in the careful formulations of sophisticated philosophical analysis can be somewhat more difficult to counter. For example, John Gerstner writes in Reasons For Faith that objections could be raised that the cosmological argument hinges upon the conclusion drawn from our own observation that all things have a cause (53).
The thrust of the cosmological argument hinges upon the conclusion drawn from our observations that all things have a cause. This proposition is put forward to prove the need for a so-called first “uncaused cause”. As the nitpicky skeptic might point out, if it is deduced through observation that all things have causes, is it not unreasonable to call upon an uncaused first cause? After all, would not something have to have caused it also. Such a deadlock leads to one of Kant’s antimonies of reason where debaters of equal rationality come to two semmingly reasonable conclusions: namely either the need of an uncaused first cause or the validity of an infinitely regressing eternal series of causes and effects.