The deductive cosmological argument from contingency has a long and illustrious history. It’s been exposited and defended by the likes of, e.g., G.W. Leibniz, Samuel Clarke, and recently (e.g.) Stephen C. Davis, Ronald Nash, Robert Koons, and Alexander Pruss. However, a number of contemporary theists seem to shy away from defending it, such as J.P. Moreland, Peter Van Inwagen, and William Lane Craig (although Craig seems to have warmed up to it slightly in recent years, given his more-positive-than-usual assessment of it in his essay in The Rationality of Theism).
This version of the cosmological argument has been given a number of construals, depending on how its proponents spell out the notions of a contingent being and the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR). One common way to spell out these notions is as follows:
A contingent being or state of affairs is a being or state of affairs that exists, but doesn’t have to – its nonexistence is logically (or metaphysically) possible. So, for example, rocks, trees, and you and I are contingent beings, and George W. Bush being the current U.S. President is a contingent state of affairs. By contrast, a necessary being or state of affairs is a being or state of affairs that exists or obtains of logical (or metaphysical) necessity – to use possible worlds talk, one that exists or obtains in all possible worlds. So, for example, if Anselm’s God exists, then it is a necessary being.
Finally, PSR states that (a) for every being that exists, there is a sufficient reason for why it exists, and (b) for every state of affairs, there is a sufficient reason for why it obtains. PSR has prima facie plausibility, and is often defended by offering one or more of the following three considerations. First, it seems to make sense of our intuitions when we reflect on sample cases. So, for example, suppose there is a ball on the lawn in your front yard. No one would say that there is no sufficient reason for why the ball exists, or why it’s there on the lawn. Obviously, the ball has an explanation for its origin (in a toy factory), its continued existence (in terms of, e.g., the properties of the particles that constitute the ball), and its being on the lawn now (your daughter left it there). The same sorts of explanations seem to generalize to any case we can think of. Therefore, we have some support for PSR based on reflection on cases. Second, some have argued that PSR is self-evident. Self-evident propositions are those that can be seen to be true merely by coming to understand what they assert. That is, once you understand what they mean, you can see that they’re true. So, for example, consider the proposition, “all triangles have three angles”. Once I understand the constituent concepts of this proposition, I can see that it’s true. Similarly for “nothing can be red all over and green all over at the same time.” And similarly, say some proponents of the contingency argument, for PSR. Third, even if one remains unpersuaded by the previous two considerations, one may think that it’s a presupposition of rational thought. Compare: Although it's notoriously difficult to justiify the existence of material objects, and the existence of a past, it nonetheless seems pathological to deny that material objects exist, or to deny that the universe has existed for more than ten minutes (as opposed to thinking that it was created ten minutes ago, with an appearance of age, and with false memories of a longer past). All sane people accept these propositions, and -- say some proponents of the argument from contingency -- the same is true of PSR. Thus, even if you think we can’t prove it, you must accept it to be a rational agent. Given these notions, we may now state the argument.
It’s undeniable that contingent beings exist. After all, we came into existence, and could go out of existence without much trouble. The same is true of rocks, trees, our planet, and in fact every object in the universe. In fact, the universe itself seems to be just one big contingent being. If so, then by PSR, it has a sufficient reason for its existence. Now since it’s a contingent being, it can’t account for it’s own existence in terms of its own nature, even if it has existed forever. For even if the contingent universe existed forever, the following contingent state of affairs would obtain:
(CF1) There being an eternally existent contingent universe.
But if so, then by PSR, there is a sufficient reason for why CF1 obtains, in which case we must look for a reason beyond our contingent universe.
Now whatever that “something” is, it can’t just be more contingent beings. For even our universe is explained in terms of an infinite series of contingent beings, the following contingent state of affairs would obtain:
(CF2) There being an infinite series of contingent beings.
But if so, then by PSR, there is a sufficient reason for why the infinite series of contingent beings exists or why CF2 obtains. In short, no matter how many contingent beings we throw into the explanatory “pot”, the existence of our contingent universe – or any contingent being whatever, for that matter – cannot be sufficiently accounted for purely in terms of contingent beings. But if not, then the sufficient reason for the existence of our contingent universe must be in terms of at least one necessary being. And, as Aquinas would say, “this we all call ‘God’.
Review of Draper and Schellenberg (eds.), <I>Renewing Philosophy of Religion: Exploratory Essays</I>
Adam Green reviews the book for NDPR.
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