Cosmological Argument

The cosmological argument forms part of natural theology and aims to demonstrate the existence of God by appealing to a “first cause”. In order to introduce the cosmological argument, both of the following cannot be true:

  • Every effect has a cause
  • An infinite chain of causes is impossible

It is widely believed that an infinite regress is not possible therefore in order to avoid the “everything effect has a cause” problem, a “first cause” has been postulated. Aristotle spoke of the “unmoved mover”, that which was the first cause of all else.

The Argument

The cosmological argument forms part of natural theology and there are several versions of the argument.  

1. Aquinas 

St. Thomas Aquinas was an Italian Catholic priest who lived in the 13th century. He is famous for his “Five ways” of natural theology, which were arguments for the existence of God. The first three of the five ways are relevant to the cosmological argument. 

#1: Argument from Motion

This argument can be formulated as follows:

P1. Nothing can move itself.

P2. If every object in motion has a mover, then the first object in motion also needed a mover.

P3. There cannot be an infinite regress of movers

P4. Therefore there is a first mover which is unmoved

C. This unmoved mover is God. 

#2: Causation of Existence

This argument can be formulated as follows:

P1. There exists things that are caused by other things.

P2. Nothing can be the cause of itself 

P3. There cannot be an endless regress of objects causing other objects to exist.

P4. Therefore, there must be an uncaused first cause

C. This uncaused cause is God. 

#3. Contingent and Necessary Objects

This argument can be summarised as follows:

P1. Contingent beings are caused.

P2. Necessary beings are uncaused

P2. Not every being can be contingent.

P3. There must exist a being which is necessary to cause contingent beings.

C. This necessary being is God. 

2. Descartes

Rene Descartes offered a different version of the cosmological argument based on his idea of God. 

This argument can be formulated as follows:

P1. I have the idea of a perfect being (God).

P2. A cause must be greater or at least equal as its effect.

C1. This idea of a perfect being God cannot come from me, its cause must be God (or, impossibly, greater).

C2. Therefore God exists.

3. Kalam

The Kalam cosmological argument is a modern take on a historic argument:

P1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause

P2. The universe began to exist

C. Therefore the universe has a cause

The implicit conclusion is that the cause of the universe must transcend the properties of the universe and therefore be timeless, immaterial and personal, namely God.

Objections

The cosmological argument does not form part of Mormon thought as God did not bring about the universe ex nihilo. In Mormon metaphysics, the elements are eternal and there are therefore uncaused causes. 

There have been many objections raised to the cosmological argument including the following:

1. Hume

David Hume famously raised the following objections regarding using causation as part of a cosmological argument:

As all distinct ideas are separable from each other, and as the ideas of cause and effect are evidently distinct, ’twill be easy for us to conceive any object to be non-existent this moment, and existent the next, without conjoining to it the distinct idea of a cause from that of a beginning of existence is plainly possible for the imagination, and consequently the actual separation of these objects is so far possible, that it implies no contradiction or absurdity.

It appears that, in single instances of the operation of bodies, we never can, by our utmost scrutiny, discover any thing but one event following another, without being able to comprehend any force or power by which the cause operates, or any connexion between it and its supposed effect. The same difficulty occurs in contemplating the operations of mind on body- where we observe the motion of the latter to follow upon the volition of the former, but are not able to observe or conceive the tie which binds together the motion and volition, or the energy by which the mind produces this effect. The authority of the will over its own faculties and ideas is not a whit more comprehensible: So that, upon the whole, there appears not, throughout all nature, any one instance of connexion which is conceivable by us. All events seem entirely loose and separate. One event follows another; but we never can observe any tie between them. They seemed conjoined, but never connected. And as we can have no idea of any thing which never appeared to our outward sense or inward sentiment, the necessary conclusion seems to be that we have no idea of connexion or force at all, and that these words are absolutely without meaning, when employed either in philosophical reasonings or common life. 1

This means that it is impossible to prove the existence of God using causation. 

Mark Fbukowski similarly said:

There is never a logically necessary cause of anything, and that it is impossible to define a single “cause” for any single effect from a logical perspective, except of course by observation and experience- not logic. 

So if I drop a pebble into a pond which “causes” ripples- what is the “cause” of those ripples? Was it the pebble, or was it me dropping the pebble? Was the “cause” the gravity which pulled the pebble down to the surface of the pond? Was the “cause” somehow my intention to drop the pebble? What was the cause of the intention? The professor who stated the problem? And what was my cause? Was my cause my parents, my grandparents or great grandparents? Or was the cause the pebble itself- but what caused the pebble- etc etc

So what was the ultimate “cause” of the ripples?? The answer will always be “it depends on how you look at it”. There is no logically necessary cause which can be defined for anything. There may be a high degree of correlation, but correlation is observation and is not logically necessary. So on this view, the universe does not need a “cause” to start it- and certainly any implied cause (the big bang, etc) is not logically necessary. 

So it cannot be said that the existence of God can be logically proven by causation 2

Hume also objected to Descartes’ premise that a cause must be greater or at least equal as its effect. Hume argued that this claim is neither analytic nor verified by experience and argued that anything may produce anything. 

2. Russell

Bertrand Russell objected to the contingency aspect of the cosmological argument on the basis that it commits the fallacy of composition. Just because everything in the universe needs an explanation for its existence, this does not mean that the universe itself needs an explanation. Russell is famous for his remark during a radio debate with Father Copleston: “I should say that the universe is just there, and that’s all”.

3. Edwardes

Regarding premise 2 in the Kalam argument that the universe began to exist, Rem Edwards has said:

According to cosmological theories widely accepted today, since infinite Superspacetime has always existed, it co-exists within infinite Supertime. When a spatiotemporally finite universe like ours expands, it pushes into pre-existing Superspacetime, not into absolute nothingness 3)

  1. David Hume, 1737​[]
  2. Mormon dialogue. 2011. Infinite Regress of Gods. [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.mormondialogue.org/topic/52907-infinite-regress-of-gods/. [Accessed 25 July 2016[]
  3. Rem B. Edwards, “How Process Theology Can Affirm Creation Ex Nihilo,” Process Studies 29:1 (2000[]