by Dr. Phil Fernandes
A chapter from his doctoral dissertation
© 1997, Institute of Biblical Defense, All Rights Reserved
There are three distinct types of cosmological arguments. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) used the argument based on the principle of existential causality (all limited, dependent existence needs a cause for its continuing existence).2 3 Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) utilized the principle of sufficient reason (everything that exists must have an adequate explanation for why it exists).4 Bonaventure (1221-1274) used the kalaam cosmological argument (everything that has a beginning needs a cause).
AQUINAS: EXISTENTIAL CAUSALITY
Thomas Aquinas is famous for his five ways to prove God’s existence.5 In his first way, he argued from the observable movement or change in the universe to the existence of an unmoved Mover. Aquinas’ second way reasons that the the causality found in the universe demands the existence of a first, uncaused Cause. His third way concludes with the existence of an independent Being as the cause for the continuing existence of all dependent beings.6 These first three ways to prove God’s existence are cosmological arguments. They all use the principle of existential causality.
Aquinas’ fourth and fifth ways to prove God’s existence are not cosmological arguments. Aquinas’ fourth way (the limited perfections in other beings must be caused by the existence of a most perfect Being), could be classified as a moral argument. His fifth way (the fact that mindless nature moves towards specific goals implies the need for an intelligent Mind to guide these natural processes) is a teleological argument.7
Aquinas’ first three ways to prove God’s existence utilize the principle of existential causality. The thrust of these three arguments is as follows. Aquinas argues that experience shows man that limited, dependent beings exist. These limited, dependent beings need other beings for their continued existence. For example, humans and animals depend on air, water, and food to sustain their existence. However, argues Aquinas, adding limited, dependent beings together will never give someone an unlimited and independent whole. Therefore, the sum total of limited, dependent beings (the universe) is itself limited and dependent. Hence, concludes Aquinas, the ultimate cause of the continuing existence of all limited, dependent beings must itself be unlimited and independent.8
Aquinas further argues that there cannot be two or more unlimited and independent beings since, if there were, they would limit one another’s existence. But then they would not be unlimited. Therefore, there can only be one unlimited and independent Being.9
Aquinas reasoned that this unlimited and independent Being must have all its attributes in an unlimited way. Otherwise, it could not be an unlimited Being.10 Therefore, this Being must be all-powerful, for He is the source of all the power in the universe.11 No other power can limit Him. He must be eternal for He is not limited by time.12 He must be immaterial since He is not limited by matter.13 This Being must also be all-good since He is not limited by evil.14 He must also be unlimited in knowledge.15
As was mentioned in an earlier chapter, the teleological and moral arguments can be used to compliment the cosmological argument. Therefore, Aquinas’ fifth way to prove God’s existence (his teleological argument) can be used to provide additional information about the unlimited and independent Being. Since mindless nature works towards goals (such as acorns always becoming oak trees and not something else), there must be an intelligent Designer overseeing natural processes. For without intelligent design and guidance, nature’s processes would be left to chance. There would be no orderly patterns that could be described as natural laws. Therefore, this unlimited and independent Being that all finite and dependent existence depends upon for its continued existence, must be an intelligent Being.16
Christian philosopher Norman Geisler is a modern proponent of Aquinas’ cosmological argument using the principle of existential causality.17 Winfried Corduan, another contemporary Christian philosopher, also employs this type of cosmological argumentation in his writings.18
BONAVENTURE: THE KALAAM COSMOLOGICAL ARGUMENT
Saint Bonaventure utilized the kalaam cosmological argument for God’s existence.19 Bonaventure argued that whatever began to exist must have a cause. He believed that it could be proven that the universe had a beginning. Therefore, concluded Bonaventure, the universe must have a Cause.20
Both Bonaventure and Aquinas believed that the universe had a beginning. They accepted this because it was taught in the Bible. However, Aquinas did not believe that this could be proven philosophically. Bonaventure disagreed. He believed that it could be philosophically proven that the universe had a beginning. Therefore, Aquinas argued for the sustaining Cause of the universe (existential causality), while Bonaventure argued for the Cause for the beginning of the universe (the kalaam argument).21
Bonaventure contended that if the universe had no beginning, then there would exist an actual infinite set of events in time. However, Bonaventure reasoned that an actual infinite set is impossible. If an actual infinite set is possible, then contradictions would be generated. For example, Set A contains all the even numbers. It is therefore infinite. But Set B contains all the even and all the odd numbers. Set B would then contain twice as many members as Set A; still, Set A and Set B are equal. For they are both infinite. Bonaventure did not deny potential infinite sets. He only denied infinite sets of actual things (such as actual events in time).22
Bonaventure also concluded that since it is impossible to traverse an actual infinite set, then the universe could not be eternal. It had to have a beginning. If the universe is eternal, then one could never reach the present moment. For no matter how many moments one passes, one will never pass an infinite set of moments. But, if the universe is eternal, then there are an infinite set of moments in the past. Hence, one would not be able to reach the present moment. But, since mankind has reached the present moment, then the universe had to have a beginning.23
In addition to this philosophical evidence, there is now strong scientific evidence for the beginning of the universe as well. Though this evidence was not available in Bonaventure’s day, it can be used by the contemporary apologist to strengthen or confirm Bonaventure’s cosmological argument. Scientific evidence for the beginning of the universe includes the second law of thermodynamics (energy deterioration) and the big bang model.24
The second law of thermodynamics is one of the most firmly established laws of modern science.25 It states that the amount of usable energy in the universe is running down.26 This means that someday in the finite future all the energy in the universe will be useless. In other words, if left to itself, the universe will have an end.27 If the universe is going to have an end, it had to have a beginning.28 At one time, in the finite past, all the energy in the universe was usable. This would mark the beginning of the universe. However, the universe is winding down; therefore, it must have originally been wound up.29 Hence, the universe is not eternal; it had a beginning. Since it had a beginning, it needs a cause. For from nothing , nothing comes.30
The big bang model also teaches that the universe had a beginning.31 In 1929, astronomer Edwin Hubble discovered that the universe is expanding at the same rate in all directions.32 As time moves forward, the universe is growing apart. This means that if one goes back in time the universe would be getting smaller and smaller. Eventually, if one goes back far enough into the past, the entire universe would be what scientists call “a point of infinite density.”33 This marks the beginning of the universe, the big bang.34
There have been two main attempts by modern scientists to refute the beginning of the universe. The first is the steady state model.35 This view holds that the universe had no beginning. Instead, it always existed in the same state. However, this view (which never gained wide acceptance in modern times) was disproven in 1965 when the radiation background of the universe was discovered. This radiation background indicated that the universe was at one time in an extremely hot and dense state. Thus, the universe has not existed throughout all eternity in a steady-state.36
The second attempt to escape the beginning of the universe is the oscillating model.37 This model teaches that at some point during the universe’s expansion, gravity will halt the expansion and pull everything back together again. From that point there will be another big bang. This process will be repeated over and over again throughout all eternity.38 But the oscillating model fails. First, there is no known principle of physics that would reverse the collapse of the universe into another big bang.39 Second, current scientific research has shown that the universe is not dense enough for gravity to pull it back together again.40 Third, even if it could be proven that several big bangs have occurred, the second law of thermodynamics would still require that there was a first big bang.41 Therefore, since the universe had a beginning, it needs a cause.
What if the cause of the universe needs a cause? Could not an infinite chain of causes and effects exist stretching backwards in time throughout all eternity? The answer is no. It has already been shown that an actual infinite set is impossible. There had to be a first Cause. This first Cause must be uncaused. It could not be caused by another, for then it would not be the first cause. Nor could it be self-caused because it is absurd to say that a being preexisted its own existence in order to cause its own existence.42 Therefore, only an eternal, uncaused Cause can be the cause of the universe.
Again, the teleological and moral arguments for God’s existence can be utilized to complete the cosmological argument. Since intelligent life is found in the universe, the Cause of the universe must be an intelligent Being. No one has ever shown how intelligence could have evolved from mindless nature.43 Intelligence cannot come from non-intelligence.44
Morality also exists in the universe. Without morality, there would be no such thing as right and wrong. The moral judgments people make show that they believe there is are right and wrong,45 but nature is non-moral.46 No one holds a rock morally responsible for tripping him. Since nature is non-moral, but morality exists in the universe, the Cause of the universe must be a moral Being.47
If morality is relative, then each person can decide for himself what is right and what is wrong.48 But then no one could condemn the brutal actions of Adolph Hitler. Society also cannot be the cause of moral laws since societies often pass judgment on one another.49 Therefore, one society, when judging another society, appeals to a moral authority that transcends all societies. Only an absolute moral Lawgiver who is qualitatively above man and societies can be the cause of a moral law that stands above man societies and judges their actions. Therefore, the uncaused Cause of the universe must be an intelligent and moral Being. This means that God must be a personal Being.50
LEIBNIZ: SUFFICIENT REASON
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz utilized the principle of sufficient reason to argue for the existence of God.51 This principle states that there must be a sufficient reason or explanation for everything that exists.52 Many beings exist that do not contain in themselves the reason for their existence. For instance, a man depends on his parents for his birth, and now he needs air and food to for his continuing existence.53 Leibniz argued that there cannot be an infinite regress of explanations because then there would be no explanation why anything exists at all.54 Therefore, reasoned Leibniz, something must exist which contains within itself the reason for its own existence.55 This Being explains not only its own existence but the existence of all else as well.
Leibniz is not claiming that God is self-caused; this would be absurd. Instead, he is claiming that God is self-explained. God is the explanation for His own existence only because He is an uncaused Being.56
FINDING COMMON GROUND
The cosmological argument for God’s existence (in any of its three forms—existential causality, kalaam, sufficient reason) is probably the strongest argument for God’s existence.57 Still, non-Christians often reject that it proves God’s existence. Yet, the apologist is not attempting to prove God’s existence with mathematical certainty. In fact, very little (if anything) can be known with mathematical certainty about the real world.58 One can, however, argue to God’s existence from premises that are beyond reasonable doubt.59 The denial of these premises is absurd, forced, and temporary.60 The premises can be viewed as actually undeniable (each premise must be affirmed in any attempt to deny it).61 Therefore, God’s existence can be proven with a high degree of probability.
Probability arguments can be extremely convincing. The everyday decisions that man must make are rarely (if ever) based on certainty. They are instead based upon a high degree of probability. When a person drives over a cement bridge extended hundreds of feet above the ground, that person is expressing faith that the bridge will support the weight of the vehicle. This is not a blind and irrational faith. There is much evidence for man’s ability to build such structures. The person driving across the bridge is basing his faith on the available evidence, though absolute certainty eludes him. In like manner, the existence of God can be proven with a high degree of probability. Because man is limited in knowledge and vulnerable to errors, his knowledge is limited and therefore extends only to the realm of probability.
It should also be noted that a person may know (with a high degree of probability) something to be true, though he or she may not be able to prove it.62 A suspect of a crime may know he is innocent yet not be capable of proving it. In the same way, many Christians know (with a high degree of probability) that God exists, though they cannot prove that He does.
Having said this, it is now necessary to show that the basic premises of the cosmological argument are beyond reasonable doubt. Once this is shown to be the case, the apologist and the non-theist will share common ground from which the apologist can argue for God’s existence.63
This common ground (which forms the premises for the cosmological argument) consists of four factors, 1) the law of non-contradiction, 2) the law of causality, 3) the principle of analogy, and 4) the basic reliability of sense perception.64 All people, whether theist or atheist, must live like these four principles are true.
The law of non-contradiction states that something cannot be both true and false at the same time and in the same way.65 If something is true, then its opposite must be false. If the non-theist attempts to deny the law of non-contradiction, he must first assume it to be true in order to make the denial. Otherwise, the opposite of the denial could also be true.66 Though a person may deny this law, he must live, speak, and think as though it is true.67
The law of causality states that everything that has a beginning needs a cause.68 However, to deny this law is absurd. If the law of causality is not true, then something could be caused to exist by nothing. However, nothing is nothing. Therefore, nothing can do nothing. Hence, nothing can cause nothing. From nothing, nothing comes. If one rejects the law of causality, then there is no basis for modern science. Modern science must assume this law when attempting to discover the relationships that exist between the elements of the universe.69
The principle of analogy declares that two effects which are similar often have similar causes.70 For instance, a watch shows tremendous design and complexity.71 So does the universe. In fact, a single celled animal has enough genetic information to fill an entire library.72 Therefore, it seems reasonable to conclude that since it takes an intelligent being to make a watch, it must also have taken an intelligent being to design the universe. It seems rather unlikely that an entire library’s worth of information could have evolved by chance. An Intelligent designer is needed.
Finally, the basic reliability of sense perception is accepted by theists and non-theists alike.73 Though people are sometimes mistaken in the conclusions they draw from what their senses perceive, their sense perceptions can usually be trusted. All people live as though their sense perceptions were reliable. They move when rocks are thrown at them. People stay clear of railroad tracks when they hear the whistle of a coming train. Modern science must assume the basic reliability of sense perception in order to examine nature.
Any strong cosmological argument will be built upon these four presuppositions (the laws of non-contradiction, causality, analogy, and the basic reliability of sense perception). Though the non-theist may deny these four presuppositions for sake of argument, he must presuppose them in everyday life. He must live as if they were true. Any philosophy that cannot be lived, such as is the case with atheism, is not worth believing. Though a person may verbally deny God’s existence, he must still live as if the God of the Bible does in fact exist.74
FIVE FINAL POINTS
First, after examining the theistic arguments, it is evident that the strongest philosophical argument for God’s existence is some type of cosmological argument. However, this does not mean that the other arguments for God’s existence have no place in apologetics. As was shown in this chapter, the moral and teleological arguments can be used very successfully to complete the cosmological argument.75 Premises from the moral and teleological arguments can be used to unveil some of the attributes of the uncaused Cause.
Secondly, when using the kalaam cosmological argument (as was utilized by Bonaventure) the Christian apologist should not argue against the existence of an actual infinite set. For the Christian believes that God is all-knowing (omniscient). This is usually understood to mean that God knows an actual infinite number of things. Therefore, an actual infinite set does exist (though only in the mind of God). Hence, the Christian apologist is incorrect when he argues against the existence of an actual infinite set. The kalaam argument for God’s existence loses no force by merely arguing for the impossibility of traversing an actual infinite set (this is all that Zeno’s paradox proves). That would be enough to prove that the universe had a beginning and, therefore, needs a Cause. Or, the apologist may argue for the impossibility of an actual infinite set existing outside the mind of an infinite God.76
Third, when doing apologetics, the Christian should adapt his or her argumentation to meet the personal needs of the listener. For some non-theists, psychological arguments for God’s existence will be more persuasive. For others, philosophical arguments are more convincing. The goal of apologetics is to lead people to Christ. Therefore one’s apologetics should be tailored to meet the needs of the listener.
Fourth, all defenders of the faith must remember that even if their argumentation is effective, the listener may still choose to suppress the truth. It is not easy for people to admit that there exists a God to whom they must answer. The desire for human autonomy (to be one’s own master) is very strong. Only the inward persuasion of the Holy Spirit, working in this case with apologetic argumentation, can convince the human will to accept the existence of the God of the Bible.77
Fifth, arguments for God’s existence provide strong evidence for the existence of the theistic God. Still, historical evidences are needed to show that Christianity is the true theistic faith (as opposed to Islam and the present-day form of Judaism).78
57 I disagree with Geisler and Corduan on this point. They consider only the Thomistic cosmological argument using the principle of existential causality as successful. The author of this work finds the arguments put forth by Geisler and Corduan against both the kalaam argument and the use of the principle of sufficient reason unconvincing. See Geisler and Corduan, Philosophy of Religion, 172-174.
76 I discussed the rejection of this premise (“the impossibility of an actual infinite set”) in a November, 1994 telephone conversation with Dr. J. P. Moreland, professor of philosophy at the Talbot School of Theology. Moreland used this premise in his book Scaling the Secular City. Moreland agreed that it is probably best to no longer use this premise in the kalaam cosmological argument, and that the premise “the impossibility of traversing an actual infinite set” would be sufficient in establishing the beginning of the universe. Dr. Moreland also related that the premise of the kalaam argument could be changed to “the impossibility of an actual infinite set in the concrete (outside the mind) realm.” This premise could be proven by showing the contradictions that would arise if actual infinite sets existed outside the mind. Some of these contradictions have already been discussed in this chapter. What the Christian should not argue for is the impossibility of an actual infinite set existing in the abstract (inside a mind) realm. For if an actual infinite set cannot exist in a mind, then God cannot know an actual infinite number of things. But, if an actual infinite set exists in a mind, this mind would have to be an infinite Mind (an omniscient Being). Only an infinite Mind can know an infinite number of things. Since it is impossible to traverse an actual infinite set, finite minds will never know everything an infinite Mind knows even if the finite mind continues to learn more and more throughout eternity.