The Cosmological Argument
(Adapted from Consider Christianity: Evidence for the Christian Faith by Elgin L. Hushbeck, Jr.)
The cosmological argument is one of the classical arguments for the existence of God. Over the years it has taken many forms and has been presented in many ways, but in each case the argument focuses upon the reason for existence. How did we get here? Why does the universe exist? The starting point for this argument is that the universe does exist. While philosophers may debate the nature of this existence, few would seriously challenge its existence.
Actually any part of the universe will do for the cosmological argument, so for this illustration we will use an apple. The question we seek to answer is: How did the apple come to be here? Or, more simply, why does the apple exist? There are basically five possible answers to this question. The apple could be an illusion, it could be eternal, it could be self created, it could be part of an infinite series of events, or it could be part of a finite series of events.
The first three possibilities, that the apple is either an illusion, that it is eternal or that it was self created, can quickly be eliminated. If the apple was simply an illusion (implying that nothing at all exists), the question becomes: Who or what is experiencing the illusion? If it is conceded that at least the illusion does exist, then the cosmological argument could be applied to the illusion itself. Where does the illusion come from? So claiming that the apple is just an illusion does not really answer the question.
As for the apple creating itself, if one considers the implications of self creation they will quickly realize that not only is it impossible, it is illogical. This is because self creation would require that the apple have an effect on itself before it existed! In other words, it would require an effect to be completed before there was a cause.
As for the apple being eternal, if this were the case, then the apple would have to be stable and unchanging, immune to any outside forces. If the apple changes (as scientists tell us everything does), then it is no longer eternal because it would no longer exist in its prior form, and would now be in a new form.
Thus we are left with the conclusion that the apple is part of a chain of events, a series of causes and effects, that have resulted in the apple. The only question that remains is whether this chain of events is infinitely long or did it have a beginning.
The concept of a finite series of causes and effects is logically consistent. To see this, consider 100 dominos set up in line so that as one domino falls, it strikes the next one, which falls and strikes the next, and so on. If we push the first domino, we start a finite chain of causes and effects that ends when domino number 100 falls. If there is no outside interference (such as your cat jumping on the table where you have so carefully constructed this experiment), then before domino number 100 can fall, dominos 1 through 99 must fall. This is both logical, and what we would expect to see.
On the other hand, the concept of an infinite series of causes and effects is logically flawed. Consider again our row of dominos, except now it extends off into infinity. There is no beginning, no domino number 1. For a given domino in the line, lets call it domino A, we can ask the following question: Will domino A ever fall? Before domino A can fall, all the dominos in the sequence before it must fall. In the finite series of 100 dominos mentioned above, this meant that dominos 1 through 99 must fall before domino 100 could be reached.
For an infinite sequence, this means that an infinite number of dominos must fall before domino A can even be reached. The problem is that an infinite number of dominos will never finish falling, even if given an infinite amount of time (i.e., forever). This is because no matter how many dominos have already fallen, there would always be an infinite number remaining to fall before domino A is reached. For domino A to fall would require an infinite sequence be completed, something which by definition is impossible.
Applying this to our apple, if it were part of an infinite sequence of events it would never exist, since the events that must precede it would never be completed. Since it does exist, it cannot be the result of an infinite series. So our apple (and the universe) is the result of a finite series of causes and effects. As a finite series there must have been a first cause, just as there must, in a finite number of dominos, be a domino 1.
Historically the Cosmological argument has been attacked on two fronts. One is to defend infinite regression. The other is to question the ideal that everything has a cause. An example of the defense of infinite regression can be seen in Paul Davies book, God & The New Physics. Davies writes
so long as each individual member of the succession is explained then, ipso facto, the succession is explained. And as every member of the chain owes its existence to some preceding member or members, each member of the infinite chain is explained.(1)
The real problem with this type of argument it that it misses the point entirely. Davies is correct that even in an infinite chain each individual member is explained by reference to the member before it. But what is left unanswered is how can an infinite sequence ever be completed when by definition an infinite sequence is one that never ends?
The ideal that everything has a cause is normally questioned by pointing out a supposed inconsistency in the argument. As Davies points out,
there is a logical difficulty in attributing that cause to God, for it could then be asked What caused God. . . the cosmological argument is founded on the assumption that everything requires a cause, yet ends in the conclusion that at least on thing (God) does not require a cause. The argument seems to be self-contradictory. (2)
The argument is only self-contradictory if it is phrased as "everything has a cause." If the argument is restricted to the natural world, as we have here, this problem is avoided completely. However this does leave us open to one other argument, if God can exist eternally without a cause, "Why cant the universe exist without an external cause?" (3)
There are two answers to this. First and foremost, because the universe around is based on cause and effect. God is not. Therefore there is no reason to assume that what applies to God can also apply to the universe. The second reason is that, as we will see in Chapter Nine, scientist now believe that the universe did have a beginning in the Big Bang as predicted by the cosmological argument.
As we stated earlier, the cosmological argument can be presented in many ways. In light of the Big Bang, a shorter way of presenting this argument is to point out that all things that have a beginning also have a cause. Since the universe had a beginning, it had a cause. This cause must be separate and distinct from the universe, otherwise it would not have been able to cause the universe.
So the very existence of a universe based on cause and effect shows that there must exist some entity separate from the natural universe that caused (created) it. While the cosmological argument does not tell us who or what this eternal creator is, it does show that an eternal creator does exist.(4)
Since the First Cause must be separate from the natural universe, it cannot be part of nature. Therefore, there is something other than the natural, something that is supernatural. The cosmological argument shows that the supernatural does exist.
1 Paul Davies, God & The New Physics (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983) p.37
2 Davies, God, p. 37
3 Davies, God, p. 38
4 Historically one of the problems with the cosmological
argument has been that some have tried to take it too far. For example, you cannot get to
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, using only the Cosmological argument. It does demonstrate
that there is more to reality than the natural world around us.