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The Argument Back to Top

The Cosmological Argument, also sometimes known as the Unmoved Mover or the Uncaused Cause, is the argument that the existence of the world or universe implies the existence of a being that brought it into existence (and keeps it in existence). The argument, the essence of which goes back to Aristotle in the 4th Century BC, is that everything that moves is moved by something else; an infinite regress (that is, going back through a chain of movers forever) is impossible; and therefore there must exist a first mover (what Aristotle called the Prime Mover) i.e. God.

In the same way, everything that exists or happens (including the universe itself) is caused by something else, and this chain of causation can be traced back to a first cause, which was not itself caused by anything but just “was”, and which can be called “God”.

The argument comes in two main forms, “modal” (having to do with possibility), and “temporal” (having to do with time):

  • The Modal Cosmological Argument, also known as the Argument from Contingency, suggests that because the universe might not have existed (i.e. it is contingent, as opposed to necessary), we then need some explanation of why it does exist. Wherever there are two possibilities, something must determine which of those possibilities is realized. Therefore, as the universe is contingent, there must be some reason for its existence, i.e. it must have a cause. The argument continues that the only kind of being whose existence requires no explanation is a “necessary being”, a being that could not have failed to exist. The ultimate cause of everything must therefore be a necessary being, such as God.
  • The Temporal Cosmological Argument (also known as the Kalam Argument for the medieval Muslim school of philosophy of al-Kindi and al-Ghazali which first proposed it) argues that all indications are that there is a point in time at which the universe began to exist, (a universe stretching back in time into infinity being both philosophically and scientifically problematic), and that this beginning must either have been caused or uncaused. The idea of an uncaused event is absurd, the argument continues, because nothing comes from nothing. The universe must therefore have been brought into existence by something outside it, which can be called "God".
The Refutation Back to Top

Critics of the Modal Cosmological Argument or Argument from Contingency would question whether the universe is in fact contingent. We have no idea whether this universe “had” to exist or not, nor whether it is in fact the only one and not just one of a potentially infinite number of different universes in a “multiverse” for example.

Critics also ask why God should be considered a “necessary being” and inexlicably exempted from the argument that everything has a cause. If a God exists to cause the universe then, by the same argument, this God must itself have a cause, leading to an infinite regress unacceptable to most theists. Simply asking "does God have a cause of his existence?” therefore raises as many problems as the cosmological argument solves.
Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem (Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily).
- William of Ockham (c. 1323)

If God is thought not to have, or not to need, a cause of his existence, then his existence would be a counter-example to the initial premise that everything that exists has a cause of its existence! If God or the Prime Mover “just is”, then why can the universe not “just be”? Why is there a need to go a step further back? The widely accepted concept of “Occam’s Razor” suggests that the simplest solution to a problem is always the best, and that additional unnecessary complexity should be avoided.

Even if one accepts that the universe does in fact have a beginning in time (as the generally accepted Big Bang theory suggests), the Temporal Cosmological Argument does not explain why there could not be more than one first cause/mover, or why the chain could not lead back to several ultimate causes, each somehow outside the universe (potentially leading to several different Gods).

Neither does it explain why the something which is “outside the universe” should be “God” and not some other unknown phenomenon. There is no compelling reason to equate a First Cause with God, and certainly Aristotle did not conceive of his Prime Mover as something that should be worshipped, much less as the omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent God of later Christian, Jewish and Muslim tradition.

The whole concept of causality and time as we understand it is based entirely on the context of our universe, and so cannot be used to explain the origin of the universe. Causal explanations are functions of natural laws which are themselves products of the universe we exist in, and time itself is just an aspect of the universe. If there is no “time before” the universe, then the whole notion of “cause” ceases to apply and the universe cannot sensibly have a “cause” (as we use and understand the concept). Indeed, perhaps there IS no “cause” of the universe.

Interestingly, at the sub-atomic quantum level, modern science has found that physical events are observed to have no evident cause, and particles appear to pop in and out of existence at random. In the first infinitesimal fraction of a second after the Big Bang singularity, classical physics is known to break down and just such unpredictable and counter-intuitive quantum effects are thought to apply.

There is another variation of the Cosmological Argument (sometimes called the Argument from Nature) which claims that if there are “laws of nature”, then this implies the existence of a lawgiver, or God. However, the analogy of social order based on man-made laws does not extend to scientific or natural laws, because nature's laws are descriptive, not prescriptive.

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