Evidence for the Existence of God – Argument from Contingency

8 03 2009

One argument for the existence of God that I have overlooked up to this point is the argument from contingency.  It is a very strong argument and one that may take some thinking through to properly grasp the concepts.  The argument traces back to Thomas Aquinas and was discussed later by philosopher Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716) who asked the question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?”  He continued, “After all, nothing is simpler and easier than something. Also, given that things have to exist, we must be able to give a reason why they have to exist as they are and not otherwise.” (The Principles of Nature and of Grace, Based on Reason)  The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy states the formal argument as follows:

  1. A contingent being (a being that if it exists can not-exist) exists.
  2. This contingent being has a cause of or explanation for its existence.
  3. The cause of or explanation for its existence is something other than the contingent being itself.
  4. What causes or explains the existence of this contingent being must either be solely other contingent beings or include a non-contingent (necessary) being.
  5. Contingent beings alone cannot provide an adequate causal account or explanation for the existence of a contingent being.
  6. Therefore, what causes or explains the existence of this contingent being must include a non-contingent (necessary) being.
  7. Therefore, a necessary being (a being that if it exists cannot not-exist) exists.

Now, from this argument we can look to science and philosophy to see that all material things are contingent upon something or someone else for their existence.  So in this argument, unlike the Kalam Cosmological Argument, we are not looking for a cause of existence, but an explanation of existence.  That explanation is either found outside of itself or found within itself.  When we look at physical objects we know from philosophy and science that the explanation is always found outside of the object.  The reason of my existence is found in the fact that my father and mother gave life to me.  I am a contingent being.  The reason for that my house exists in found in the builders, etc.

The skeptic will generally accept premises 1-3, but will attack premise 4.  However, I have often heard atheists try to argue that the universe just exists as a brute fact.  To that objection, philosopher William Lane Craig gives the following illustration to show the absurdity of denying that the universe is a contingent entity simply due to its immensity.

Imagine that you’re hiking through the woods one day and you come across a translucent ball lying on the forest floor. You would naturally wonder how it came to be there. If one of your hiking partners said to you, “It just exists inexplicably. Don’t worry about it!”, you’d either think that he was crazy or figure that he just wanted you to keep moving. No one would take seriously the suggestion that the ball existed there with literally no explanation.

Now suppose you increase the size of the ball in this story so that it’s the size of a car. That wouldn’t do anything to satisfy or remove the demand for an explanation. Suppose it were the size of a house. Same problem. Suppose it were the size of a continent or a planet. Same problem. Suppose it were the size of the entire universe. Same problem. Merely increasing the size of the ball does nothing to affect the need of an explanation.  Reasonable Faith.org, Q&A Question #25: Argument from Contingency

So, the point is that just because an object is large doesn’t lessen the liklihood of it being contingent upon something or someone else as the cause.  Skeptics will also attack premise #3 by referring to philosopher David Hume who denied the validity of the principle of causality.  However, denying the principle of causality is to ultimately deny the validity of science, which rests on this principle.  Think about trying to prove anything scientifically if we couldn’t count on causality and uniformity.  Doctors would be out of business.  Science would be akin to magic.  Imagine what life would be like.

The argument also rests on the logical impossibility of an infinite regress of temporal causes.  Stephen Hawking illustrates the absurdity of this concept in his book A Brief History of Time:

A well known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: “What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.” The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, “What is the tortoise standing on.” “You’re very clever, young man, very clever,” said the old lady. “But it’s turtles all the way down!”

The argument goes back to the absurdity of having an actually instantiated infinite, which Craig and others argue is logically absurd. Craig argues that if you do things like divide an infinite in half, you still end up with an infinite.  Or, if you subtract all odd numbers from an infinite set, you still end up with an infinite set.  The second problem is that if there is no first cause, there are no subsequent causes, and to argue for an infinite series of causes/effects is to say that there is no ultimate first cause and therefore, no ultimate explanation for the effects in our world.

So what is the explanation of a necessary being?  Simply, a necessary being is one whose existence is explained within himself and who cannot not be.  We have two possible explanations for the universe, either it is a necessary entity, which most scientists, even atheists, would argue; or, it is the effect of a necessary cause, which would be God.  If you want a more detailed explanation of this argument, I suggest that you click on the two links contained within this post for more information.

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