The cosmological argument seeks to prove God’s existence by examining the universe and its laws. It argues that the presence of the universe, with all its order and complexity, implies the existence of a creator. There are several main versions of the cosmological argument that have been proposed throughout history.
Aquinas’ Five Ways
Thomas Aquinas laid out his Five Ways to demonstrate God’s existence in the 13th century. They are:
- The Argument from Motion – Things in the universe are in motion. But nothing can be put into motion except by something already in motion. There cannot be an infinite regression of movers. Therefore, there must be an original unmoved mover that originated all motion. This is God.
- The Argument from Efficient Causation – Everything that comes into being is caused by something else. There cannot be an infinite regression of causes. Therefore, there must be a first uncaused cause of everything else. This is God.
- The Argument from Necessity – Contingent beings exist in the universe, which are beings that may either exist or not exist. Since it is possible for contingent beings not to exist, there must be a necessary being that grounds the existence of contingent beings. This necessary being is God.
- The Argument from Gradation – Things in the universe have degrees of goodness, truth, nobility, etc. But judgments like better or best make sense only if there is an absolute standard to which they can be compared. This absolute standard is God.
- The Teleological Argument – The universe exhibits order and evidence of purpose rather than just chaos. The complexity of the universe implies it must have been designed by an intelligent designer, which is God.
Aquinas proposed that the existence of God can be demonstrated through reason alone, without relying on revealed theology from Scripture. His arguments have been highly influential but also frequently critiqued and expanded upon over the centuries.
Leibniz’s Contingency Argument
Gottfried Leibniz formulated a version of the cosmological argument based on contingency in the 18th century. He argued that because contingent beings exist, there must be some necessary being that causes them. This necessary being cannot itself be contingent – it must be God, who exists necessarily.
Leibniz said that contingent beings require an external cause to bring them into existence. There cannot be an infinite chain of contingent beings because then there would be no ultimate explanation for why any contingent being exists. Therefore, there must be a necessary being, uncaused and eternal, which is the cause of all contingent being. This is God.
The Kalam Cosmological Argument
The Kalam version was popularized by William Lane Craig in the 20th century but has roots in medieval Islamic philosophy. It has the following logical structure:
- Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
- The universe began to exist.
- Therefore, the universe must have a cause.
Craig argues that based on the evidence from modern cosmology, there is good reason to think the universe had a beginning in the finite past. And everything that begins to exist must have a cause. The cause of the universe must be eternal, immaterial, powerful, and personal. This cause is what most people think of as God.
The fine-tuning argument points to how the constants and laws of physics seem precisely calibrated to allow for life to exist in our universe. If these constants or laws were even slightly different, life could not have formed. Some examples are the gravitational constant, the strong nuclear force, and the ratio of electrons to protons.
The improbability of our life-permitting universe leads many to argue that it must have been intentionally designed with purpose by a creator. This creator designed the universe’s fine-tuning specifically so that life could come into being and flourish. That creator is God.
The teleological argument (also known as the argument from design) asserts that the universe exhibits evidence of order and design, and that its complexity, patterns, and laws imply the existence of an intelligent designer – God.
Key points of the teleological argument:
- Many natural objects and systems exhibit order, purpose, and complexity that appears designed for a specific function or purpose. Examples are the human eye, bird wings, and cosmic constants.
- Order and complexity do not happen by chance. They signal prior planning and deliberate design.
- There must be an intelligent designer behind the order and complexity, just as there must be an engineer behind a car engine. This designer is God.
- The design argument is intuitive but also has philosophical weaknesses, such as the problem of poor design in nature.
The teleological argument implies the activity of a supernatural intelligent designer as an explanation for the functional order of the universe. It appeals to God to account for the apparent design in nature.
Intelligent Design Argument
The intelligent design argument is a modern iteration of the teleological argument. It argues that nature exhibits signs of being designed through an intelligent process rather than undirected natural causes like random mutation and natural selection. Key claims include:
- Living organisms exhibit “irreducible complexity” – complex interlocking parts that could not have arisen through gradual Darwinian evolution.
- Molecular machines and biological information encoded in DNA imply an intelligent designer rather than pure chance.
- The fine-tuning of the universe for life points to intentional planning rather than coincidence.
Intelligent design proponents argue that an intelligent agent is the best explanation for these signatures of design in biological systems. While not explicitly identifying this designer as God, the designer would have attributes of a supernatural creator.
The Moral Argument
The moral argument connects objective moral values to the existence of God. Key points include:
- True moral principles exist and are universal rather than just social customs or conventions.
- There are objective moral duties – things we ought to do regardless of human opinion or desire.
- God provides the best explanation for the existence of objective morality. Moral duties arise from God’s commands and divine nature.
- Without God as a source, morality is subjective human invention rather than real prescriptive obligations.
This argument contends that moral realism – true objective moral values and duties – needs a theistic foundation. This gives moral duties binding authority over human choice and action. God’s existence provides the best explanation for objective morality’s existence in the world.
Argument from Consciousness
The existence of human consciousness provides clues to God’s existence in the view of some philosophers. Aspects include:
- The phenomenon of consciousness has qualities that resist materialistic reduction and explanation.
- Thoughts, feelings, and sensations do not seem to originate solely from physical brain activity.
- The unity, intentionality, meaning, qualitative feel, first-person perspective, and causal power of consciousness all challenge physicalism.
- Theism better explains features of consciousness like qualia and rational thought than naturalism.
- Our minds give indications of being more than just material brains, suggesting a spiritual soul created by God.
While consciousness arguments for God’s existence are controversial, they offer reasoning for thinking our immaterial minds reflect the plans of a divine designer.
The ontological argument aims to show that God’s existence is logically necessary given the concept of God. Versions include:
- Anselm – God is defined as the greatest conceivable being. It is greater to exist in reality than just as an idea. Therefore, God must exist in reality.
- Descartes – God’s key attribute is perfection. But existence is more perfect than non-existence. Therefore, God must exist.
- Plantinga – God’s existence is possible. If it is possible, then God exists in at least one possible world. Therefore, God exists in the actual world.
These arguments try to show that God’s existence is logically necessary given God’s definition. Critics argue they illegitimately define God into existence and contain logical flaws, but ontological arguments retain defenders.
Presuppositional arguments contend that only the Christian worldview can account for the existence of reason, logic, science, and morality. Key claims:
- Logic, moral truths, science, and reason itself would be impossible without the existence of God.
- All rational thinking presupposes truths only consistent with a theistic worldview.
- The impossibility of the contrary – no contrary worldview can consistently account for the necessary preconditions of human experience.
These arguments maintain that all reasoning requires God-grounded assumptions. Non-Christian worldviews eventually undermine the rational footing required for thinking. Only Christian theism offers an internally consistent foundation for rational thought and discourse.
Accumulative Case Arguments
Accumulative case arguments combine multiple philosophical arguments to mount a cumulative case that God exists. Aspects include:
- No single argument may conclusively demonstrate God. But the combined weight of various clues builds a strong rational case.
- Arguments from cosmology, design, ontology, consciousness, morality, and religious experience mutually reinforce each other.
- Specific arguments may have weaknesses, but the converging evidence tips the balance overall in favor of theism.
This approach sees many philosophical arguments not as silver bullets but as pieces of evidence that together establish God’s existence firmly on the basis of probability.
General Strengths of Cosmological Arguments
In general, cosmological arguments have appealed to many thinkers because:
- They draw intuitively on observations of the universe’s order, natural forces, consciousness, morality, and other enigmatic features.
- They seem consonant with philosophical intuition and do not rely directly on special revelation.
- They avoid pantheism or positing multiple deities by inferring one uncaused cause or unified designer.
- They resonate with the human impulse to seek explanations for observed effects back to ultimate causes.
While challenging to articulate rigorously, cosmological arguments carry intuitive force for many as pointing to realities behind the physical universe.
General Weaknesses of Cosmological Arguments
Some general criticisms made against cosmological arguments include:
- They rest on disputed premises not accepted by all, like denial of actual infinities.
- Terms like “necessary being” are vague or question-begging.
- Even if sound, they only prove a generic god, not any specific divine attributes.
- Arguments from design struggle with evidence of poor design in nature.
- Science may eventually explain the apparent design in the universe without recourse to God.
- They assume the universe itself requires explanation, rather than existing as a brute fact.
While intriguing, cosmological arguments do not always compel assent from skeptics. But they remain influential theistic arguments that many find worth wrestling with.
Significance for Christians
For Christians, the cosmological arguments provide intellectual support for belief in God’s existence. Features include:
- They provide reasoned evidence for God that complements revelation.
- They potentially remove barriers to faith for those influenced by philosophical reasoning.
- They trace back to important Christian thinkers like Aquinas, Leibniz, and Augustine.
- Pointing to an intelligent uncaused cause fits with the biblical view of God.
However, most Christians see cosmological arguments as helpful but secondary to the witness of Scripture and the Holy Spirit. Believers should thoughtfully appropriate them while recognizing their limitations.