I know that everyone is probably tired of hearing about cosmological arguments. You hear people discussing them by the water cooler at work and at neighborhood barbecues and such. Well, maybe not.
The basic construction of the Thomistic Cosmological Argument goes something like this:
- What we observe in this universe is contingent (i.e. dependent, or conditional)
- A sequence of causally related contingent things cannot be infinite
- The sequence of causally dependent contingent things must be finite
Let's just take these ideas one at a time, starting with the first premise which states that everything in the universe is "contingent." This means that the various objects in the universe (e.g. planets, starts, meteors, molecules, atoms, etc.) do not have to exist. It is possible for these things to not exist. There is not any particular atom in the entire universe for which it is inconceivable that it could not exist.
This may be a fairly difficult concept to grasp. So you may want to think about this one for a bit. Think about any single object (if that make it easier than thinking at the atomic level) and ask yourself this question..."Could that object possibly not exist?" There doesn't seem to be any object for which the answer would be "No." So, any object in the universe doesn't have to exist. It could have not existed.
If that is the case, the next inevitable question is then, "If this object could have not existed, why then does it exist?" This is a valid question. Ultimately, the only answer to the question is that the given object was caused to exist.
For example, a drop of water exists because the right number of atoms of hydrogen and oxygen bonded together. So, what caused them to come together and bond? Perhaps some other cause which was brought about by some previous cause, etc.
This brings us directly into the second premise of the argument. As demonstrated by examples such as Hilbert's Hotel, one cannot have an actually infinite number of things...in this case causally related contingent objects. It is impossible to have an infinite regress of such things and, if you watch the Hilbert's Hotel video, you can see why this becomes absurd.
That means that the causal chain must be finite. There has to be a beginning to the causes, culminating in a "first cause" or what Aristotle referred to as "the unmoved mover."
The important thing to recognize about this is that, while this argument is powerful evidence in favor of the existence of God, it does not, by itself, prove the existence of God. If Christians are going to be respected in intellectual arenas, we have to be very careful not to overstate the conclusions that can be made from these types of arguments.
This argument does however give us some idea of a "first cause" and some attributes that can this first cause must have. By definition, the first cause would have to be "necessary" or non-contingent. This must be the case because if the first cause was contingent, it would need a cause for it's own existence and the problem of infinite regress ensues.
In addition to being necessary, we can also conclude that this "first cause" must be volitional. Since the objects in the universe are contingent, the first cause did not have to cause them to exist. Therefore, the first cause would have done so volitionally. That is very significant as it means that this cause must have a will.
We can also see that this first cause must be immensely powerful in order to bring about the billions of galaxies and stars and planets, etc. And this cause would have to be extremely intelligent to bring things about in such a way that gravity and mass and the strong force, the weak force, the microwave background radiation, etc. are all finely tuned for the stars and planets to form (see more about this another day when I tackle the Teleological Argument.
For now, those are some fairly significant conclusions we can draw about the first cause of the universe and some of the properties of that first cause, which are amazingly consistent with the concept of the Christian God.
For more information on the Thomistic Cosmological Argument (because who wouldn't want more):
- In the Beginning, God - The Poached Egg
- Christian Apologetics - Douglas Groothuis
- The Cosmological Argument - Dr. William Lane Craig