tv John Mc Laughlins One on One WHUT July 12, 2009 11:30am-12:00pm EDT
which philosophers from aristotle to aquinas have used to argue for god because of this assumed need of a first cause. or of an uncaused cause. or of an unmoved mover. at one time, i was almost persuaded, but the first cause argument for god has been attacked vehemently and rejected utterly. i'm robert laurence kuhn and closer to truth is my journey to find out why. william lane craig is a christian philosopher known for debating atheists.
every time he defends god's existence, he trumpets the argument from first cause, the cosmological argument. >>the cosmological argument is actually a family of arguments, different arguments, that all attempt to prove on the basis of the existence of the world, that there is some sort of a first cause or sufficient reason for the existence of the world. for example there is the so-called argument from contingency, that has been defended by various philosophers such as leibnitz and others and it would go something like this - anything that exists has a reason or an explanation of its existence. either in the necessity of its own nature, or in some external cause. now, if the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation would be god transcendent
being beyond space and time. the universe is something that exists, obviously, and therefore it would follow that the universe has an explanation of its existence and that that explanation is god. another version would be the argument for a first temporal cause of the universe and it would go like this - whatever begins to exist has a cause. the universe began to exist, therefore the universe has a cause. this is rooted in the metaphysical idea that being cannot come from non-being. out of nothing, nothing comes. so if something comes into being, there must be a cause which brought it into being. what this argument will get you to is an uncaused eternal first cause that never came into being. the key premise here will be to demonstrate that the universe began to exist because if the universe began to exist, then it follows logically that the universe has a cause.
>and with the cosmological argument, has some of the cosmological data from the world of science, the hubbell telescope, been helpful or contradictory? >>oh, it's been very helpful. you see, during the middle ages, when there was no scientific evidence for example for a beginning of a universe, philosophers presented purely philosophical arguments against the infinity of the past or an infinite regress of causes, but with the advent of modern astrophysical cosmology, it turns out that there is very good empirical evidence for the truth of the premise that the universe is not a necessarily existing being, but is contingent in a radical way, namely that it began to exist. so we have both philosophical arguments and scientific confirmation of the key premise of the cosmological argument. i don't think any historian who is a purely natural...
>bill gives two versions of the cosmological argument. one, anything that exists must have a reason for its existence, two, anything that begins to exist must have a cause. bill is confident this gets to god. i was once confident; i should hear the other side. i call upon quentin smith, a prolific atheistic philosopher who has debated bill craig. i need to know why he believes, why he is sure that the first cause argument for god does not work. quentin, i would like to believe in god. if i do one of the main series of arguments that have been used, even currently of the so-called cosmological argument,
is there any worth in these kinds of arguments. >>i don't think so. take the cosmological argument first. that says because there is a series of causes and effects in the world, there must be a first cause. that first cause they call god. but then 'cause' means something entirely different when it refers to god than it does when applied to causes and effects in the world. because if you want to claim that god causes the world, god is omnipotent. that means that anything god wills, since god is all powerful, must happen. it would be a logical contradiction if it didn't happen. so this is actually a logical entailment of god's willing of the existence of the universe and that is not a cause. that is a logical reason and so if we want to argue from the causes in the world to the first cause,
you are arguing that god doesn't exist. you are arguing that there is a first cause instead of god. >so what you are saying is that there is a logical contradiction between god being omnipotent and god being a first cause? >>that is correct. >because if a god is omnipotent, the world is a logical necessity and is not caused. and if you have a first cause, you have now proved that that kind of god doesn't exist. is that right? >>if the cosmological argument proves that god doesn't exist, assuming the cosmological argument is sound, that there must be some other cause that is not god. >which means that god doesn't exist. >>yeah, i think that would be a fair way to put it. >how about the cosmological argument needing a first cause? >>i would say that the universe, regardless of whether it began with the big bang or whether it didn't, does not need a first cause because each
state of the universe is caused by an earlier state. there is no state other universe as uncaused, and so there is nothing for first state to cause. now if you say, well, the universe began to exist - what caused the first state? well, there is no first state if the universe began to exist with the big bang. because on that theory, as you approach the beginning of the universe, you can start dividing like the first hour into fractions that get smaller and smaller fractions and... >you can get infinitely smaller. >>right. infinity seems strange and hard to conceive and it is, that doesn't mean it's inconsistent. >and unlikely to find a god in that either. >>well, impossible. unlikely. > quentin has two arguments against the first cause argument for god. one - god cannot be the first cause because if god
is all powerful, god would be a premise, forcing a logical deduction, not a person making a free choice. two - the early universe can be an infinite sequence of shorter and shorter causes without ever needing a first cause. i'll have to think about that. i now jump back across the spiritual divide. i go ask alister mcgrath, scientist, biophysicist and atheist who became a committed christian. he is now professor of historical theology at oxford. >>well, the cosmological argument in its simplest form would say, "look, everything that happens
seems to have a cause, we traced this back and in the end we are to see there is an infinite progression of causes or the buck stops somewhere. and the place where it stops is called god. >it could stop with something that is self-existing and self-explanatory. can you live with that? >>i can live with that. what i tend to say to myself when thinking about this, is "look, one of the great themes of modern science is the quest for a grand unified theory, a theory of everything. why is that so important? well, because it's a theory which explains but does not require explanation. now what you see in modern physics is that this feeling that there has to be something behind everything, which explains everything we can observe. and in many ways that is analogous to this whole argument, the distance of god. we see many things which have explanations and those explanations point backwards. is there something that explains but does not itself
need to be explained? in many ways, all christians are saying is, "look, this is completely consistent with the christian view of god, it doesn't prove it, but it's consistent with it." > arguments from science, from philosophy, do not - indeed cannot - prove that god exists. so the most that can be said about the first cause argument is that it is consistent with the existence of god. is that helpful? is that progress? [telephone ringing] >>hello? > hi mom, how are you doing? >>how are you? >okay, fine. i'm sitting here... >my mother tells me to see a rabbi. so i see rabbi david shatz. professor of philosophy at yeshiva university
stern college for women in new york. >>there are some people who look at the world and simply say, "okay, it's here. it's a brute fact that the world is here. we don't need to pursue anything further." and then you have other people who can look at the world and they say, "i can easily imagine the world not being here, the world must be contingent. therefore i have to look for something else." now, what is going to the advantage of those who do look for something further, is assuming that they are kind of carrying out the principle that is used in science all the time and that is to look for the best explanation and to keep going further and further and further in explanations and to make explanatory advances. whereas the other side that doesn't push further is simply saying, "there is no more room to go here, yes there is a push in science to understand everything, understand reasons for everything, but you reach a point where you just hit a brute fact."
so on the one hand you sort of understand the strength of the cosmological argument. on the other hand there are various problems with it that are well known, i mean one of the most important i think is the problem that is raised by david jun, which i like to refer to it as the hired cab objection because arthur schopenhauer put it as follows and i'm quoting roughly. "the principle that every event has a cause or that everything has a cause is not a hired cab which we can dismiss when we get to our destination." meaning, that to those who favor the cosmological argument to get to the question of god and you've got to ask, "okay, what caused god." well, the answer comes back - well, god is self-existed or god is a necessary being. and on this jun says, "well, maybe the world is a necessary being. maybe if we understood everything about the most basic truths of the universe, we would see that the universe exists necessarily.
and i think that the difference between those who advocate the cosmological argument and those who reject it is largely the question of whether they can really imagine the universe being the cause of itself. now what happens is, when you do end up with this self-existed being or necessary being, i think you don't really understand what that means. i will just say something about judaism here, despite the fact that mimonades and other jewish philosophers dealt in the cosmological argument, i think for the most part, jewish thinkers were more ...far more interested in the argument for the design. being struck by the order in the world. there are a number of texts in the talmud, a number of biblical texts even, that point in this direction and that is really the most intuitive kind of approach. mimonades form are the cosmological argument, just like aquinas's, was not an argument for creation. neither of them believes that you can prove the world was created. what they were talking about is, a kind of series that is taking place at a given moment. and as you mount up to get
to the highest cause, you will eventually reach this first cause. > so to judaism, the first cause argument is not significant. but to me, it is significant. was there a first cause? can anything be self-explaining and self-existing? maybe the problem lies in the nature of causation. to find out, i see charles harper. we meet in iceland at a conference on foundational questions. senior vice president of the john templeton foundation with an oxford doctorate on cosmology and time,
chuck pushes boundaries in science and theology. >>in looking at a question like, "what is the cause of the universe, it is probably wise to deal with it more complexity than we are accustomed to. we can take a lesson from aristotle a long time ago. aristotle taught that there are multiple causes to say...take an example of a table - he would say that there is a material cause, that is often wood. the wood is the cause of the table. knock on it and that is the material cause. but there is also a cause which would be what he would call the efficient cause, what causes the table to come into existence. that would be a factory. the people that made the table at a certain time and a certain place. that is the efficient cause. then there is the formal cause of the table. what causes the form to be. at the factory there is a...there are settings, there are blueprints, there are plans for the creation of the table and then there is the purpose for the table. that is that we would have conviviate over dinner. so in dealing with a question like the ultimate
cause of the universe, we might say, "well, what is the hierarchy of causes that we might use to explain the universe?" now we would make a big mistake with the cause of a table if we are having an argument and we said, "no, the cause of the table is wood, it's not a factory." "no, it's a factory, it's not wood." no, it's to have conviviate in our home." it may be that when one asserts the idea of a divine ultimate cause, against the idea of a physical cause, a material cause, we could be making that mistake, similar to having an argument over the cause of a table. >and it may be that if there is a god, that god is not the efficient cause, maybe the laws of physics or inflation theory or something else is the efficient cause, which made it happen. and you don't need a god because it happens naturally. >>well, the question of whether something happens naturally versus then other ideas - something happening supernaturally, i think can be misleading. so just to pursue the idea of something happening naturally for the universe,
an explanation of a cause in the universe might be something like an inflaton field. so someone will say, "there is a field." that is like a physical thing, to say a inflaton field. but then underneath that, there will be a...you will say, "why is there an inflaton field?" and then they will say, "well, there is a theory, there is a law." now the law is not a material entity. so that is more of an ideal entity, it's like a mathematical idea. now, the theologians sometimes will be tempted to jump in and say, "that is the mind of god, that is the cause." but it might be that there is a sort of theory of the construction of theories. that world might have a kind of uer mathematics that creates many mathematical options that create universes. so i think it's important for the theologian not to jump in on the scientific process of expanding knowledge. theologians are not accustomed to wrestling with the question of why god would exist. in theology, one typically
is more accustomed to ultimate mystery. now the problem in engaging with science is whenever there is a conundrum or a problem, to want to jump in and say, "oh, ultimate mystery." because that is sterilizing the scientific quest. so it's a very exciting time right now, with scientists and cosmology really pushing all sorts of ultimate questions. > causation is not so simple. different kinds of causes yield different kinds of meanings. causation is richer. still, that doesn't solve my problem. or relieve my burden of that elusive first cause. for that, i visit peter van inwagon, a tough-minded philosopher at notre dame. peter believes that god exists, so why doesn't he use the cosmological
argument? i prepare myself for some serious philosophy. >>we start with the notion of contingent things. everything that we see came into existence in some time and wouldn't have if things before that had been different. now consider the question - why are there contingent things at all? what explains the existence of contingent things? well, maybe nothing explains it. maybe it is just a brute fact. but suppose we accept the principle of universal explanation or if you like, the principles of sufficient reason. everything has some sort of explanation. there is nothing that is just ...just is. including that one. well, what explains the existence of contingent things? a second principle that seems very reasonable is to suppose that you can 't explain the existence of a class of things or you can't explain the fact that there are things of a certain
type, except by appealing to things outside that type. you can't explain the existence of elephants without some sort of appeal to non-elephants. well, take the biggest type that contains contingent beings, namely contingent being itself. if the existence of contingent beings has an explanation, it must be something that falls outside that class. the principle of universal explanations says it does have an explanation. so if you accept both those principles, and then we find their existence necessary being. because a necessary being is just by definition, something that isn't a contingent being. and of course it must be a necessary being of the kind that can explain things. it can be something like a number or another abstract object like that, it must be a thing that has some sort of power to cause things to exist. so therefore we come to the conclusion that there is a necessarily existing thing that has the power to cause contingently existing things to exist. >and that necessarily
existing thing would be what we would call god. >>well, of course i haven't proved that it's omnipotent or omniscient or anything like that. let's just say that people who are hostile to the idea of being a god will not be happy with the existence of an argument that proves that there is a necessary thing that causes contingent things to exist. obably the best attack for the person who disputes the argument to take... ...that's why i find the argument not particularly convincing, is that not only can we reject the principle without demonstrable contradiction when everything has an explanation, it even looks as if it has some untoward consequences. what is the explanation of the fact that this one is the actual world? well, if there is such an explanation, it couldn't be true in any other possible world, it would have to be
just true in this one and then it would explain itself. and it doesn't seem that any contingent proposition can explain itself. well, i feel the weakest part of the argument is this premise that everything has an explanation. that implies that some contingent fact explains itself. it's obviously false that any contingent fact explains itself. but if the principle is false, there must be brute contingency. at least the contingency of everything. you know, take all contingent truths together, put them together in one big proposition, that at least must be a matter of brute contingency. but if you have one thing that is a matter of brute contingency, why not other things such as the existence of contingent things? >so if you were making an argument for the existence of if not a god in it's richly developed form, but the existence of a self-existing necessary thing, would you be using
the cosmological argument as one of your arguments? >>no, i don't think that there are any good arguments for that conclusion. it rests on this principle that everything has an explanation and that seems to have untoward consequences. > here is the first cause argument for god - anything contingent needs a cause so that at the very beginning of the universe, there must of have something non-contingent, something necessary to trigger the long chain of universal events. here is another form of the argument - anything that begins to exist has a cause. the universe began to exist. so the universe must have a cause. and since scientific causes
require prior laws, the ultimate cause must be something different, something personal. objections abound. challenge causation and infinite regress of causes reject the principle that everything has an explanation. i like bertram russell's brute fact dismissal. the universe is just there. and that is all. the cosmological argument does not claim to prove anything about a first cause or about god. only that a first cause must exist. for now, this is the closest you will get to truth.