The deepest question of philosophy may well be, why is there something rather than nothing?
The cosmological argument attempts to prove the existence of a personal God by creating a case founded in this philosophical conundrum. It is an argument that has been put forward in slightly differing forms by Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Leibniz, and indeed more recently William Lane Craig. I believe it to be a very powerful argument, when properly understood.
Much of what follows is simply a restatement of William Lane Craig’s words. This particular version is called the Kalam cosmological argument.
- Whatever begins to exist has a cause – things don’t just pop into being from nothing. Every mountain, planet, galaxy or person has a cause for its existence.
- The universe itself began to exist – a premise strongly supported by philosophical arguments and modern science. As a result of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity and its application to the universe as a whole, scientists discovered that the universe is not infinite in the past, in fact it is approximately 13.7 billion years old. It had a beginning, an absolute beginning of all matter, energy, and indeed space and time. Everything that currently exists was caused by something, which in turn was caused by something else, and so on, in a finite chain of causation. But eventually, all existence traces its cause back to that first moment.
- Therefore, the universe has a cause. That birthplace of space, time, matter and energy itself requires a cause. Furthermore, to cause space, time, matter and energy, some external cause must transcend all of those concepts.
This cause is what religious people refer to as God.
A first cause. An uncaused cause. Something external to our existence, something logically capable of starting the ball rolling.
The only way that a timeless cause could create an effect existing in time, is if the cause has choice. It requires choice in order to be able to create an effect in time when before this creation no time existed. As such, the cosmological argument argues for the existence of a personal God.
Either you claim that the universe merely popped into being from nothing, a claim that would sound ridiculous in any common usage, a nonsensical claim that also happens to be made entirely on the blindest of faith, or you suggest that it has an external cause – a timeless, spaceless being of unfathomable power, and the choice necessary to create something afresh.
I have heard the following response quite often, “This argument achieves nothing. We must then ask who caused God? Or who caused the first cause? You cannot claim that God is infinite for infinite is not a self-consistent term. Hence God had an origination, and requires an explanation for his existence.”
This argument exposes some ignorance of theology. For Christians, and indeed all major religions, do not believe that God is infinite. They believe that God is eternal. They believe that he is beyond time, in fact the originator of time. And so that particular counter-argument is invalid.
I also often hear the reply that, “This argument proves no specific God. It provides just as much evidence for a spiteful dictator in the sky as it does for a loving creator.” Yes I agree. The cosmological argument has little to say about the validity of any specific religion, that is not what it is trying to prove. You are right. Other arguments would be necessary to move from the existence of a God to say the existence of Yahweh.
But of course I am very happy to hear any other counters, as long as they are directly on topic, and relatively polite.