Thursday, November 10, 2016

An Edited Version of the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument

I love to study the arguments for the existence of God.  I greatly enjoy considering deductive arguments and the validity of the premises therein.1

One such argument originated with Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz.  His argument is one of the cosmological arguments for God's existence. One version, as defended by philosopher William Lane Craig, is as follows:

1) Everything which exists has an explanation of its existence

2) If the universe has an explanation for its existence, that explanation is God

3) The universe exists

4) The universe has an explanation of its existence

5) Therefore God exists2

As philosopher J.W. Wartick explains "...this outlining of Leibniz’s argument is a little forward. Premise 2 may be a bit strong."3  I concur.  While the argument is certainly logically valid, if I allow myself to step into the shoes of the skeptic, I could see how they could stumble over the wording of Premise 2.  

Therefore, Wartick has edited the argument as follows:

1) All entities which exist have explanation of their existence. This explanation is either their own necessity or (for contingent entities) an external cause. (P1)

2) The universe exists (Axiom [A] 1)

3) The universe’s existence is not found in its own necessity (P2)

4) Therefore, the universe has an external cause (P1, P2)

5) There cannot be an infinite series of non-necessary causes (A2)

6) Therefore, the cause of the universe is transcendent (external) to it and necessary (4, A2 [I’m skipping a few steps here, but it would end up here eventually, as follows from 4 and A2])4

What do you think of this version?  Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Further, for those who are unfamiliar with the argument, Wartick explains the argument and defends each of the premises here.

Courage and Godspeed,

1. For those who aren't sure how deductive arguments work, go here.
2. William Lane Crain, On Guard, p. 54.
J.W. Wartick, "The Leibnizian Cosmological Argument," Oct. 6, 2010

4. Ibid.

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Video: The Leibnizian Cosmological Argument

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Ben Wallis said...

You ask what we think of your version of the cosmological argument. So, below are my thoughts on it.

Cosmological arguments notoriously rely on highly controversial philosophical principles, and the above formulation seems to be no exception to that trend. In fact, it seems to me that premises (1) and (3) are dubious in the extreme. Permit me to explain.

Note that (1) actually asserts two things: First, it says that explanations consist of either metaphysical necessity or external causes. But this is not at all clear. Most especially, I fail to see how metaphysical necessity would *explain* why something exists. For example, let's say you try to explain why God exists by asserting that his existence is necessary. Even if that were true, that doesn't seem to erase any of the mystery for me. I would just ask in response, "Okay, but *why* does this necessary God exist? What is it, exactly, that makes it impossible for him not to exist?" The answer of metaphysical necessity is not, I wouldn't think, remotely satisfying to a person who is genuinely interested in knowing why God exists rather than not.

Premise (1) also asserts that every existing thing has such an explanation. Assertions like this are usually defended by appealing to intuition or incredulity at skepticism. So, for instance, J.W. Wartick tells us that it is so obvious that he doesn't feel the need to defend it! He does, however, offer a halfhearted attempt at an argument for (1), by saying that if (1) were false then we should expect things to pop into existence all the time without explanation. But such a claim is just as controversial as the original premise. Why should we expect that? Besides, it's easy to see how the universe might be a good candidate for a sole exception to (1), since time itself may have come into being along with the universe. That means there was no time prior to the universe's existence, and hence no room, so to speak, for an external physical cause.

Premise (3) tends to get less attention, but seem to me just as controversial as (1). Wartick tells us that in order for (3) to be false, the universe would have to have existed for an infinite amount of time, but he doesn't explain why he thinks this. Why couldn't the universe have come into existence along with time itself, without cause and out of metaphysical necessity? Similar to above, if anything in the universe exists necessarily, then the universe as a whole seems to me the most plausible candidate.

(continued below...)

Ben Wallis said...

(...continued from above)

Now, I tend to agree that premise (5) is true, but not for the reasons usually given, and certainly not with the unwavering confidence of many apologists. Instead, I think it is true because there is good scientific evidence that the universe began to exist, which would not leave room for the infinite regress of physical causes. However this is not a very solid argument, since we should not be too confident in the current scientific case for a beginning to the universe. If the science is wrong---as happens quite often---then it could very well be the case that the past is infinite and features a regress of physical causes. So-called "philosophical" arguments against this scenario, like those given by William Lane Craig, are sometimes incoherent, and at best are highly dubious.

Finally, I am sure you are already aware of the fact that your conclusion does not actually give us the existence of God---at least, not directly. Instead, you need an additional step to get you from an external cause to an unembodied mind that created the universe using supernatural powers. Typically, I see this step defended by challenging the skeptic to present an alternative hypothesis. As long as God is the only hypothesis on the table, the argument goes, that is enough. But I don't buy that kind of reasoning. Even if we didn't have any other alternative hypotheses at our disposal, that doesn't make the one hypothesis we *do* have a good one. Moreover, we already hypothesize unknown entities with causal powers, in the form of noumena. So, why couldn't such a noumenon have caused the universe to come into being?

So, those are my thoughts. I'll check back later to see if you want to continue a conversation.