Examine the key features of the cosmological argument for the existence of God.
The cosmological argument comes from the Greek ‘cosmos’ meaning universe. It is one of the oldest arguments that attempts to prove the existence of God. It does this based on the starting point that there is a universe, and seeks to prove why there is a universe rather than nothingness. It takes the form of an a posteriori argument. This means that it is inductive and so based on experience. It is also a synthetic argument, meaning that the truth isn’t in the premise- it needs to be proven through observation. This argument locates God beyond the universe and is based on the claim that everything that exists is caused by something else and that something was itself caused by something else. This means that it is necessary to have something that started all this off that was not itself created. The argument seeks to prove that this something is God.
A major contributor to the argument was St Thomas Aquinas. (1224-1274) In his book ‘Summa Theologica’ he outlined his first three ways to prove the existence of God. His first way is from motion. In this Aquinas said “It is certain and evident to our senses that in the world some things are in motion.” This refers to how when we observe the universe and we notice things tend to be in a state of motion (e.g. the planets moving around the Sun.) It is obvious that these things cannot move of their own accord, but instead have to be moved by something else that in turn was moved by something else. This chain of movement cannot go back forever; there must have been something that started it, something that is outside of the universe. Aquinas said that this being is the Unmoved Mover, what we call God. He also says that “motion is the reduction of something from potentiality to actuality” and that things cannot be changed from a state of potentiality to actuality without an efficient cause that already possesses a state of actuality. For example, wood doesn’t turn into a fire that produces heat without somebody lighting it. This is a key feature of the cosmological argument because by explaining how nothing can move or change itself and therefore rejecting the concept of infinite regress, Aquinas puts forward a strong case for a necessary being that had to have started the chain of movement.
Aquinas’ second way is from causation, it deals with the concept of cause and effect. He states that everything observable in the universe is subject to the law of cause and effect, but he believes that the idea that it could be traced back infinitely is impossible. “In efficient cause it is not possible to go on to infinity.” This is because nothing can be the cause of itself because if it was then it would have to exist before itself which is impossible. For Aquinas this means there must have been a first, Uncaused Cause (God) who began the chain of existence for all things and on whom all things depend. Here he is again rejecting the idea of infinite regress and attempting to prove that there must have been a first cause because without it, nothing else would exist and so arguing for the existence of God. The discovery that the big bang was the event that started the universe supports Aquinas’ second way because it proves there was a first cause and so Aquinas would argue that there must have been something that caused this event to happen and this would have been God.
His third way is from contingency. All matter in the universe is contingent, this means it is caused and comes into being. Therefore, at one point in time there was nothing in existence. It argues that without an uncaused causer it would be impossible for anything to start to exist and even now there would be nothing in existence. However, we know that now there is something in existence and so in order for us contingent beings to exist and all the contingent matter in the universe to exist, there has to have been a necessary…