The Argument from Contingency

It just occurred to me that earlier, after Sarah did not adequately respond to Brett’s objection to my Cosmological Argument, that I got too caught up in correcting Sarah to answer Brett.  Effectively, neither of us stood up to his objection, and I will admit, I misunderstood it.

Until now!

Brett wrote:

“If the universe never had a cause for its existence, if it never began to exist, but it exists now, then it is infinite. Given infinite time, every possibility is allowed to be actualized, including the possibility for everything to cease to exist. ”

Please explain how that same argument doesn’t apply to the “eternal cause” of the universe.”

Now, Sarah replied to this objection in a non-sensical way, and I got too caught up in all the non-sense to actually read Brett’s words for myself. The answer to his objection lies in God’s being the necessary being. This is a feature of both Plantinga’s Modal Ontological Argument, and more relevantly the Argument from Contingency.  Dr. Peter Kreeft, of Boston College, sums up the Contingency Argument here:

Why must there be a first cause? Because if there isn’t, then the whole universe is unexplained, and we have violated our Principle of Sufficient Reason for everything. If there is no first cause, each particular thing in the universe is explained in the short run, or proximately, by some other thing, but nothing is explained in the long run, or ultimately, and the universe as a whole is not explained. Everyone and everything says in turn, “Don’t look to me for the final explanation. I’m just an instrument. Something else caused me.” If that’s all there is, then we have an endless passing of the buck. God is the one who says, “The buck stops here.”If there is no first cause, then the universe is like a great chain with many links; each link is held up by the link above it, but the whole chain is held up by nothing. If there is no first cause, then the universe is like a railroad train moving without an engine. Each car’s motion is explained proximately by the motion of the car in front of it: the caboose moves because the boxcar pulls it, the boxcar moves because the cattle car pulls it, et cetera. But there is no engine to pull the first car and the whole train. That would be impossible, of course. But that is what the universe is like if there is no first cause: impossible.Here is one more analogy. Suppose I tell you there is a book that explains everything you want explained. You want that book very much. You ask me whether I have it. I say no, I have to get it from my wife. Does she have it? No, she has to get it from a neighbor. Does he have it? No, he has to get it from his teacher, who has to get it. . . et cetera, etcetera, ad infinitum. No one actually has the book. In that case, you will never get it. However long or short the chain of book borrowers may be, you will get the book only if someone actually has it and does not have to borrow it. Well, existence is like that book. Existence is handed down the chain of causes, from cause to effect. If there is no first cause, no being who is eternal and self-sufficient, no being who has existence by his own nature and does not have to borrow it from someone else, then the gift of existence can never be passed down the chain to others, and no one will ever get it. But we did get it. We exist. We got the gift of existence from our causes, down the chain, and so did every actual being in the universe, from atoms to archangels. Therefore there must be a first cause of existence, a God.

 

If there is no independent being, then the whole chain of dependent beings is dependent on nothing and could not exist. 

 

In more abstract philosophical language, the proof goes this way. Every being that exists either exists by itself, by its own essence or nature, or it does not exist by itself. If it exists by its own essence, then it exists necessarily and eternally, and explains itself. It cannot not exist, as a triangle cannot not have three sides. If, on the other hand, a being exists but not by its own essence, then it needs a cause, a reason outside itself for its existence. Because it does not explain itself, something else must explain it. Beings whose essence does not contain the reason for their existence, beings that need causes, are called contingent, or dependent, beings. A being whose essence is to exist is called a necessary being. The universe contains only contingent beings. God would be the only necessary being—if God existed. Does he? Does a necessary being exist? Here is the proof that it does. Dependent beings cannot cause themselves. They are dependent on their causes. If there is no independent being, then the whole chain of dependent beings is dependent on nothing and could not exist. But they do exist. Therefore there is an independent being. His line of argument leads one to see that, if anything exists at all, there must exist some thing for which non-existence is impossible.  This is called a necessary being, and in both the Contingency Argument and the Modal Ontological Argument, this being is called God.

So the possibility of not existing that I applied to the universe in my original post on the Cosmological Argument does not necessarily apply here for the reason that it only applies to contingent things.  More importantly, and more certainly, my quote that Brett used only applies to material things.  A computer has the possibility of not existing precisely because it can be smashed or burned or taken apart or recycled into soda cans.  All of these things destroy the computer not in the sense that its atoms go out of existence, but in the sense that its computer-ness is taken away, producing something which is not a computer.  The same thing goes for all material things, like trees, Democrats, and razorblades, etc…

Brett, I hope that answers your objection

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “The Argument from Contingency

  1. Andrew

    I don’t know Payton, I swear I saw some Democrat atoms bombarding the healthcare bill and producing radiation to kill all the republicans on capitol hill…

  2. By way of afterthought, I might clarify that “the possibility for everything to cease to exist” includes only contingent things. Necessary things do not have the possibility of not existing.

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