The Cosmological Argument Part 1: The Argument From Contingency
Hey y’all Cruz here,
This is all part of a three part post on the cosmological argument. I am writing a paper on it and I figured I might as well post it up on the blog for discussion. The paper is divided into three sections the first gives the cosmological argument from contingency, the second gives objections to this argument, and the third is my own (modest) cosmological argument that makes use of a modal premise to get the conclusion. I give this modal version of the cosmological argument and defend it in this last section. The paper is still in the works so please forgive the rough sketch of it that I will be posting on here. Here is the first section:
The first thing that cosmological arguments assume is that there are contingent things that exist. This seems to be an obvious truth, when we sit and reflect about the world there are many things that seem like they could have been otherwise. I could have not had my usual apple for breakfast. My parents could have failed to conceived me and I could have not existed. It seems as if that this could be true for most everything in the universe. The universe itself could have failed to exist. This is the starting place for all cosmological arguments. We can find examples of this in two of histories well known cosmological arguers. In fact St. Thomas Aquinas starts off his third way with just this point: “Certain of the things we find in the world are able to exist and able not to exist…”. From this we get our first premise to the cosmological argument:
(1) There are contingent things.
The next step in the cosmological argument is to move from (1) the fact that there are contingent things to there being a collection of all and only all of the contingent things that there are. This inference does not appear to be problematic when we are talking about all of the contingent things that there are we are making reference to something that isn’t just the contingent things but to a further thing, which is the group or the collection of all of the contingent things. There is an implicit principle that is made in most cosmological arguments that needs to be made explicit in order for the inference from the fact that there are contingent things to there being a collection of them. This principle gives us the second premise for the argument:
(2) For any X and Y such that X and Y are contingent, there is a collection Z such that X and Y members of Z.
From here on lets call this collection WORLD. The next step that is made in most cosmological arguments from contingency; is that because each of the members of WORLD are contingent then WORLD itself must be contingent. At first glance it looks like the proponent of the cosmological argument from contingency is just committing the fallacy of composition. We can think of other things and their collections to see that this may be problematic. The collection of all humans surely isn’t itself human, just as the collection of all four-legged creatures does not itself have four legs. Russell points this out in his debate with Father Copleston when he says “Every man who exists has a mother, and it seems to me your argument is that therefore the human race must have a mother, but obviously the human race hasn’t a mother — that’s a different logical sphere.” But I am not sure that the proponent of this argument really is committing this fallacy. It seems that there is another implicit principle that cosmological arguers are accept like the one that gives us premise (2). Let’s make this principle the third premise of the argument:
(3) If all of the members of a collection are contingent then the collection itself is contingent.
Without (3) the cosmological argument would commit the fallacy of composition, but it seems that there is reason to believe that we should hold (3). It does seem that for any given collection, if the members of the collection do not exist, then the collection itself does not exist. If we have a collection ∆, whose members are P, R, and S and S failed to exist then ∆ would have failed to exist also. For WORLD, since all of its members are contingent it is true that any one of its members could have failed to exist, which means that WORLD could have failed to exist, but this is just to say that WORLD itself is contingent. So this gives us reason hold (3) to be true.
The next point that is assumed by cosmological arguers gives us our fourth premise to the argument from contingency:
(4) For any X such that x is contingent, there is a Y such that Y explains X’s existence.
(4) appears in varying strengths in different versions of this argument. Leibniz starts off his argument with a very strong version of this principle: “[T]here must also be be a sufficient reason in contingent truths, or truths of fact…”. And St. Thomas seems to have a weaker version of it: “For what does not exist begins to exist only through something that does exist; therefore, if there were no beings, then it was impossible that anything should have begun to exist, and so nothing would exist now—which is obviously false.”
The last assumption, which normally goes without saying, but I would like to make explicit is:
(5) Explanation is an irreflexive, asymmetric, and transitive relation.
To say that explanation is reflexive is just to say that there is no A such that A explains A, asymmetric if and only if for any A and B such that if A explains B then it cannot be the case that B explains A, and transitive if and only if for any A, B, and C if A explains B and B explains C, then A explains C. We are now in a place to give the argument from contingency.
From (1) and (2) we get:
(A) WORLD exists.
From (A) and (3) we get that:
(B) WORLD is contingent.
From (B) and (4) we get:
(C) There is something that explains WORLD’s existence.
From (C) and (5) we get:
(D) WORLD cannot explain WORLD’s existence.
From (D) we know that there must be something distinct from WORLD that explains WORLD’s existence. So, this leaves us with two options: (i) what explains WORLD’s existence is an contingent being, or (ii) what explains WORLD’s existence is a necessary being. If (II) then we have the conclusion that we are looking for: A necessary being exists. If (I) then what explains WORLD would also need to have something further to explain its existence. Now assume that this explanation of contingent beings goes onto infinity. Then what we have is an infinite series of contingent beings we can ask the same question of the infinite series of explanation of contingent beings explaining each other. The series must be contingent, because if one or more beings was taken out or replaced by another, then it would not be the same series. And because each of the explanans and explanandum could fail to exist the series could, which would make it contingent. Because the series is contingent from (4) that something that is not contingent must explain the existence of the series, which must be a necessary being.