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PHIL 1003T

1 The Cosmological Argument The second argument for the existence of God thatwe examined is the cosmological argument.It has a long history and has been developed in several different versions. St.Thomas Aquinas gives five arguments, the first three of which may be considered to be versions of the cosmological argument. Aquinas’ first argument (or ‘first way’) is said to focus on motion, but really it’s about change. Aquinas believed that a cold object is actually cold but potentially hot. When the object changes by becoming hot, Aquinas would say that it was moved from being only potentially hot to being actually hot. More generally, when Aquinas speaks of motion, he has in mind this ‘motion’, or change, from potentially having a given quality to actually having it. Hence, while he speaks of ‘motion’ in his first argument his real focus is on change. He thinks that an object can’t change unless some other thing acts upon it. For instance, a stone heats up only because some heat source, something that is actually hot, acts upon it. But how did the heat source become hot? Something else must have acted upon it to make it hot; and some earlier thing must have acted to make this earlier source (the ‘something else’) hot; and so on…. In this fashion, we are launched into a regress of earlier and earlier causes of the changes that we observe. Aquinas concludes that in order to terminate this regress, there must have been a first, unmoved mover, something that initiated the sequence of events (or changes) without itself being moved (or caused) to do so. In his second way, Aquinas says that each ‘sensible thing’ – or, roughly, each finite thing that we can experience – must have been brought into existence by something else; none of these sensible objects can have been self-caused, since to be self-caused would require a thing to have existed as an active cause in the moment before it came into being. Moreover, these things cannot have sprung into existence from nothing, or with no cause of their being; after all, from nothing, nothing comes. So, each sensible thing must have been caused by something other than itself. We are thus, again, launched into an explanatory regress in which earlier things cause later things. To terminate the regress, there must be, says Aquinas, some ultimate, first cause, which was not itself brought into being by any other thing. On some interpretations, in his second way Aquinas has in mind only causes that must be acting now to sustain one, and not causes that were active only in the past. For instance (on this interpretation), my desk depends on the floor on which it sits; and this floor depends on the steel and other building materials that hold it in place; and these materials depend on many other factors (the rock beneath the building’s foundation, gravity, etc.). Here, the regress encompasses only causes that are still active in the present moment. Once again, Aquinas posits God as the first cause that terminates the regress. Aquinas’ third way makes reference to contingent beings (things that are ‘possible to be and not to be’). Such things at best only happen to exist. There’s no necessity in their existence; they did not have to exist. So, their existence stands in need of an explanation. We are again faced with a regress, for whenever we explain one thing by appeal to a second, equally contingent thing, we thereby introduce a new contingent being that stands in need of an explanation. The only way that this regress can be stopped is if there is a necessary being that explains the contingent things. Since this being is necessary (or could not possibly have failed to exist), we need not introduce any other thing to explain its existence. For Aquinas, this necessary being is God. Aquinas’s reasoning in the third way is open to objection. He believes that for anygiven contingent thing, there was atime at which it did not exist. From this he infers that if everything were contingent, then there would besome time atwhich none of these things existed. But if there was a time at which 2 nothing existed,then there would be no way for things to come into existence, for there would be nothing to cause them. There are two serious flaws in his reasoning here.First, while it’s true that the non-existenceof a contingent thing is possible, it doesn’tfollow that its non-existence wasever actual. So, for instance, even if the physicalworld is contingent, it doesn’t follow that there was atime at which it didn’t exist. Second, even if we accepted that for each contingent thing, there was a time at which it didn’texist, it does not follow that if all things werecontingent, thenthere would have been a time at which none of them (and thus nothing) existed. To see why, let’ssimplify matters by considering a world that contains just three things,which we’ll label ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’. Assume thateach of these things is contingent and does not always exist. Nevertheless, the times of their respective non- existence might all be different. That is, object A might have existed up to 1900,when it ceased existing, butobject B might have come into being in 1900 and existed until 2000, atwhich time object C came into existence. It’s true in this relatively simple world that for each thing in it, there was a time at which that thing didn’t exist, but it’s false that there was therefore a time at which nothing existed. In short, even if it were true that for each contingent thing, there was a time at which that thing didn’t exist, it need not also be true that there is a single time at which none of these things existed. Critics of these versions of the cosmological argument object that this reasoning relies on weak assumptions. For instance, why assume that every contingent thing was caused? Why couldn’t some contingent event have just arisen from nothingness? People who defend Aquinas’ reasoning will typically reply by pointingout that we rely on this assumption (that everything was caused) throughout our daily lives and that thisassumption has served us well. It is precisely by assuming thatthings are always caused that we have developed our scientific methods, which enable us to ferret out underlying causes. Another pote
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