Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Aquinas' Argument from Contingency

A redated post.

Perhaps the most enduring of Aquinas's Five Ways has been the argument from contingently existing things, the third way. Amazingly, some people actually think that Aquinas's cosmological argument is something like this.

1. Everything has a cause.
2. So the Universe has a cause.
Therefore, God exists.

Now let's set aside the question of whether that which causes the universe has to be God. Surely there is something God-like about anything that has the power to cause the universe to exist, even if that being is not, strictly speaking, God. At the very least, naturalism, the view that they there is nothing over and above the physical universe, would be false if this argument were to be correct.

But the problem is obvious. If the universe has to have a cause because everything has to have a cause, then the universe not only has a cause, it has a cause of its cause, and a cause of the cause of the cause, and the cause of the cause of the cause of the cause....There are people, Like Bertrand Russell, who have suggested that you can refute Aquinas, or even all forms of the cosmological argument, by asking the question that an 8-year-old child knows how to ask, namely "Who made God?" Aquinas may have been called the Dumb Ox, but you don't get to be the Angelic Doctor by being stupid. I was a little surprised to find an article, published in Philo in 1998, which attributed this kind of argument to Aquinas.

The range of what needs a cause, in other words, has to be restricted, so that the things in the physical world do need causes, and God does not need a cause. One way to do that it in the way that is employed by the present-day Kalam Cosmological Argument:

1. Whatever begins to exist, must have a cause of its existence.
2. The universe began to exist.
Therefore, the universe has a cause of its existence.

This argument doesn't require that God needs a cause, because God never began to exist. However, Aquinas did not argue in this way either. The reason for this is that Aristotle had said that even though the universe is caused to exist by the Unmoved Mover, it nonetheless never began to exist. It has existed from eternity. And Aquinas maintained that while you couldn't prove Aristotle right on this score, you couldn't prove him wrong either, and so premise 2 is an article of faith rather than an article of reason; that is something that is must be believed on the basis of the revelation delivered through the Bible and the Church. (Aquinas' concept of faith is not what a lot of people today mean by faith; belief that is contrary to reason). But articles of faith are going to be useless in arguments for the existence of God, since obviously anyone you are trying to persuade will not accept the Bible and the Church as authorities. (You may be able to use the Bible as ancient historical documentation, but not as the Word of God).

So how did St. Thomas Aquinas argue for theism? Peterson, Hasker, Reichenbach, and Basinger, in their book Reason and Religious Belief (OUP, 1991) present the following argument, which they call the Thomistic cosmological argument.

1. A contingent being exists.
2. This contingent being has a cause of its existence.
3. The cause of its existence is something other than itself.
4. What causes this contingent being to exist must be a set that contains either only contingent beings or a set that contains at least one noncontingent (necessary) being.
5. A set that contains only contingent beings cannot cause this contingent being to exist.
6. Therefore, what causes this contingent being must be a set that contains at least one necessary being.
7. Therefore, a necessary being exists.

Here, we can respond to any challenge coming from the "Who made God" quarter by pointing out that a the causal principle in 2 requires only that contingent beings need a cause for their existence.

The critical premise here seems to be 5. One could argue, and I that Aquinas does argue, that if the series is a series of contingent beings, then there would have to be an infinite number of contingent beings. But the number of contingent beings in the universe is finite, so this can't be right.

Further, if there were an infinite number of contingent beings, each explanation would be an explanation in terms of something that needs an explanation as much as did the thing we were explaining. If you explain the position of the earth by saying it rests upon a turtle, is it really a satisfying answer to say that it's turtles all the way down.

We might want to ask this question: Why are there any contingent beings at all? The existence of particular contingent things that explain the existence of particular other things is not a satisfying answer to this question.

Russell responded to this question by saying "The universe is just there and that's all." If everything in the universe is contingent, does that make the universe contingent. But if each particle in the universe can cease to exist, doesn't it make sense to suggest that they all can cease to exist collectively?

But how do we know that everything in the physical world is contingent in the required sense? I believe that my car exists contingently because I have seen cars fall apart and go to the junkyard. I believe that people and animals exist contingently because I have seen them die. But what happens when I die? Since this is a theistic argument, we have to assume that our discussion partner is an atheist. What an atheist most likely believes is that we are all conglomerations of material particles. While we are alive, those particles work together organically, when we die, the functional unity that exists amongst the particles in our bodies is dissolved.

But while we know that organized unities of things in the world invariably fall apart, do we have equal confidence that the basic particles we find in the world (atoms, quarks, strings, or whatever they finally tell us it is) exist contingently. Scientists actually tell us that matter is not created, and matter is not destroyed. So couldn't the basic stuff of the physical universe be the thing that exist non-contingently, the existence of which does not depend on anything else for its existence.

So, does the basic stuff of the physical world exist contingently? I can't find anything in Aquinas that gives me a reason to think that it does. But suppose we have good reason to suppose that the universe began to exist. This was an article of faith for Aquinas, but if the standard interpretation of Big Bang cosmology is correct, then it has a basis in modern science. Historically, the atheist has answered the question "But why does the matter in the universe exist" by answering that the matter in the universe has always been there, and since it has always been there its existence does not need to be explained. If this response isn't available, then doesn't the beginning of the universe at the Big Bang provide a reason for supposing that the stuff of the physical universe exists contingently and not non-contingently?


Steve said...

Hello Dr. Reppert. I find this version of the Thomist cosmological argument you presented to be persuasive, at least points 1 through 5. To be a contingent individual, the individuals’ parts need “something more” which take it beyond mere bundle to being a unified individual. So, our metaphysics needs something in addition to what is contemplated in contemporary physicalism. So what is this “something more”? Here, I don’t see how #’s 6 and 7 would follow absent additional arguments. I understand in the tradition that “necessary” is what is not “contingent”, and God is the “necessary being”, hence 6&7. But if, contra Aquinas, you don’t start from the assumption that classical theism is true, couldn’t there be another (currently unacknowledged) lawful process in the universe which binds concrete natural individuals?

Best regards,
- Steve Esser

Dave said...

Technically, the argument presented is Thomistic, but not that of Thomas. The Third Way of Aquinas is basically this:
"The third way is taken from possibility and necessity, and runs thus. We find in nature things that are possible to be and not to be, since they are found to be generated, and to corrupt, and consequently, they are possible to be and not to be. But it is impossible for these always to exist, for that which is possible not to be at some time is not. Therefore, if everything is possible not to be, then at one time there could have been nothing in existence. Now if this were true, even now there would be nothing in existence, because that which does not exist only begins to exist by something already existing. Therefore, if at one time nothing was in existence, it would have been impossible for anything to have begun to exist; and thus even now nothing would be in existence--which is absurd. Therefore, not all beings are merely possible, but there must exist something the existence of which is necessary."

The Thomist would argue that the evidence for the contingency of even the ultimate particles of the universe would be their changeable and composite nature. If something changes, it is contingent. If something is composite, it is contingent. The most basic subatomic particles change, at least in their positions and motions in space. They are also physically and metaphysically composite. Physically, they are three dimensional, and therefore composed of parts. Metaphysically, they are composed of matter and form.

You can also reason back to their contingency from a consideration of what a necessary being would be like. A necessary being would necessarily be unchanging, because if it changed from one state to another, neither state would be necessary. Matter changes, so matter is not necessary.

Steve said...

It makes sense to me in this scheme that all matter/energy is contingent as argued. As to your last point, David, it seems to me that the necessary being has a job to do - a function - , which is actualizing contingent individuals. Being unchanging and uniform would seem to make it difficult to do this job.

Dave said...

Hi Steve,

It's always been difficult to reconcile the concept of an eternal (timeless), immutable God with the actions of creating and sustaining a temporal universe. I'm not sure that it has ever been shown to involve any incoherence, though.


Clayton said...

Hi Dr. Reppert,

Occassional reader, first time respondent.

I'm worried about this defense of 5, "The critical premise here seems to be 5. One could argue, and I that Aquinas does argue, that if the series is a series of contingent beings, then there would have to be an infinite number of contingent beings. But the number of contingent beings in the universe is finite, so this can't be right."

Once Aquinas admits that he cannot show through reason that the universe is not eternal, doesn't he have to grant that he cannot show through reason that there has not been an infinite collection of contingent things? The obvious example are universe-stages. A different way of raising the worry is that while at a particular moment the universe might contain a finite collection, the list of things that have at some time or other existed is infinite. Every member, btw, contingent.

Now, Aquinas was no dumb ox, but he didn't have perspicuous ways of representing quantified expressions either. We had to wait for Frege for that. I think a case can be made for thinking that Russell's 'the universe just is' view isn't threatened by this thought, "But if each particle in the universe can cease to exist, doesn't it make sense to suggest that they all can cease to exist collectively?" I suspect that if instead of raising the rhetorically effective question one tried to actually formulate a valid argument, it would prove quoite difficult. Whenever I try to do this, I either end up with an argument that commits a quantifier fallacy or blatantly begs the question.

Well suppose that for each thing in the universe it might have not been. That is like saying that for each serving of Jello, it might not have been that shaped. If you tell me that this shows that Jello might not have had any shape at all, I will wonder how this could be. If you tell me that since the universe might have had different parts, it might have had no parts at all, I will wonder how this could be. You might say that while necessarily material things have shapes, they do not exist necessarily. You might say that while universes necessarily have parts, they do not exist necessarily. You might be right about that. But then what was the argument for the contingency of the universe again?

Last, I'd say that while dissatisfaction with 'naturalistic' explanations of everything might be deeply unsatisfactory, Hume did a nice job demolishing Clarke's cosmological argument. Clarke, you'll recall, would admit that there could have been an infinite history and that if this were so, for every particular universe stage, there would be a suitable explanation of it in terms of its predecessor. He then went on to ask about the explanation of the collection.

But this suggests that one could have an explanation of each part without an explanation of the whole (Indeed, Clarke's argument requires that such an explanation would be incomplete). Hume asks whether having demonstrated where each grain of sand came from in a 20 grain collection whether there is a further question to ask but where did the 20 come from? My sympathies here are with Hume. What a frustratingly silly question.

Dee Jay said...

As I see it, the argument from contingency simple says that something had to, necessarily, exist in order for all that now exists to exist. The argument from contingency is, ironically enough, sort of like an argument—I mean the structure of an argument. The structure of an argument goes from initial premise to conclusion. But what if we ask for support of the initial premise. Okay, we add another initial premise and continue to argue. But, hold on. We ask again for support of that premise. Okay, we again add another initial premise . . . and so on, and so on. This can't continue on backwards ad infinitum. One cannot reach a conclusion by never starting. Thus, we begin, or at least root, arguments with what we assume to necessarily be true. For instance, the cosmological argument begins on what many, if not most, consider a necessary truth: everything that begins to exist has a cause of its existence. Some might object here, saying that the problem of evil argument, for instance, doesn't begin with a necessary truth nor is it based on one. The argument from evil begins by saying that evil exists. Agreed. This is not a necessary truth. But the necessary truth that this entire argument is based on is that there ought not be evil. If there ought be evil then there would be no problem at all. (Of course, I'm not a philosopher, so I could be entirely wrong on the above point.)

Furthermore, I think the argument from contingency gives rise to the question of how the necessary could come about from the contingent. Mathematical laws, logical truths, even moral truths, are (I would say) necessary truths. How could it be that 1 plus 1 equals something other than 2? Or that P and not-P are both true at the same time and in the same sense? Or that raping little children is good? Unlike the universe, these things, these truths, cannot not be (in my opinion). But how could the contingent universe, or the contingent "whatever," give rise to the necessary things, these things that couldn't have been any other way? And it's not that they necessary follow, in some sort of physicalistic causal sense. Rather, they are (or at least strongly seem to be) inherently necessary, in and of themselves. But this gets away from Aquinas's version of the cosmological argument.

It seems, at least to me, that if we admit that everything being within the universe (the physical universe) is contingent, even the universe itself, then it follows that there must exist something other than the universe from which the universe derives its contingency. Being contingent does mean to be dependent on something else, thus, unless we want to say that the line of contingent beings or things extends backward to infinity, we must say that there exists some necessary being or thing from which everything else is derived.

Steven Carr said...

Matter in the Universe has always existed, because there was never a time when nothing existed.

I did ask a Christian Professor of Philosopher once, Professor Greg Welty what he considered some contingent things to be contingent upon, and he replied 'Nothing'.

So it must be logically coherent to say that a contingent being is not contingent upon anything.

Don Jr. said...

If your going to start taking Christian Professor's words as being the final say then you need to start believing in God. Moreover, in the case that you sited, why is the "contingent thing" still contingent? That's like saying something rests on something else. And then when asked what it rests upon, saying it rests on nothing, but it still rests on something. It's contingent upon nothing, but its still contingent? Sounds a little ad hoc (even self-contradictory) to me.

Don Jr. said...

As a side, saying "Matter in the Universe has always existed, because there was never a time when nothing existed" seems to define "always existed" as meaning existed at every time. If that is the case, I see no problem with this statement. But, first, this still doesn't explain how the universe came into existence. And, second, to move from "always existed"—if you are to define that as "existed at every time"—to "never did not exist" presupposes that existence isn't possible outside of time (which is a highly questionable assumption). Time is the lifespan of the universe. I could say that I have existed for all of my life—"my life" being my lifespan. I couldn't then move from this to "Therefore, I never did not exist" because that (wrongly) presupposes that existence isn't possible outside of my life. To say that the universe has existed for all of time says little more than me saying I have existed for all of my life, given that the "time" we are referring to is the, more or less, "physical" time which seems to begin at the Big Bang, and not some metaphysical time, which may or may not have its beginnings at the Big Bang. Before ending, I should say that I am talking about existence here, not persistence. Of course persistence requires the existence of time, but I see nothing about existence which requires that it take place within the confines time.

Jason said...

I'm a bit suspicious about the (apparent) claim that Prof. Welty said, in effect, 'Yes, those things are contingent. What are they contingent on? ... um, nothing.' I suspect there's a misunderstanding somewhere.

I'm strongly of the opinion that the notion and application of 'contingency' needs careful and thorough revision. But I certainly don't have the time (or maybe even space {g}) to do so here.

In consideration of numerous good points (and errors) I recognize all sides of the dispute making, may I suggest revising 'contingent' to mean simply 'dependent upon something' instead of 'dependent upon something _else_'?

Steven Carr said...

The argument from contingency is easily refuted when you remember Plantinga's ontological argument.

'Necessarily, God exists in every possible world.'

Clearly this is a claim that God exists in *something*, whatever that something may be, and that the something that God exists in is not identical with God Itself.

As God has exsisted for ever, the something that God exists in has existed for ever.

So, according to Plantinga's Ontological Argument, there is nothing at all incoherent about something other than God having always existed.

And as Professor Welty pointed out, there is nothing incoherent about a contingent thing not being contingent upon anything. Jason claims I misunderstood, but it is hard to misunderstand the answer 'Nothing'.

Don Jr. said...

I'm not entirely familiar with ontological arguments, but isn't Plantinga's statement just a way of saying that God is a necessary being? Also, why is this "contingent thing" that is not contingent upon anything still being referred to as a "contingent thing"? Or, more to the point, if this "contingent thing" is not contingent upon anything, then what is now being meant by adding the adjective "contingent" to "thing"?

Steven Carr said...

DeeJay is quite correct about God as a necessary being in the Ontological Argument.

The state of affairs when God existed alone is clearly contingent. After all, it does not now exist.

And it is not contingent upon anything.

God cannot actualise the contingent state of affairs when he existed alone, because God would have to exist alone before he could actualise a world where he existed alone. God cannot actualise himself!

So we have a contingent thing which is not contingent upon anything,but which existed 'forever'.

So there is nothing logically incoherent about supposing that a contingent thing can exist for ever, while not contingent upon anything.

Assuming you think the 'God' concept is logically coherent, that is.

Don Jr. said...

(In the previous post that was deleted I mistyped one word, but it completely altered what I was saying. So I just chose to submit a new comment.)

Thanks for the reply Steven. Not to be rude or anything, but I think you have misrepresented what the ontological argument, Plantinga's included, is saying. Plantinga, and each ontological argument, as far as I can see, is saying that God necessarily exists, not that God necessarily exists alone, which is what you are suggesting. If the arguments are represented properly I don't think the problem that you raise is a problem at all.

Again, to your claim that a "contingent thing" need not be contingent on anything, I ask what then, if that is the case, is being meant by adding the adjective "contingent" to "thing"?

Anonymous said...

Doesn't contingent mean something that could happen?
It doesn't have to be.
A necessary thing would have to be.
I agree with Steven.

Jason said...

Actually, Steven, I didn't say that _you_ had misunderstood what Welty had said. I said I _suspect_ there has been a misunderstanding _somewhere_. While I remain suspicious that Prof. Welty essentially said that something contingent upon something else is not in fact contingent upon anything (which is what your claim about what he said basically means), I certainly wouldn't say his saying it was impossible. I've seen plenty of nonsensical claims from theologians on my side of the aisle before.

I suspect what actually happened was you asked him what "the state of affairs when God existed alone" is (or was) contingent upon; and he answered "Nothing". After which there was or wasn't a subsequent discussion where you made the claim 'but that state of affairs is clearly contingent, because after all it does not now exist.'

If Welty was on his game, he would have answered that the problem stems entirely from building-in a necessary time-referrent in the original description ("the state of affairs _when_ God existed alone"), after which he would have _corrected_ his answer to be something like 'your question is a nonsequitor, like asking what color Thursday is'.

If Welty wasn't on his game, or is/was committed to a position of God's foreknowledge which relies on God being subordinate to the overarching time of our natural system (as we are), then he would have kept the mistake going in his subsequent answers.

In any case, the mere fact he made a nonsensical claim (assuming he made it at all), is no more evidence that the claim is nevertheless coherent, than your quotation of Plantinga is evidence that Plantinga really meant to say God exists necessarily _within_ an overarching system.

Granted, that kind of statement ("Necessarily, God exists _in_ every possible world") is something I consider to be somewhat sloppily put; but I also recognize it being a standard phraseology in the field--and so I recognize that Plantinga could make that statement, and be understood about what he meant (and also what he _didn't_ necessarily mean), by others in the field. Context, as usual, is the key; and I know enough of Plantinga to know that he certainly is _not_ advocating _that_. Nor does his position (for why he wrote it) tacitly require it even though he would deny it elsewhere (as, to mention this example again, theologians _do_ have a bad habit presenting and requiring God to be subordinate within our natural system of time, when discussing their theories of what God's foreknowledge means and implies.)

In this particular case of Plantinga's, though, you're hyperliteralizing where there is no warrant for doing so. And given your criticisms of Plantinga in the past, I suspect you're doing it for purposes of disguised satire. (i.e. well, this is how _Christian_ proponents hyperliteralize something written by _their_ opponents, in order to straw man them, so you're just doing the same thing back to show us how stupid it is.)

Making that kind of point might be productive, I grant; and if that was your goal, you may now consider the point to be made, and move along. Sowing confusion for purposes of trolling or flamebaiting, however, is only pernicious.

Meanwhile, on the off-chance that you're actually seriously referring to Welty as some kind of authority that "there is nothing incoherent about a contingent thing not being contingent upon anything": possibly Welty is a positive aseitist, and so believes that God is dependent upon Himself for His self-existence. (I somewhat doubt this is Welty's position based on your comments, but I've learned from experience that you don't reproduce people's positions very accurately.)

If so, you may shift to discussing me (since I'm actually here) instead of Welty (who after all is not, and so cannot defend himself one way or another).

In which case, as a positive aseitist, I say:

a.) it _is_ incoherent to say that a contingent thing is not contingent upon anything (as should be sufficiently obvious to anyone with any grasp of the law of noncontradiction);

b.) it is _not_ incoherent to say that the Self-Existent is contingent upon the Self-Existent (which you may even attempt to apply to a non-sentient Independent Fact, if you wish)--so long as we accept contingent to mean 'dependent upon' and not necessarily 'dependent upon _something else_' (It's also worth noting that there are at least two major uses of 'contingent' in metaphysics, and they aren't strictly equivalent to each other, although they're close enough to be a tempting category jump by philosophers who should know better than to confute the meanings);

c.) in which case the Necessary and the Contingent can fit together quite well at the ultimate ground of existence (and even serve as grounds for what may be called 'necessary contingency' elsewhere);

d.) God can and does actualize Himself (so long as by 'actualize' we do not necessarily mean 'from nothing' or 'from something not Himself');

e.) the notion of self-actualization (acting to generate and upkeep one's existence), while it can only be done by the eternal IF (and so never has a beginning or an end to it), involves intrinsic chosen action as part of the IF's capabilities and characteristics--or, putting it another way, it tends to point toward theism rather than atheism;

f.) the notion also requires (I think) the orthodox multiplicity of Persons sharing one Substance, rather than sheer monotheism (one Person, one Substance)--or, putting it another way, positive aseity involves God Self-Begetting and God Self-Begotten being one God (Father and Son, analogically speaking) yet keeping the distinction of the primary action (the Father is not the Son, and the Son is not the Father, yet they are God in Unity).

And no, as it happens, most Christians (ironically) aren't going to go with that, choosing the tradition of privative aseity instead--which I happen to think is tantamount to proposing atheism instead of theism (much less Christian theism).

Which is a debate between Christians, not to be intruded upon by the facetious. So step carefully, please.


Steven Carr said...

Jason writes 'I suspect what actually happened was you asked him what "the state of affairs when God existed alone" is (or was) contingent upon; and he answered "Nothing".'

Your suspicions are wrong.

Don Jr. said...

Steven, if you can would you please, when you get the time, reply to the question I previously raised. I'm really interested in hearing your response. The question is directed at your claim that a "contingent thing" need not be contingent on anything. I ask: What then, if that is the case, is being meant by adding the adjective "contingent" to "thing"? Thanks.

Steven Carr said...

A contingent thing is something that does not exist in all logically possible worlds.

Don Jr. said...

Thanks for the reply Steven. I think a more precise definition for "contingent" would be something that does not necessarily exist in all logically possible words. It seems we must then ask how we are to determine what does not necessarily exist in all logically possible worlds? For instance, if we say that human existence is contingent, how have we come to that conclusion? One could say, and probably should say, that we determine what is contingent by looking at what is not necessary. Very well. If you agree with this, then how do we determine what is necessary?

It seems that what is necessary is that which cannot not exist (the laws of logic, for example). However, if something does not necessarily exist, yet it exists now, it seems that that something "owes" its existence to something (we might even say to something else), otherwise it would necessarily exist. If something exists and we mark it as being a "contingent thing," yet we say that it is not contingent on anything, then that "contingent thing"—if it does not depend on anything for its existence—cannot not exist. Thus, it seems we should really be labeling this thing as necessary, not as contingent. I may be overlooking something, but if I am not then it seems the only way to maintain what you, Steven, are suggesting (i.e., that a "contingent thing" need not be contingent on anything) is to show how something which exists but does not depend on anything for its existence could not exist.

As a side, a way I look at what is necessary (other than the obvious, like mathematical and logical laws, and, I would say, moral laws as well) is by looking at what exists and, yet, cannot be brought into existence. For instance, using one of the obvious, mathematical laws exist, but they cannot be brought into existence. Thus, we can conclude that they must necessarily exist. I find it hard to look at God, as an entire Being, and conclude that He is necessary. I think it helps, at least for me, to look at the separate aspects of His nature, to determine if He is necessary. Thus, I don't look at it as "God is necessary" so much as "that which is necessary makes up the nature of God"—which equates to "God is necessary." Other than mathematical, logical, and moral laws, what might be necessary? The rest here is simply what I say (but all this could be argued). I would say that consciousness is necessary because it exists yet there is no way, in my opinion, anything could give rise to it. I would say the same about knowledge and about ability (or power to do). To give rise to power (i.e., the ability to do) one would have to have power to do so; thus, I conclude, power, defined as the ability to do, must be necessary (because it exists yet there is no way it could be brought into existence, without it actually existing already). Just these few things give us a foundation for the nature of God, in my opinion. (Note that this last paragraph is just a thought from my perspective, and I realize we could debate this all day, so I'd rather not, because I'm not presenting it as an absolute. I'm sure many might disagree with it, which is fine, but I didn't present it to try to defend it, or as a certainty, just as a comment.)

shulamite said...

The third way proves the existence of a "primum necessarium". This being is opposed to two things: the contingent, and the necessary that is caused by another, (in the proof STA calls the second kind of thing "necessarium aliunde")

STA says in the proof itself that the 3rd way proceeds in the same sort of fashion as the 2nd way. The second way assrts that an infinite regress of second causes is impossible, b/c then there would be no first. This is clear, for every second cause is a sort of effect, and it is absolutely meaningless to talk about any amount of effects "replacing" a cause- as though an infinite amount of hammers could replace the smith. The third way replaces cause/ second cause, with necessary absolutely/ necessary through another.

Don Jr. said...

Nice post shulamite. (Nice blog too.) I thought about including, in my last post, something regarding the issue you brought up (mainly in the first paragraph of your post). But since my last post was already so lengthy without that additional commentary I decided not to. What I was going to bring up was that, for those who were considering it, I don't think it is fitting to say within a naturalistic worldview that the universe necessarily exists. If that is the case, since in a naturalistic world everything causally follows with there being no other way things could have been (which is to say, everything necessarily follows), then everything is necessary. And if, alternatively, we are to say that the universe is contingent then, as I am trying to demonstrate, we must say that it is contingent on something, otherwise it would be necessary (and then, in a naturalistic world, we'd run into the problem I just mentioned, namely, that everything would be necessary).

shulamite said...

The necessary is what cannot not be. This either means what cannot be so-and-so, or what cannot not exist, simply speaking. The kind of necessity is also in some way contingent, for there is by definition some qualification on its necessity. Among things that are simply necessary, we can make a distinction between the imperfect (matter) and the perfect (Spiritual form). Among spiritual form, we can distinguish things with extrinsic potency (see Summa T, Q 9 a.2) form the thing without it (God).

The materialist/naturalists main problem is that he doesn't understand the essential imperfection of material/matter, which by definition is "that which becomes something" There is no doubt room for necessity in matter, energy, quanta, etc. But all of them, even though necessary, are derived necessities. They relate to spiritual form as imperfect to perfect, and such form is to God alsoas greatly imperfect.

Steven Carr said...

Plantinga's 'possible worlds' theory is relevant to arguments from contingency.

The state of affairs where only God existed is a contingent state of affairs.

Therefore a contingent thing need not have a beginning in time.

Anonymous said...

As per Aquinas:
1. Whatever begins to exist, must have a cause of its existence.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause of its existence.

This so called logic depends on the truth of statement 2. How is it proved that universe "began" to exist"?

Our empirical observation, backed by sceince, is that matter cannot be created destroyed.

That the Universe exists is undoubted. Period.

Aquinas never proved statement 2.

Victor Reppert said...

Aquinas never made statement 2, at least not as a claim defended by reason. The argument you are presenting here is the Kalam Cosmological Argument, which Aquinas explicitly rejected. It was Aquinas's view that even if the universe had been in existence from eternity and did not begin to exist, it would still need a cause of its existence.

Steven Carr said...

Victor claims that the evil in this world is compatible with the existence of an omnibenevolent God.

Victor may be right or wrong, but he is clearly conceding that there are logically possible worlds that are not consistent with the existence of an omnibenevolent God.

This means that an omnibenevolent God is not a necessary being. An omnibenevolent God is not compatible with all logically possible worlds, as some logically possible worlds contain evils that even Victor would blanch at.

So Victor’s God is a contingent being , who can only exist in certain worlds, and we can apply the argument from contingency.

The concept of God is incoherent, and can only be defended by dropping whatever attributes of God are inconsistent with whatever argument for God’s existence is being proposed at any one time.

They can always be added back later, when people are proposing a different argument for God’s existence. At that time, different attributes of God have to be discarded.

But there is no argument for God’s existence which uses all of his supposed attributes.

Alan Rhoda said...

Hey Victor,

Believe it or not, but that Philo article (written, I believe, by Theodore Schick) found its way into the Hackett anthology of readings on God.

It's such an egregious straw man of Aquinas, that I find it hard to understand how the reviewers at Philo could have failed to catch it. (The article contains a few more blatant straw men besides.) Philo was just starting out back then, so maybe they were scraping the barrel to find stuff to publish, but that's no excuse. Imputing "everything has a cause" to Aquinas is unconscionably atrocious scholarship.

Steve Lovell said...

I've always liked thinking about the cosmological argument in it's various forms, particularly the argument from contingency and the Kalam argument.

Although this may not have been Aquinas's argument, I tend to think that the argument from contingency is one about "current causes of current existence". That is to say that the argument is an argument from the existence of "dependant" beings to the existence of an "independant" being which is then identified with God. Several of the posts here have been using the words "dependant" and "contingent" as though they were synonyms, but unfortunately "contingent" has several possibly relevant meanings and only Don Jr has attempted to show any connection between them.

By calling a being "contingent" we can either mean that that being's non-existence is possible, or we can mean that that being's existence is dependent on the existence of something else.

In general I think we should use "dependant" rather than "contingent" if we aren't talking about the possibility not to exist.

Moreover, even the "possibility not to exist" has several interpretations depending on the kind of possibility we are talking about. Most of the posts here so far have been assuming that if God is a necessary being then he is a "logically necessary being", i.e. one that exists in every possible world. However, another relevant interpretation here is that God is a "metaphysically necessary" being. Now I've always been rather hazy on what being "metaphysically nesessary" involves. Does anyone have any idea on this?

In any case, what the argument from contingency needs is some reason to think that "matter" is contingent in the sense of being "dependant". Victor is right that the truth of the Big Bang theory would entail that matter is contingent in the sense that it would be possible for it not to exist (whatever metaphysical necessity comes to, I think this means matter cannot be either logically or metaphysically necessary), but does it follow that matter depends for its existence on anything else?

As mentioned above, on Don Jr has so far attempted to show any connection between possible-non-existence and ontological-dependence. However, his argument does not pursuade. His argument seems to be roughly: if something exists which could have failed to exist then something must account for the fact that it exists rather than not existing. This is a versions of the the principle of sufficient reason. I think that at bottom some mininal version of this principle is involved in every version of the argument from contingency, and it is this assumption that the atheist must deny. It is here that Russell says "The universe just exists, and that's all". While I find this difficult to stomach, I can't see any way to actually refute it.

On a separate issue: Carr, I'm interested in why you think Victor is conceding that there are possible worlds that are not consistent with the existence of God. That claim doesn't obviously follow from the claim that evil in this world is not inconsistent with the existence of God. In any case, has Victor claimed elsewhere that he thinks God is logically necessary? There are plenty of very staunch theists who don't think God is logically necessary. Norm Geisler comes to mind.

Joe said...

Some of the posters continue to equate the argument from contigeny to neccesity with an argument from cause, such as the Kalam Cosmological Argument. Others seem to confuse the argument from the impossibilty of an infinite chain of causes with the argument from contingency, which is more abstract. Arguments from Cause-and-Effect are a level of abstraction below the argument from contingency, while arguments from the "fact" of the universe's begining (Such as William Craig's presentation of the Kalam argument based that moves from Big Bang, to God) represent yet another wrung down the philosophical level.

1)The Argument From Contingency: Is Metaphysical.

2) The Argument from the Impossibility of an Infinite Number of Causes:Metaphyical/Logical

3)Kalam Argument: Simplicius Metaphysicius

I would avoid the Kalam argument because it seems too simplisitic, although it does have a certain intiutive appeal.

Argument 2) seems, on the other hand, basically sound, yet requires some thorough understanding of the meaning of "Cause" and "Effect", at a metaphysical level, since a materialist would be likely to imagine the possibilty of an endless, self-causing circle; the universe as a dynamic self-actualizing and never ending chain.

Now, the argument from contingecy, the metaphysical argument, is subtler than both 2) and 3), but also more powerful:

A)There are at least some things in our experience which do not posses, in themselves, a sufficent reason for their own existence. For example: Me, you, a dog, a toy, a particle of dirt, the star alpha centari, H20, Hydrogen and Lemonade. These are contingent? How do we know they are contingent? 1)Becuase they are composed of parts, or 2) Because they are in motion or 3) Becuase they needn't be. We disginguish, rather easily, things that needn't be from things that must be.

For example, we cannot think or imagine a triangle with 4 sides, or a square without four sides. Such is an impossible object. We cannot imagine "2 + 2 = 7". It is an impossibility in principle.

On the other hand, there are many things which don't exist, but which could in priniciple exist. For example, we can imagine a horned horse, a unicorn. There is nothing intrinsicly impossible about a unicorn, it simply doesn't exist.

Or we can imagine an undiscovered elementary quantum particle called a "Zugan", the most basic of all forms of matter. "Zugans" need not exist, but there is nothing intrinsically illogical about their existence.

Now when we look out at the world of actual existing things, it is a strange fact that it is not only missing many things which could exist, but also contains many things that needn't exist at all.

We can easily imagine a reality in which there were no mountains, or stars. Upon examination we discover that everything we encounter in real life, including ourselves, need not be.

Now that which does not need to be, but, inexplicably is, demands a sufficient reason for itself. We might begin by looking to what caused this thing, say, this horse. We go back to horse anscestors, to pre-horse mammals, to reptile-mammals...back to a string of material causes...but we notice that each of these inidividual causes lacks sufficient reason for itself.

We are forced to proceed until we find a being which does not exist contingently. Such a being would not be a contingent being but a neccesary being, that is, a being in which existence is its neccesary nature.

But why can't quantum particles be the neccesary being? Because they are in motion, which means they are actualized exstrinsicly. Also, there exist more than one of them, and multiple beings cannot exist neccesarily.

Therefore, every individual thing in the universe is contingent, and as such, the universe as a whole, since it is only the sum total of contingent beings, is itself contingent. It does not provide a sufficient reason for itself.

Therefore, there must be a neccesary being, a "basic existing fact", whose nature it is to exist. A being that cannot not exist, in whom non-existence is impossible and self contradictory, is required by the existence of any beings which are contingent, which can not exist. And this, everyone understands to be "God".

Anonymous said...

Sorry to be so late to the party, but your science is wrong.
Matter can be created and destroyed.


Humans convert matter to energy every single day in nuclear reactors, destroying part of that matter in the process.

If you're going to argue "what science teaches us", at least try to be within 100 years of being up-to-date, OK?

Gyan said...

"But how do we know that everything in the physical world is contingent in the required sense? I believe that my car exists contingently because I have seen cars fall apart and go to the junkyard. I believe that people and animals exist contingently because I have seen them die. "

I do not think this proves contingency. Contingency is contrasted with metaphysical fatalism that says that everything happens by necessity. This animal dies--it was necessary, given the laws of nature or physics, and the initial conditions of the universe.
It is strictly speaking a metaphysical doctrine that can not be refuted by empirical sciences.

"but if the standard interpretation of Big Bang cosmology is correct, then it has a basis in modern science"
There is no such interpretation. Pls read Fr Jaki. Science is not competent to pronounce on the creation of the universe (which is again a metaphysical doctrine). The creation of universe was NOT an empirical event (nobody could have been there to observe it).

Mr. Green said...

Gyan: Contingency is contrasted with metaphysical fatalism that says that everything happens by necessity.

Actually, that's something else. The contingency Aquinas is referring to in this context is exactly things' coming into and going out of existence. They're contingent upon, i.e. dependent on, other things (whether the result of those things was inevitable or not).