Friday, September 23, 2016

Why Are We Here? (Part 1)

This week’s article is going to be something a little bit different. They usually start with a question, either about something in the Bible or something happening in the world around us. But lately, I have been studying some philosophical concepts about the existence of God, which can also be of interest. So we are going to look at one of them over the course of a few articles, and depending on how it goes, I may cover more of these concepts in the future.

First Things First

There are some introductory things to get out of the way first, however. One is that I am not a philosopher. I didn’t come up with these concepts myself, obviously, but I am also not claiming to have a perfect grasp of them. If my presentation seems simplistic, that may very well be because it matches my understanding. But we all have to start somewhere, and if it isn’t ironclad, I hope it will at least be accessible. Also, if you know the argument better or if I leave something unclear, please leave a comment either here or on one of the Quest Forums social media platforms.

Another thing has to do with philosophical arguments for God, in general. They cannot be made perfectly. Because God is unseen, there is always room for doubt. I am not offering a proof. Rather, I am offering an argument. That means listing the best evidence available, drawing a conclusion from it, and attempting to present it persuasively. But don’t discount that approach because it isn’t absolute. We work off of assumptions every day. For example, you expect your car to stop when you press on the brake pedal because that is what it is supposed to do and what it has always done. Could it fail? Yes. But you don’t think of that every time you drive. The evidence you have is good enough for you to move forward.

Introducing the Cosmological Argument

Keeping those things in mind, let’s dive in. Our question is, why are we here? And from a philosophical perspective, the answer comes in the form of the Cosmological Argument (CA). But what is the CA? The first clue to the answer is in knowing what “cosmological” means. “Cosmos” means “world,” but not necessarily in the strict sense of the planet earth (though it can mean that). In this case, it means “universe.” And “logic” means “study.” So just as most of us learned that “biology” means “the study of life,” “cosmology” means “the study of the universe.” Therefore, the CA is the argument for the existence of God from the study of the universe.

It is a bit more specific than that, however. Cosmology and astronomy are closely linked, but they are not truly synonymous. If the definition of cosmology had you thinking of looking up at the stars, then you are only partly correct. Strictly speaking, cosmology is the study of the formation of the universe, of how it came to be and how it continues to develop. In modern culture, many people look to astronomy for those answers. The study of the stars can teach us a great deal about cosmological development. However, modern astronomy cannot answer all of cosmology’s questions, and cosmology is much older than modern astronomy.

Cosmology is a basic human pursuit. It is to ask that question, “Why are we here? Where did all of this come from?” It has been around as long as we have, and every story of creation is an attempt at it. The CA as we now have it is a very refined version, leaning on logic rather than story. But the goal is still the same.


The CA, in basic terms, can be broken down into the three C’s of Contingency, Causation, and Continuation. It is best to take Contingency first, because the other two rely on it. The question of contingency is, why is there something rather than nothing? When we look at the universe around us, we notice that it is full of contingent things. To put it another way, it is full of dependent things. And to put it another-nother way, it is full of possible things. What that means is, everything in existence does not actually have to exist. Their existence is a possibility, and a possibility that happened. But it was not a necessity. Because none of the things in the universe were a necessity, because they could have been not, they depend on something else for their existence.

Infinite Regress

One way to interpret this fact is to say that the universe is infinite. It goes on forever, and so there is a constant series of contingency. I only exist because of my parents, who only exist because of theirs, who only exist because of human life all the way back to its beginning, which only exists because of the earth, which only exists because of the sun, and so on and so forth. As long as the universe is infinite, the chain of contingency can build on itself forever.

There is a problem with that, though. The universe cannot be infinite. That chain of contingency stretching back forever? It is a concept called “infinite regress,” and it is impossible. You cannot have a chain of real events without a beginning, because it would also have to have no ending. But if it has no ending, then it cannot reach the current position in the chain.

Hopefully that is confusing, because it confuses me. The best explanation I could find had to do with time. For the universe to be infinite, time would also have to be infinite so the endless chain of contingency could take place. But time is divided into all kinds of units that can be measured and experienced. In other words, a second is real, not theoretical. Now, if there were an endless number of seconds before the one in which you read this word, how would it be possible to get here? You couldn’t. When it comes to things that actually happen, there is no such thing as “infinity+1.” If you have infinity already, you cannot add something new to it. Since every second of the present is a new one, time cannot be infinite. It had to start somewhere.

Necessary Being

That has some major implications. For one thing, if time started, then it is also contingent. It is not necessary, but only possible. Before it existed, it didn’t exist, so it depended on something else to get started. Also, if time is finite, then everything else in the universe has to be, as well. The chain of dependency cannot have an infinite past, so it cannot be infinite, either.

And yet, we have a universe, and it came from somewhere. If the entire universe is contingent, and therefore cannot explain itself, then where did it come from? This is the first assumption of the CA. It is reasonable to say, based on the evidence of the universe, logic, and mathematics, that the chain of contingent things must have a starting point. That starting point could not be contingent, or else it would have to be preceded and the question would start all over. Whatever starts everything else would then have to be necessary. While the existence of the entire universe is merely possible, the non-existence of this starting point would be impossible. It is therefore called the Necessary Being. It has to be there for everything else to have an explanation.

We’ve only covered one C so far, but it has taken up a lot of space. And probably, it has been a bit of a grind. So I am going to stop here for this week, and pick up with Causation next week. Then we will see how far we get.

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