Friday, September 30, 2016

Why Are We Here? (Part 2)

This article is the second part of a look into the Cosmological Argument (CA) for the existence of God. In the last one we laid some groundwork and considered the lynchpin of the argument, known as Contingency. This week, we will look at its other two major components.


As a reminder, what we learn from the first part of the CA is that there must be a Necessary Being. Otherwise, nothing contingent could exist. With that established, we can move on to the very closely related second C of Causation. The argument here is very little different from that of Contingency. It just depends more on our observations of the universe.

First Cause

Fortunately, it can be put more simply. We observe that everything that begins to exist has a cause outside of itself. Again, my parents are mine, humanity is theirs, the earth is ours, the sun is its, and so on. Go back far enough, and you reach the beginning of the universe. And the universe does have a beginning. Contingency establishes that as a necessity, and it has also been scientifically observed. So if everything that has a beginning has a cause outside itself, and the universe has a beginning, then the universe must have a cause outside itself. Philosophers refer to it as the First Cause.

The First Cause’s Cause

The most common objection to this part of the CA is to ask, what caused the First Cause? But that really just misses the point. The First Cause is not observed to have a beginning, so it does not require a cause. And that has already been shown through Contingency. The First Cause would, by necessity, be the Necessary Being. Therefore, it could never not exist. It must be uncaused. It must simply be. Otherwise, you run into the impossible concept of infinite regress.

Limits of Modern Cosmology

Also, this does show the limits of modern cosmology. Astronomical study can only tell us about things we can observe. The more we look into the stars, the more we can piece together about the universe up to its beginning. But it is impossible to empirically test or measure anything before that, because nothing physical existed in nature until that point, and science can only observe the physical. Therefore, whatever caused the universe is, by definition, supernatural. That just means it is more-than natural in this context, and does not lead immediately to spiritual or religious implications. But it is a necessity that nature’s cause be something beyond nature, and therefore beyond the scope of the natural sciences. That is important to know, because in our culture it is often heard that science can provide all the answers. The CA shows that it cannot.

We know to this point, then, that the universe is contingent and caused, and must therefore have been preceded by a Necessary Being and a First Cause. But that does leave us with a major question. Even if it is stipulated that something started the universe, does it mean that the something is still governing the cosmos? To put it in more theological terms, if there was a God, is He still alive and interested in creation?


Continuation is the aspect of the CA designed to answer that question. And as with Causation, it is an extension of Contingency. After all, the concept of the Necessary Being gives us the solution to the first half of our problem. If it is necessary, then it simply is. It is eternal.

Continuing Care

The second half is more important, though. The First Cause was necessary to the beginning of the universe, but that does not mean it had to remain at work. At least, not at first glance. But by returning to the concept of dependency, we see that the Creator is still productive.

Continuation recognizes that not only did dependent things come into being, but they continue to be and new things continue to be made. This aspect of continued dependent existence is true of everything in the universe. It is therefore true of the universe. What is an aspect of the very nature of every part is an aspect of the whole.

Transitive Nature

To spell that out, let me use a common example. Consider a hardwood floor in which every piece is made of oak. Even if every piece were given a different stain, and cut to a different length and width, what would the floor be? It would still be oak (and also ugly, but that is neither here nor there). Broadly shared qualities allow for generalization. Just as it is reasonable to say that a floor made of all oak pieces is oak, it is also reasonable to say a universe made of dependent parts is dependent.

Right Now

So now, take that to a more explicit statement. If every part of the universe is dependent right now, then the entire universe is dependent right now. It continues to exist because something continues to make it exist. What started it must sustain it, or it expires. A fire goes out without fuel, or to put it another way, a lighthouse needs a keeper. For the universe to go on existing, it must have a Continual Source.

I am going to stop there for now. In these two articles, we have formed a foundational conceptualization of the CA. That will allow us to wrap up next week by going through some conclusions that can be drawn, some others that cannot, and the implications for our understanding of the universe’s beginning and its Creator.

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