July 25, 2014

Cosmological Arguments

So far, we've considered arguments for the existence of God from our desires, from teleology, and many from contingency. Now, let's look at the category of cosmological arguments.

This is an interesting group.  Cosmological arguments have to do with the cosmos--the universe as a whole--of course. But what about the cosmos?

Are we discussing it's fine tuning? That's teleology - that the cosmos seems to have design or purpose to it. We discussed that in The Argument from Design.

Are we discussing the beginning of the universe? That's contingency - including arguments from the beginning of existence.

We've already covered a lot of ground in this area! We'll look at a few more arguments based on cosmology, on the study of the universe.  One such is the Kalam Cosmological Argument. It's an old argument for the existence of God, coming from the 800's AD. It argues for God as creator of the universe and so falls into the broad category of contingency arguments.

The Kalam has gotten considerable attention in recent years because of the work of Dr. William Lane Craig.  He has formulated it this way:
1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

He continues:
4. If the universe has a cause, it is uncaused, beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, unimaginably powerful, and personal.
5. Therefore, a personal Creator of the universe exists, who is uncaused, beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and unimaginably powerful.

We'll come back to his fourth and fifth points later on. Those are later, higher bricks in what we're building up; right now, we're concerned with God existing -- any old god that could make the universe (so to speak).

The first point, Dr. Craig often points out is intuitive. We go through our day expecting this to hold true--that everything we see has a cause. Everything that begins existing has a cause of that beginning. He likes to say that if universes just pop into existence from nothing, then why not "root beer, or bicycles or Beethoven"?  "What makes nothing so selective?" he asks.

Dr. Peter Kreeft expresses this in his discussions of contingency arguments, as well. He often points out that if you saw a rabbit just appear, you wouldn't say "oh well, rabbits just happen". You would look for a cause--a magic trick, a special affect, a mental or physical act.  You'd settle for "it's a miracle" (a supernatural cause) before "it just happened" (no cause at all).

The second point, Dr. Craig and others have explored in great detail. For now, we'll stick with a philosophical point that he has argued: that an actual infinite cannot exist. If there cannot be a real infinite, then the universe could not be infinite. It must have had a beginning.  (Later, we'll review some physical evidence for this, as well.)

If we accept those two points, then we must logically accept the conclusion.  If everything that begins to exist has a cause, and the universe began to exist, then the universe must have a cause.

Consider a diagram of those points:

We have a circle that contains all things that begin to exist. That's where we find all the root beer, bunnies, apologists, bloggers, and so forth.

There is also a circle representing everything that has a cause. If its true that everything in "begins to exist" must also be in "has a cause", then we have the diagram to the right.

The black dot represents the universe.*  Is there anywhere you could place that dot so that its in "has a cause" but not in "begins to exist"?  No.  If it begins to exist, then it also has a cause.  Thus, the universe (the black dot) must be in the category "has a cause".
* diagram not to scale

Dr. Craig describes the Kalam argument in more detail, as well as others, in his essay The New Atheism and Five Arguments for God.  Also, at StrangeNotions.com--the site for dialog between Catholics and atheists--Steven Dillon writes about how he came to accept Why Everything Must Have a Reason for Its Existence.

Next time, we'll consider support from physics as part of making a cosmological argument.

July 07, 2014

Arguments from Contingency: Goodness

St. Thomas Aquinas' fourth way is the Argument from Gradation of Being, from Degree, or from Goodness. It's an argument based on our experience that some things are better than others.

Better or Worse?

Every time, my ophthalmologist flips those lenses back and forth.  Better?  Five.. or six?  (Lenses five and six look exactly the same to me. He knows that; I know that; and we still play this game.)

We naturally experience this. Some things are better than others.  This cup of coffee is hotter than that one. This winter was colder than last winter.  Her car is faster than his car. I got a better grade in this class than that class.

Some things are better than others.  Some are more - hotter, colder, more costly, tastier, prettier, smellier, and so on.

The Best of the Best

How do we know one thing is hotter than other? It's just hotter, right? But why?  What makes it hotter?

We know there is absolute lowest temperature: −459.67°F or 0K.  "Colder" and "hotter" are relative to that absolute. The temperature 80°F is hotter than 70°F because it is further from that absolute zero.

(Aquinas argues that our measure of degree are based on the "uttermost" case and something is hotter if it more closely resembles the hottest thing. Rather than get into the theorized Planck temperature (1.416785 x 10^32 K), it seems easier to discuss absolute zero, and it doesn't affect the logic. Though its worth noting how, as often happens, we find that Aquinas is ahead of his time and that faith and science get along beautifully.)

I find one pizza tastier than another because I have, in my mind, an ideal pizza. I know what pizza should be (and I'm from New Jersey - don't start with me about pizza). The best pizza is the closest to that ideal.

My wife's shirt is more blue than mine because there is an absolute measure of "blue". There is a pure blue (for instance, in HTML it's #0000FF). Her shirt is closer to that pure blue.

The Summum Bonum

Now, Aquinas takes an interesting philosophical step. He states that "the maximum of any genus (a class or group) is the cause of all in that genus." (emphasis mine)  There is a greatest heat which is the source of all heat, for example.

There must be a maximum goodness, a maximum truth, a maximum beauty from which we measure everything.  That maximum is God.

If we agree with Aquinas that the greatest is the cause of everything in that class, then we can say, too, that the maximally great being is the cause of all being--and we have the creator God.

We're through four different "ways" to argue for God from contingency. We're going to add a few more bricks to this level of the wall: cosmological argument and ontological argument.

Give a listen to a new playlist of brief excerpts from Dr. Peter Kreeft's talks, all on the subjects of beauty and music.