The Argument for God from the Contingency of the Universe (Part 2b_Is the Universe a Necessary Being?)

“Why may not the material universe be the necessarily existent Being?…We dare not affirm that we know all the qualities of matter; and, for aught we can determine, it may contain some qualities which, were they known, would make its nonexistence appear as great a contradiction [metaphysical impossibility] as that twice two is five.”[1]

A slightly different approach can be taken regarding the question of the universe existing as a necessary being. We can ask whether physical objects could exist necessarily. About the universe, Reichenbach wrote:

“all its constituents are contingent beings”[2]

A physical universe is made up of physical parts. This seems to be an obvious fact. And if physical objects exist necessarily, then the naturalist may be on to something. But there are some considerations that appear to count against physical objects existing necessarily.

A necessary being cannot be different from the way it is. Suppose we have a universe (Ua) with a particular configuration of fundamental particles. If Ua is necessary, then the arrangement of particles cannot be any other way than the way it now exists. And, as a necessary being, Ua would have to exist in every possible world, including the actual world. But anything that is physical is composed of parts (the fundamental particles) that can be arranged in alternative ways. If so, it seems to follow that Ua could have been arranged physically in some other way. So in some possible world Ua would no longer be Ua, but Ub, i.e., a universe with another configuration. But since a necessary being must exist in all possible worlds, Ua cannot be necessary. It obviously does not exist in certain possible worlds. Ua is thus contingent. This applies equally to any other universe of a particular configuration of particles (Ub, Uc, Ud, etc).
According to philosopher Alexander Pruss,

“There are two kinds of contingency in a being:
1. The being could have failed to exist.
2. The being could have had other intrinsic properties from the one it does.

In classical theism, God does not have either sort of contingency”[3]

It seems clear that physical objects 1) could have failed to exist, and 2) could have had other intrinsic properties from the ones they do have.
Second, one can use logical intuition to see that physical objects cannot be necessary. Philosopher Stephen Parrish writes,

“[P]articles, such as quarks or leptons all have certain sizes, shapes, masses, locations, charges, and so forth”[4]

In order to be a physical object, it would need to have at least some of these properties. It’s hard to imagine a physical object existing in space that had no size, for example. If the object didn’t have any properties, we can deem the object to be non-existent.
As noted above, a necessary being cannot have been different from the way it is. This means that to say a necessary being is different would be to entail a contradiction. If a physical object is to be considered a necessary being, its being different would need to be a contradiction. But, Parrish writes,

“how could this be? If the particle has a certain size, it would have to be logically impossible for it to have had a different size. However, where is the contradiction generated by thinking that P was 1 percent larger or smaller than it was? Or that one of its charges could be 2 percent stronger or weaker than it actually is? Therefore, since any physical characteristic that one might think of comes in some definite size or strength, then to conceive of the size or strength being different than it is does not generate a contradiction. Hence, the properties of the particle cannot be necessary.”[5]

But perhaps the universe is just a brute fact that has no explanation. We’ll examine this next time.



[1] David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, ed., Richard H. Popkin (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1980), Part IX, 55; as cited in C. Stephen Layman, Letters to Doubting Thomas: A Case for the Existence of God (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2006), p.94.

[2] Bruce Reichenbach, The Cosmological Argument : A Reassessment; (Charles C. Thomas Publications Ltd., 1972); as cited in Richard T. Purtill, Michael H. Macdonald, Peter J. Kreeft, Philosophical Questions: An Introductory Anthology (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1985), p.308.
[4] Stephen Parrish, “Against a Naturalistic Causal Account of Reality: A Response to Graham Oppy,” Philosophia Christi 13.2 (2011): 420.

[5] Ibid. 421.


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The Argument for God from the Contingency of the Universe (Part 2a-Is the Universe a Necessary being?)

The conclusion of the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument (LCA), or Argument from Contingecy, is that a necessary being exists that provides the explanation or sufficient reason for the existence of the universe.

One objection to the contingency argument is that, perhaps the universe is itself a necessary being.  If this is so, then the universe would not require an explanation external to it for its existence.

David Hume once asked,

“Why may not the material universe be the necessarily existing being, according to this pretended explication of necessity?”[1]

Additionally philosopher Wallace Matson wrote:

  ““The world itself might be the necessary being after all:  infinite in power and maximal in goodness, but neither containing nor presupposing any personal intelligence….the world might be conceived of as having (nontemporally) actualized itself – more simply, as having just always been here, so to speak, automatically.  It is hard to see why the argument should not lead to this conclusion just as well as to the orthodox one.”[2]

In response to Matson, Bruce Reichenbach wrote:

““But is the world or material universe a proper candidate for the position of necessary being?  I think not.  The totality or world or universe is nothing over and above the sum total of its constituents.  But all its constituents are contingent beings:  what exists in the universe could conceivably not exist.  Now if the components, as contingent, could conceivably not exist, then the totality or world which they compose could likewise conceivably not exist, for if all the constituents ceased to  exist at the same time (which is possible), the totality of which they constitute the parts would likewise cease to exist.  And if the whole which now exists can conceivably not be, it is contingent.  Thus, the world cannot be the necessary being, for which we argue, for if it were, it would possess contradictory properties:  it would be necessary because it is the necessary being to which the cosmological proof argues, and it would be contingent because it is the totality of contingent beings”[3]

(to be continued)

[1] Bruce Reichenbach, The Cosmological Argument : A Reassessment; (Charles C. Thomas Publications Ltd., 1972); as cited in Richard T. Purtill, Michael H. Macdonald, Peter J. Kreeft,  Philosophical Questions: An Introductory Anthology (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1985), p.307.

[2] Ibid., p.307

[3] Ibid., p.308

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The Argument for God from the Contingency of the Universe (Part 1)

In the book Reason for the Hope Within, ed. Michael J. Murray (Eerdmans, 1999), William C. Davis provides this argument from the contingency of the universe:

“The universe didn’t have to be here, and even if it has always been here it didn’t have to be the way it is. This means the universe is a contingent thing. But all contingent things depend for their existence upon something else. The universe may depend upon a cause which is itself contingent, but it is not possible that everything is contingent. Thus there must be a necessary (indeed, a self-necessary) being which is the ultimate cause of the universe. God is the self-necessary ultimate cause of the universe.” (p.25)

More formally, he provides the same argument in numbered premises:

1)There are contingent things (at least some things might not have existed).

2)All contingent things are dependent (at least for their coming into existence) on something else.

3)Not everything can be dependent on something else. (Even if the chain of dependence looped back on itself, the entire chain would still be dependent, and thus something outside the chain would be needed.)

4)Thus, a nondependent (necessary) things exists (which explains dependent things). (And for those already familiar with God on the basis of revelation, it is not hard to give a name to this necessary being.)

One could object that this necessary being is not the god of scripture, but the god of the philosophers. This objection misses the point that the god of scripture can (in fact, must) have at least the attributes of the god of the philosophers. He may have more attributes. He may have the same attributes but to a higher degree. The scriptural god may be more, but is certainly not less than the god of philosophical argument.

We have here a good argument. It attempts to answer the question that Leibniz posed: “why is there something rather than nothing?”
A naturalist might attempt to escape the conclusion by disputing that the universe is a contingent thing. We’ll examine this next time.

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