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Religion: Cosmological Argument, Part 2

Part 2 of a pair. Tim moves on to the version of the Cosmological Argument for the existence of God called 'the Modal Argument.' The idea is that all the contingent facts about the world need to be explained by some necessary fact, and that necessary fact is that God exists.

Speaker: Dr. Timothy Yenter, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, University of Mississippi.
Created by Gaurav Vazirani.

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  • old spice man green style avatar for user Don Spence
    I'd go with the Flying Spaghetti Monster, as long as there was some really good Marinara sauce. Tastier than the wafer that Catholics believe is the body of Christ. Seriously, how do you differentiate my argument from your argument for God. Dr. Yenter?
    (2 votes)
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  • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user tuannb1997
    There are some questions I need to ask, because I find your video really confusing:
    1) How is it possible that the The Necessary Being is God while none of the premises implies or points out that God is a Necessary Being ?
    2) The word "Contingent" is similar in meaning to "Random". Imagine that I roll a dice. There is a possibility that number 6 would turn up, but there is also possibility that it wouldn't. What is the Cause to number 6 turning up or not, then ?
    3) P1: God does Exist
    P2: Whatever exists must have a Cause
    => Conclusion: God has a Cause
    So, what differs God from other Contingent Things ?
    (5 votes)
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    • male robot hal style avatar for user Zyracksis
      There are several misconceptions here. First, you misquote the premise as "Whatever exists must have a Cause" when in reality this is not the premise that the argument has. The premise is actually "Whatever begins to exist has a cause", and clearly theists would hold that God did not begin to exist.

      You also ask why we identify God as the necessary thing. This is just what the word God means in classical theism: "God" means "the necessary thing".

      You make a similar mistake with contingency, suggesting that God is a contingent thing. God is not contingent, God is necessary, that is the whole point.
      (2 votes)
  • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Lyle Gonzalez
    What does it mean to say something has to exist (is necessary)? Has to exist for what?
    (7 votes)
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  • male robot johnny style avatar for user James DePirro
    I would just like to ask the gentlemen who commented that this argument was long ago defeated, "By who?" This argument has never been defeated although it has been misunderstood. Those that have written extensively to defeat it all had a wrong understanding of the causal argument. They thought the causal argument stated that every cause must have a cause too. The causal argument however states that every effect must have a cause. in other words there are no uncaused effects. First cause still stands as an uncaused cause. The argument has never been defeated. Although I will admit that this cosmological argument does not prove that first cause is the God of the Bible. but when the cosmological argument is taken together with other convincing arguments like the ontological argument for God and the revelation of God in the Holy Bible one can be convinced one way or the other with sound reasoning. Aritstotles mover for instance- who moved? There should be no movement without a first mover according to the laws of physics and yet there is movement everywhere. How do we explain this? I believe God is both first cause and first mover.
    (7 votes)
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    • mr pants teal style avatar for user monkey77
      The problem with any argument that talks about a first mover is that this presupposes some Aristotelian concept of causality, even though this has been heavily criticised by modern and contemporary metaphysicians. There are other models of causality. The ontological argument also has several problems because in some formulations it treats existence as a predicate.
      (1 vote)
  • leaf green style avatar for user José Capablanca
    The case for P1) is deeply flawed (and no philosopher I know supports it that way, so I find it rather odd that it is done so in the video) for it rests on a confusion between contingency in the temporal sense (being finite) and in the modal sense (possibly existing and possibly not existing; or, on some versions, actually existing but possibly not existing):

    You can't infer that every contingent thing has a cause because something can't come out of nothing. Something is contingent if it exists but could have not existed. The universe, or a part of the universe, could be eternal (have always existed) and therefore it would need to come of of anything. Yet, being eternal is compatible with being contingent. Maybe it is possible that no physical objects existed, however in the actual world were they do exist they could be eternal.

    An illustrative example:

    There could be a possible world where someone exists forever, without beginning and end. However, the admission of this possibility doesn't imply that person has to exist in every possible world, such as ours.

    (Note for newcomers: 'possible world' as used here doesn't imply a state of affairs that exists in some alternative dimension, just a possible way our world/universe could have been)
    (4 votes)
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  • male robot hal style avatar for user Collin Shaw
    Hey, so I've got a Theory on this one. Since we are always looking for a cause (causing infinite regression) can it not be that instead of there being a God or a scientific point of creation that the universe has always been there (a necessity just like numbers are for math) and that nothingness (since it doesn't occur in Natur) is just a creation of human thinking ? If I'm wrong on this one somewhere please tell me because it bugs me that I can't find an error in this idea.
    (2 votes)
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    • ohnoes default style avatar for user Tejas
      There is no logical reason that there is a beginning from nothingness. The problem is that we have scientific evidence that there is a beginning from nothingness. There didn't have to be a beginning, but the evidence suggests that there was.
      (3 votes)
  • leaf green style avatar for user Eylrid
    How do we know that "Out of nothing, nothing comes"?

    Why is everything either contingent or necessary?

    Isn't this a fallacy of division?

    How do you know the baby isn't necessary?

    What justification is there for believing the the necessary cause is a being?
    (2 votes)
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  • leaf red style avatar for user Noble Mushtak
    Around , if God is defined as a necessary being and we have shown that some necessary being exists (although this argument could be criticized at parts as pavlos_kanellakis did, please assume that some necessary being exists for the sake of answering this question), then how is it shown that the necessary being is indeed God?
    (2 votes)
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  • leafers ultimate style avatar for user The Chosen One
    Couldn't something else cause it as in the multiverse theorem (multiple universe). An all those multiple universes could have caused themselves because who said that there had to be time before the big bang. Perhaps there wasn't time and things could cause themselves. Just because we can not grasp these ideas does not mean that this could not happen just as we cannot not draw in the fourth dimension.
    (1 vote)
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  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Anitej Banerjee
    Isn't the argument that a necessary series of events be full of necessary actions a fallacy of composition? I understand that the converse argument has it's own drawbacks. for example if any necessary event is caused by a contingent event, how does one determine if it is necessary or not?
    (1 vote)
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    • purple pi teal style avatar for user Maria
      If a contingent event must happen so that a necessary event can happen, it is therefore necessary.
      If the first event was truly contingent, then the necessary event would happen without it. If the 'necessary' event had be caused by the contingent one, both are contingent.
      If the whole series is necessary, it would have to happen regardless of what else did or didn't happen, including contingent events. And all the causes behind the necessary events would have to be necessary to make the series happen, or else the whole series would be contingent.
      So it appears logically impossible to have necessary events caused by contingent ones, and is fallacious at all.
      (1 vote)

Video transcript

(intro music) Hello, I'm Dr. Timothy Yenter, assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Mississippi. I'll be talking about the[br]cosmological argument. We just looked at a version[br]of the cosmological argument that has the following form. One: whatever begins to[br]exist must have a cause. Two: the universe began to exist. Three: therefore, the universe[br]must have a cause. Considering the first[br]premise led us to ask "Why might this be true?" Is it a metaphysical principle, that is, a principle[br]that applies necessarily and is not dependent on the particular[br]laws of our universe? Here's one reason for thinking that the first premise is[br]a metaphysical principle: it is just an instance of a[br]more fundamental principle. This more fundamental principle is that you can't get[br]something out of nothing. Sometimes it's stated[br]in the fancy Latin way, "ex nihilo nihil fit," which just means "out of[br]nothing, nothing comes." This seems like such a[br]bedrock principle of reasoning that many have claimed it[br]is a metaphysical principle. It simply must be true. This bedrock principle[br]could serve as the basis for the second kind of[br]cosmological argument, the modal version. Now, "modal" is just a[br]fancy, technical word for "anything involving what[br]is possible or necessary." So, some things are necessary. Other things aren't[br]necessary, but they exist. They exist, but they don't have to exist. These things that don't have[br]to exist, but they might, are called "contingent things." So we can divide everything[br]that does or could exist into necessary things[br]and contingent things. Using these basic ideas, we can construct a second version of the[br]cosmological argument which we'll call the modal version. It works like this. One: every contingent thing[br]that exists has a cause. Two: no contingent thing[br]can cause itself to exist. Three: so every contingent thing[br]must be caused by something else. Four: the series of contingent causes[br]and effects is itself contingent. Five: the series of contingent causes[br]must be caused by something else. Six: the thing that causes the[br]series of contingent causes must be a necessary being. Seven: this necessary being is God. We've discussed reasons for[br]believing the first premise. To deny it would be to say that something could come out of nothing, which seems absurd. What happens if we deny[br]the second premise? If contingent things can[br]cause themselves to exist, wouldn't that mean that the[br]thing existed before it existed? If causes happen before their[br]effects, then it seems so. But that's obviously bad. No matter how hard you try,[br]you can't bring yourself into existence, because[br]you don't exist yet. Well, from the first two[br]premises, the third one follows. Now the fourth one is a bit tricky. Why believe this? Well, imagine something in the[br]universe, like a baby crying. It has a cause, right? Now imagine that cause. Maybe his baby brother[br]hit him on the head. Now that has a further cause, and then there's a[br]further cause, and so on. Each contingent thing or event[br]in the universe has a cause. You could imagine each of these going back in a line, perhaps forever. Now take a step back[br]and look at that line. Is the line, that series of causes, is it contingent or necessary? Well, if it were necessary,[br]then this particular arrangement of the world, with everything[br]happening as it does, each of these particular elements of the universe must be necessary too, because this whole series[br]of events is necessary. But this isn't how we[br]usually think of the universe. I think the baby crying isn't necessary. There's another way things could have gone without the baby crying. But if the universe is[br]necessary, then it seems that everything that happens[br]in the universe is necessary. So throughout all of history,[br]from a billion years ago, it was always going to be[br]true the baby would cry. This eliminates contingency altogether. Most people find this too hard to give up. So, back to the line of contingent causes. That circle, is it necessary? If the reasoning above is persuasive, then we have to say, "No, it's[br]not necessary. It's contingent." Here, we step in and[br]apply our earlier rule: if it is contingent, then it must be caused by something else. Now, could this other thing that caused the entire chain be[br]itself a contingent thing? Well, there are three choices. One: the whole chain is contingent and caused by something inside the chain. Now this is really implausible, because we don't usually think that a part can cause the whole of which it is a part. For starters, it would be causing itself, which, as we've already talked about, just seems too absurd to consider. So secondly, the whole chain is contingent and caused by something else contingent. Does this work? Well, the worry here is that we haven't really made any progress. Instead, we've started what's[br]called an infinite regress. We now have a contingent thing causing this chain of contingent things. But, applying our earlier principle, doesn't that new contingent[br]thing itself need a cause? And doesn't that need a cause? And that, and that? And we're off again on the same problem repeated over and over forever. The third option then is[br]that the whole chain really is contingent but it's caused[br]by something necessary. This seems to be the only option left. And since God, as traditionally described by monotheistic religions,[br]is a necessary being, it looks like we just found[br]a modal, cosmological argument for the existence of God. 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