Cosmological argument an introduction

Mankind has always wanted to know why there is something rather than nothing; why we are here etc.

The cosmological argument says there needs to be an external source; a reason for the universe existing.

This external cause must be God – god must therefore be necessary.

The cosmological argument is an a posteriori argument – one which works backwards from the evidence to a conclusion.

It is also an inductive argument which means it goes beyond the premises to find a conclusion and this may not be necessarily found within the premises but involve a leap of faith.

Cause and effect

We see chains of cause and effect all around us and above all because we are born and we know we will die we assume that everything is governed by causes. The question therefore is can there be infinite chains of cause and effect? Infinite regress, or must there have been ultimately a first cause which caused everything to come into existence? If so then that first cause must be God.

Aristotle said ‘nothing can come from nothing’; he didn’t believe in infinite chains so he believed there must be an ‘unmoved mover.

Long after, Thomas Aquinas assimilated Aristotelian philosophy into Christianity. He believed that if nothing caused the chain then the chain couldn’t exist therefore something must have caused it since nothing can come from nothing therefore there had to be an ultimate cause.

There must be a prime mover, an uncaused cause which exists outside the universe, not governed by causal rules; not having a cause itself; this being we call God.

Q Think about Adam and Eve what kind of answer is this story? What is the alternative to believing it?

To religious philosophers God has to be still active in the world, still in control of the events and still interested in its development. To use an analogy God is like a farmer who plants a seed and nurtures and weeds it to get the best out of it.

Critics of this argument would argue if everything has a cause why exempt God from that? The answer is that if God is as St Anselm has said ‘the greatest being imaginable’ then for God to have been created would mean there was still something greater. Therefore God must be self-causing.

Hume says why must it be God – even if there was a first cause why must that be God? He also saw no point in looking for explanations beyond the universe: either it has no explanation or we must look within the universe for an answer. One way he suggested to accept that maybe infinite regress was not impossible was if we accept cause and effect as arbitrarily imposed on the universe, something we ‘see’ because we need an explanation, but he believed that cause and effect were not necessarily linked. Indeed at the sub-atomic level in physics today many believe that everything is in chaos. Immanuel Kant also believed that order was just something we had imposed on creation because we can’t cope with disorder. As Hume said we don’t have the experience or the technology to understand yet but eventually we will, but just because we don’t understand at the moment doesn’t mean we have to posit a God as the answer to all the unanswerable questions.

Aquinas put forward 5 reasons we should believe god exists. These are known as The Five Ways and we have already dealt with the first two:

  1. The argument from the unmoved mover
  2. The argument from the uncaused cause
  3. The argument from possibility and necessity

This is the idea that God has to exist.

We are contingent beings; the universe is a contingent place – in other words we need other things, factors, for us to exist. You are dependent for your existence on your parents and they on their parents. So also then the universe is dependent for its existence on something which brought it into existence.

As you can see this is a progression from Aquinas’ other arguments. He goes on to argue though everything in the universe is dependent for its existence on something else there must be something upon which everything’s existence is dependent and that must be something whose existence is not dependent upon anything else and that must therefore be God.

He says at one time nothing existed and therefore any one of two states were equally possible: nothing or something, and for something to exist something else was necessary to will it into existence. That necessary being was God and God was necessary for everything to exist. Without God therefore nothing would exist.

However good Aquinas’ arguments were he realised they were not sufficient to:

  1. Prove the existence of God
  2. Prove that God is worthy of worship
  3. Or even prove that God has good qualities

Hume would agree here: what’s to say that this necessary being is indeed God: ‘we can never ascribe to the cause any qualities but what are exactly sufficient to produce the effect’.

But Aquinas believed his arguments would help someone with faith to have a firmer foundation but that we couldn’t come to know God by our own efforts, we need divine revelation.

Bertrand Russell declared the universe just exists, that’s all there is to it – Brute Fact and to discuss the underlying meaning of it is pointless since we can never know the answer.

2002 Religious experience answer

2 a) ‘Religious experience presents a convincing argument for the existence of God.’ Analyse this claim. [12]

Analysis of the claim that the argument based on religious experience is a convincing argument for the existence of God e.g. could draw on any number of versions of this argument but requires argument not just an account of religious experience e.g. similarities between principle of credulity in empirical context transferred to claims about experience of God including ideas about testimony.

What is religious experience? Rudolf Otto – the idea of the holy.

What forms does it take? Conversion, mystical,

Features? William James …

Give some examples? Real people.

What are the problems with it – objectivity and subjectivity?

What is the basis of it as an argument? Premise 1, 2, Conclusion…(see page 1 of pack)

Can it be regarded as an argument at all? Probability and proof? Principles of credulity and testimony (Richard Swinburne)?

Common elements?

Effect on the person’s life?


In what respects may this be the most persuasive argument of all? (personal experience not second-hand)


2 b) Discuss the criticisms of this argument. [8]

Discuss criticisms such as reasons to doubt the notions of credulity / testimony such as their applicability to religion; issues about the interpretation of experience; alternative explanations to religious experience etc.

The nature of experience in general, the cognitive and affective.

Is it really God? If not what else could it be?

Why are they interpreted as religious?

How are they different from other forms of experience?

What else could they be?

Why might people want to claim them as religious?

How could they be judged – by what criteria? Objective? Subjective?

What is your overall opinion?