The cosmological argument is an argument for the existence of a First Cause (or instead, an Uncaused cause) to the universe, and by extension is often used as an argument for the existence of an "unconditioned" or "supreme" being, usually then identified as God. It is traditionally known as an argument from universal causation, an argument from first cause, the causal argument or the argument from existence. Whichever term is employed, there are three basic variants of the argument, each with subtle yet important distinctions: the arguments from causation, in esse and in fieri, and the argument from contingency.
The basic premise of all of these is that something caused the Universe to exist, and this First Cause must be God. It has been used by various theologians and philosophers over the centuries, from the ancient Greek Plato and Aristotle to the medieval St. Thomas Aquinas and the 20th century Frederick Copleston.
Plato (c. 427–347 BCE) and Aristotle (c. 384–322 BCE) both posited first cause arguments, though each had certain notable caveats. Plato posited a basic argument in The Laws (Book X), in which he argued that motion in the world and the Cosmos was "imparted motion" that required some kind of "self-originated motion" to set it in motion and to maintain that motion. Plato also posited a "demiurge" of supreme wisdom and intelligence as the creator of the Cosmos in his work Timaeus. For Plato, the demiurge lacked the supernatural ability to create ex nihilo (out of nothing). It was only able to organize the ananke (necessity), the only other co-existent element or presence in Plato's cosmogony.
Aristotle also put forth the idea of a First Cause, often referred to as the "Prime Mover" or "Unmoved Mover" (πρῶτον κινοῦν ἀκίνητον or primus motor) in his work Metaphysics. For Aristotle too, as for Plato, the underlying essence of the Universe always was in existence and always would be (which in turn follows Parmenides' famous statement that "nothing can come from nothing"). Aristotle posited an underlying ousia (essence or substance) of which the Universe was composed, and it was this ousia that the Prime Mover organized and set into motion. The Prime Mover did not organize matter physically, but was instead a being who constantly thought about thinking itself, and who organized the Cosmos by being itself the object of "aspiration or desire".The Prime Mover was, to Aristotle, a "thinking on thinking", an eternal process of pure thought.
Plotinus, a third-century AD Platonist, taught that the One transcendent absolute caused the universe to exist simply as a consequence of its existence - "creatio ex deo." His disciple Proclus stated 'The One is God'.
Centuries later, the Islamic philosopher Avicenna (c. 980–1037 CE) initiated a full-fledged inquiry into the question of being, in which he distinguished between essence (Mahiat) and existence (Wujud). He argued that the fact of existence could not be inferred from or accounted for by the essence of existing things, and that form and matter by themselves could not originate and interact with the movement of the Universe or the progressive actualization of existing things. Thus, he reasoned that existence must be due to an agent cause that necessitates, imparts, gives, or adds existence to an essence. To do so, the cause must coexist with its effect and be an existing thing.
Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225–1274 CE), probably the best-known theologian of Medieval Europe, adapted the argument he found in his reading of Aristotle and Avicenna to form one of the most influential versions of the cosmological argument. His conception of First Cause was the idea that the Universe must have been caused by something that was itself uncaused, which he asserted was God.
Many other philosophers and theologians have posited cosmological arguments both before and since Aquinas. The versions sampled in the following sections are representative of the most common derivations of the argument.
The cosmological argument could be stated as follows:
1. Every finite and contingent being has a cause.
2. Nothing finite and contingent can cause itself.
3. A causal chain cannot be of infinite length.
4. Therefore, a First Cause (or something that is not an effect) must exist.
According to the argument, the existence of the Universe requires an explanation, and the creation of the Universe by a First Cause, generally assumed to be God, is that explanation.
1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
2. The Universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the Universe had a cause.
The argument from contingency
In the scholastic era, Aquinas formulated the "argument from contingency", following Aristotle in claiming that there must be something to explain why the Universe exists. Since the Universe could, under different circumstances, conceivably not exist (contingency), its existence must have a cause – not merely another contingent thing, but something that exists bynecessity (something that must exist in order for anything else to exist). In other words, even if the Universe has always existed, it still owes its existence to an Uncaused Cause,although Aquinas used the words "...and this we understand to be God."
Aquinas's argument from contingency is distinct from a first cause argument, since it assumes the possibility of a Universe that has no beginning in time. It is, rather, a form of argument from universal causation. Aquinas observed that, in nature, there were things with contingent existences. Since it is possible for such things not to exist, there must be some time at which these things did not in fact exist. Thus, according to Aquinas, there must have been a time when nothing existed. If this is so, there would exist nothing that could bring anything into existence. Contingent beings, therefore, are insufficient to account for the existence of contingent beings: there must exist a necessary being whose non-existence is an impossibility, and from which the existence of all contingent beings is derived.
The German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz made a similar argument with his principle of sufficient reason in 1714. "There can be found no fact that is true or existent, or any true proposition," he wrote, "without there being a sufficient reason for its being so and not otherwise, although we cannot know these reasons in most cases." He formulated the cosmological argument succinctly: "Why is there something rather than nothing? The sufficient reason [...] is found in a substance which [...] is a necessary being bearing the reason for its existence within itself."
"In esse" and "in fieri"
The difference between the arguments from causation in fieri and in esse is a fairly important one. In fieri is generally translated as "becoming", while in esse is generally translated as "in existence". In fieri, the process of becoming, is similar to building a house. Once it is built, the builder walks away, and it stands on its own accord. (It may require occasional maintenance, but that is beyond the scope of the first cause argument.)
In esse (in existence) is more akin to the light from a candle or the liquid in a vessel. George Hayward Joyce, SJ, explained that "...where the light of the candle is dependent on the candle's continued existence, not only does a candle produce light in a room in the first instance, but its continued presence is necessary if the illumination is to continue. If it is removed, the light ceases. Again, a liquid receives its shape from the vessel in which it is contained; but were the pressure of the containing sides withdrawn, it would not retain its form for an instant." This form of the argument is far more difficult to separate from a purely first cause argument than is the example of the house's maintenance above, because here the First Cause is insufficient without the candle's or vessel's continued existence.
Thus, Aristotle's argument is in esse, while Aquinas' argument is both in fieri and in esse (plus an additional argument from contingency). This distinction is an excellent example of the difference between a deistic view (Aristotle) and a theistic view (Aquinas). Leibniz, who wrote more than two centuries before the Big Bang was taken for granted, was arguing in esse. As a general trend, the modern slants on the cosmological argument, including the Kalam argument, tend to lean very strongly towards an in fieri argument.
Objections and counterarguments
What caused the First Cause?
One objection to the argument is that it leaves open the question of why the First Cause is unique in that it does not require a cause. Proponents argue that the First Cause is exempt from having a cause, while opponents argue that this is special pleading or otherwise untrue. The problem with arguing for the First Cause's exemption is that it raises the question of why the First Cause is indeed exempt.
Secondly, the premise of causality has been arrived at via a posteriori (inductive) reasoning, which is dependent on experience. David Hume highlighted this problem of induction and argued that causal relations were not true a priori (deductively). However as to whether inductive or deductive reasoning is more valuable still remains a matter of debate, with the general conclusion being that neither is prominent. Even though causality applies to the known world, it does not necessarily apply to the universe at large. In other words, it is unwise to draw conclusions from an extrapolation of causality beyond experience.The rules of causality only make sense in the context of time, which obviously did not exist before the creation of the universe, thus it could be considered nonsensical to speak of pre-universal "causes", specifically a First Cause, when discussing the origins of the universe.
Additionally, it is argued that Occam's razor can be used against the argument, showing how the argument fails using both the efficient and conserving types of causality.
Identity of a First Cause
An objection against the theist implication of the proposition is that even if one accepts the argument as a proof of a First Cause, it does not identify that First Cause with God. The argument does not go on to ascribe to the First Cause some of the basic attributes commonly associated with, for instance, a theisticGod, such as immanence or omnibenevolence. Rather, it simply argues that a First Cause (e.g. the Big Bang, God, or an unarticulated First Cause) must exist. There exist theistic arguments that attempt to extract such attributes.
Furthermore, if one chooses to accept God as the First Cause, God's continued interaction with the Universe is not required. This is the foundation for beliefs such as deism that accept that a god created the Universe, but then ceased to have any further interaction with it.
The argument for a Prime Mover is based on the scientific foundation of Aristotelian physics. Some physicists feel that the development of the laws of thermodynamics in the 19th century and quantum physics in the 20th century have weakened a purely scientific expression of the cosmological argument.Modern physics has many examples of bodies being moved without any known moving body, apparently undermining the first premise of the Prime Mover argument: every object in motion must be moved by another object in motion. Physicist Michio Kaku directly addresses the cosmological argument in his book Hyperspace, saying that it is easily dismissed by the law of conservation of energy and the laws governing molecular physics. He gives an example— "gas molecules may bounce against the walls of a container without requiring anything or anyone to get them moving." According to Kaku, these molecules could move forever, without beginning or end. So, there is no need for a First Mover to explain the origins of motion.
It is argued that a challenge to the cosmological argument is the nature of time. The Big Bang theory states that it is the point in which all dimensions came into existence, the start of both space and time. Then, the question "What was there before the Universe?" makes no sense; the concept of "before" becomes meaningless when considering a situation without time, and thus the concepts of cause and effect so necessary to the cosmological argument no longer apply (see counter argument above under What Caused the First Cause?). This has been put forward by J. Richard Gott III, James E. Gunn, David N. Schramm, and Beatrice M. Tinsley, who said that asking what occurred before the Big Bang is like asking what is north of the North Pole. However, some cosmologists and physicists do attempt to investigate what could have occurred before the Big Bang, using such scenarios as the collision ofbranes to give a cause for the Big Bang.