The cosmological argument for the existence of God is probably the most famous. It has taken on different forms over many years. The argument is at its root based on the concept of causation, and reasons from this principal to an ultimate or foundational cause of all things including our world. Depending on the specific version of this argument, different ideas of causation have been used. The most popular argument now is probably the Kalam argument. The Kalam argument can be seen being made by William Lane Craig, here. Craig is a Christian philosopher and generally very strong; for this reason he is very popular. Craig is a very entertaining speaker and has been popularizing the Kalam argument recently. It is limited however in that it stipulates the Universe began in time, thus is runs into objections foreseen by Aquinas who particularly rejected the idea that one could prove philosophically the universe was not eternal. Arguments that do not depend in any manner on scientific data and that are purely metaphysical are ultimately more certain.
One such argument that requires a little effort to understand is the argument from the contingency of things, this shares some features of the cosmological argument but is even more fundamental (although this too takes on many different forms, some stronger than others). It is dependent on no finding from modern science and therefore is not refutable by any scientific discovery. It is more like a mathematical proof about the nature of reality.
A useful way to think about this proof for the existence of God is based on the idea of essence and existence. Very long PhD dissertations could be written on these concepts but the Cliff notes version would go something like the following:
Things are “contingent”, meaning they do not have to exist; they may or may not because they are compositions of essence and existence. Essence is a description of what something is. Existence is the feature that makes the essence, or what something is, a reality. When a substance has distinct essence and existence, the substance is contingent or dependent on something else for its existence. This is because we cannot know from what something is if it is in reality. So a dog can be described as it is here . This description is the essence of a dog, it is not an actual existent dog, but as visitors to the pet store we can observe that actual real dogs have existence as well. In contrast compare the unicorn, that too has an essence described here , but as we know they are not real creatures so they lack existence. It takes minimal mental effort to see with this distinction in mind, that virtually everything you can imagine has both an essence (the definition or construct of what the thing is), and a separate existence (that is “beingness”). Many things can be conceived of (they have an essence) and they actually exist in reality (dogs, cats, atoms, the Higgs boson) other things can be conceived, so have an essence, but do not exist in reality (unicorns, leprechauns, Santa Claus.. don’t tell the kids). There are some things that have an essence but we do not know for sure if they exist or not, say the graviton ( a particle that transmits the force of gravity), or extraterrestrial intelligent aliens. The key point is those things which have an essence and separate existence are defined as contingent, They do not have to exist, one could imagine a world in which they did or did not exist or even that they stop existing or are discovered in the future. So one could imagine a future time in which the graviton was proven to exist or proven not to exist, or an animal species may become extinct and no longer exist like say the dinosaurs.
Things which are contingent then must have a cause, something existent must cause them to exist and maintain them in existence. Some cause must join their essence to a real existence. The essence alone cannot be the cause because the essence alone is a mere description with a possible existence. How can a description that might or might not exist cause anything? It can’t and this is evident from the fact that some essences simply do not exist. Therefore in order to understand why some essences have existence and others do not, we have to appeal to some sort of explanation or cause that joins the essence to existence. This is a pure metaphysical principle but is logically necessarily true. The distinction between essence and existence is an important one for the argument for God being the pure act of existence.
Ok that was a lot of philosophy more in our next post…