There are many routes one can go down to establish God’s existence. In this article, I will begin by presenting reasons to believe that there is a necessary part of reality. In doing so, this will allow us to probe the ultimate nature of this reality. Welcome to: Establishing a Necessary Existence.
In natural theology, these types of arguments are grouped into what are called “cosmological arguments'' which typically set out to prove a first cause. Cosmological arguments face four main problems, as Philosopher Alexander Pruss states, “The cosmological argument faces the Glendower, Regress, Taxicab, and Gap problems” (Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology 98). For a cosmological argument to be successful, it must deal with the four main problems. The argument I am setting out to defend is what is known as the “contingency argument”.
This was first formulated by Philosopher, Theologian, and Mathematician, Gottfried Von Leibniz. Unlike arguments such as the Kalam Cosmological Argument, Leibniz was not worried about the finitude of the past. Leibniz sought an explanation for why anything at all exists, and in doing so, one of the most fundamental philosophical questions was asked: “why is there something rather than nothing?” I believe we should seek to answer this question because it allows us to explore and investigate the deepest aspects of reality. I myself am interested in exploring this question and I think this argument helps us get as close as we can to that answer. Leibniz famously formulated an explanatory principle called the Principle of Sufficient Reason, otherwise known as the PSR. The PSR was also advocated by Spinoza.
In the Monadology, Leibniz defines the PSR as “...that of sufficient reason, by virtue of which we consider that we can find no true or existent fact, no true assertion, without there being a sufficient reason why it is thus and not otherwise, although most of the time these reasons cannot be known to us” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). In basic terms, the PSR states that any fact has an explanation. Because of the principle’s intuitive nature, many have been led to conclude that it is a self-evident truth that undergirds reason itself. Even though the PSR seems to be uncontroversial, philosophers throughout history have challenged its validity. Contemporary defenders of the PSR like Dr. Alexander Pruss and Dr. Joshua Rasmussen have published work on the subject and have given good reasons to accept it.
Sophisticated versions of the PSR have been formulated and defended by contemporary philosophers to stipulatively mean that any contingent fact has an explanation. This version of the PSR is adequate for dealing with Glendower and regress problems. Pruss states “when I talk of the PSR, by “sufficient reasons” I mean reasons that are sufficient to explain the explanandum” (Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology). If the PSR were false we should expect wide-spread violations of it all around us, but in fact, we do not. The contingency argument takes into account the nature of explanation and how it relates to the causal order. I will not go through the pros and cons of the PSR or other explanatory principles; however, I do believe they suffice in establishing a necessary part of reality and I believe the PSR Pruss defends works just as well.
(P1) Every contingent fact concerning the existence of contingent things has an explanation.
(P2) If every contingent fact concerning the existence of contingent things has an explanation, then there is a necessary part of reality that explains the existence of the contingent things.
(P3) This necessary part of reality is what we call God.
(C) God exists.
The formulation of this syllogism is not complicated but the beauty is in its simplicity. The scope of this video does not go beyond establishing necessary existence. In a later video I will bridge the gap between a necessary being and God. Let's start with premise 1: this explanatory principle is concerned with the existence of contingent things. This explanatory principle can be seen as the PSR regarding the existence of things. But what are contingent things? Something is contingent when it could fail to exist or could exist in another way; they have imperfections and limitations.
Contingent things then depend on other things for their existence. To put it another way, contingent things are not self-existent. The converse of this would be something that is self-existent which is what we mean by necessary. We are familiar with contingent things in our everyday experience. Chairs, baseballs, planets, and bikes are all examples of things that exist contingently. They all depend on other things for their existence. Chairs don’t just exist; there are reasons as to why they exist rather than not. And there are reasons a chair takes on a particular shape, color, and size, as opposed to another.
What we are not familiar with are things popping into existence randomly. Contingent things depend on prior conditions for their existence. The entire enterprise of science examines the causal relationships of existing things and builds explanatory models about them. Pruss makes an interesting point concerning biological evolution, “But, intuitively, if one were not confident of something very much like the PSR, it would be hard to be justifiably confident that no biological features of the human species arose for no reason at all - say, that an ape walked into a swamp, and out walked a human, with no explanation of why”. So, it seems as reasonable as anything else to affirm that premise one is indeed true.
What about premise 2? If contingent things have explanations for why they exist, then what explains the totality of contingent things? Is it contingency all the way down or is there some sort of stopping point for contingent reality? This is where we encounter the infinite regress and other problems. As outlined in Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, some might add that “...things are naturally contingent in that their continued existence is dependent on myriad factors including particle masses and fundamental forces, temperature, pressure, entropy level and so forth, but natural contingency does not suffice to establish things’ metaphysical contingency…” Many have argued that positing an infinite amount of contingent things will be sufficient to explain the existence of contingent things. I believe this reasoning is flawed.
Let’s refer to this as the no circularity principle. This refers to the idea that the quantity of things to be explained makes no difference. What is the relevant difference regarding explanation between 5 things and an infinite number of things? There doesn’t seem to be any. The nature of explanation remains the same for 5 things as it does for an infinite number of things. Simply increasing the amount of things that need to be explained does nothing to get rid of the need for things to be explained.
In actuality, you've made the problem more complex. Infinity adds another level of complexity and thus begs for even more of an explanation. Why are there an infinite number of things? The error comes in when you believe that the increase of dependent things eventually adds up to independence. This is one of the reasons why Philosopher Josh Rasmussen invokes the foundation theory. We face a construction error when we try to construct independence out of dependence.
Just like no amount of white tiles can create a purple floor, or no amount of prime numbers can create a prime minister, Dependent things will never all of a sudden become independent if one adds enough of them up. So there must be something that already is itself independent. This independent part of reality would be self-existent. So, an infinite regress doesn’t do anything to get rid of a foundation but actually calls for one.
Now, what happens if contingent reality is past-eternal? If contingent things have always been here, then doesn’t that remove the need for an explanation beyond itself? Not quite. Suppose in order to explain the existence of a given turtle, one posits not only a mother turtle, but an infinite number of mother turtles into the past. The infinite number of turtles would still require an outside explanation as to why an infinite number of turtles, rather than lions, or lizards. Our past-eternal set of contingent things suffers from the same problem as does the infinite regress. Age is an irrelevant difference regarding explanation. Extending the age of contingent things is not an explanation in and of itself. It’s not a relevant point. This too requires a foundation for its existence.
This is why the foundation theory is so useful, because it shows us that at metaphysical rock bottom there’s a necessary foundation that contingent reality depends on. Josh Rasmussen says “a fact concerning the existence of certain things cannot be adequately explained solely in terms of those very things, for that would be circular. The idea is that causally linking up things to one another does not answer why those very things ever existed at all. Why do those things exist (rather than different ones)?
Something other than those things seems to be needed if their existence is to be explained. If that’s so, then the existence of contingent things can only be explained by a Necessary Being” (Cosmological Arguments from Contingency). Recall that premise 3 of my argument states “this necessary part of reality is what we call God”. I have just outlined that contingent reality gets us to a self-existent part of reality, otherwise known as a necessary foundation. To get to God, I would need to bridge the gap from necessary existence which is not the scope of this video.
Now, some will object and say that this argument is guilty of the fallacy of composition. This fallacy states that it is a mistake to conclude since the parts have a certain property, the whole likewise has that property. For example, since all the bricks of the wall are small, that means the wall is small. The fallacy of composition is an informal fallacy and only applies in certain cases. There are instances where the parts are representative of the whole. For example, if the wall is made out of red bricks then the wall itself will be red. No amount of red brick could ever add up to a blue wall.
Bruce Reichenbach in Philosophy of Religion writes “If all contingent things in the universe, including matter and energy, ceased to exist simultaneously, the universe itself, as the totality of these things, would cease to exist. But if the universe can cease to exist, it is contingent and requires an explanation for its existence” (Philosophy of Religion 204). The fallacy of composition does not affect my argument since I am not reasoning from parts to wholes in this way. This would then rule out the possibility that the universe is the self-existent foundation.
There is still much more I could cover and many more objections I could respond to. In my next video, I will bridge the gap between necessary existence and God which will allow us to derive the traditional theistic attributes and show us a fundamentally new picture of theism. Thank you for reading.
The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology
Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview
How Reason Can Lead to God
Cosmological Argument (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
Cosmological Arguments from Contingency
New Argument for a Necessary Being