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Criticisms of the Cosmological Argument

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1 Criticisms of the Cosmological Argument
Objective: To examine and understand various criticisms of the Cosmological Argument

2 About these criticisms
Various scholars have had problems with the arguments put forward by Aquinas and Leibniz. Each criticism of the cosmological argument must be understood as relating either to one of the premises or to the conclusion of a version of the argument.

3 Criticism 1: Does Aquinas contradict himself?
Aquinas says that nothing can be the cause of itself (the Second Way) However he then goes on to say something must exist that can be the cause of itself, namely God Is the premise contradicted by the conclusion?

4 Does Aquinas contradict himself?
YES – It is a logical contradiction and therefore the argument does not make sense. NO – There has to be an exception to the rule “everything has a cause” or the universe would have no cause and would not have come to exist.

5 What does that mean? Aquinas defends himself against the claim that his argument is illogical by saying that God is an exception because when we talk about God, we are talking about a being unlike anything else. God has a special form of existence that cannot be talked about in terms of logic.

6 Convinced? Task: Write a short paragraph to explain how convincing you find the argument that Aquinas contradicts himself. How to approach it: Do you think it makes sense to talk about God as a special case, or does logic have to apply even when talking about God? On a scale of 1 to 10, how convinced are you by this criticism?

7 What the critics say next…
Suppose we do allow that an exception can be made to the rule, “everything must have a cause”. Why make God the exception? Why couldn’t the universe be the exception?

8 What? The critics are trying to say:
It may be fair to say that everything that exists within the universe must have a cause But why does the universe itself need to have a cause? It could be self-causing, or it may not require an explanation at all: it just is.

9 Who said that? Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)
He argued that just because humans have a mother, does not mean that the universe needs to have a mother He also claimed that the universe is a brute fact “I should say that the universe is just there, and that’s all”

10 More about Russell Russell debated the problems with F. C. Copleston (a supporter of Aquinas) in a radio programme broadcast in 1947 His problem was that he did not believe it was possible to apply the same logic to the specific and the general

11 Convinced? Task: “The universe is just there, and that’s all.” Do you agree with Russell that the universe doesn’t need an explanation? Write a paragraph to explain what you think. REMEMBER – Russell had no problem with specific events requiring causes. His issue was with the simple fact of the universe

12 David Hume ( ) Hume was an empiricist (he believed all knowledge came from experience) He believed in cause and effect because we can see the effects and therefore identify the causes

13 So, what was Hume’s problem?
Hume said that this only worked for individual things, not the universe. The universe is a unique “effect” and we are unable to experience its cause (we can’t get outside of the universe to see what caused it).

14 Hume’s second problem According to Hume, the idea of a necessary being makes no sense There is no being the non-existence of which is inconceivable – and even if there were, why should it be God? Why should we say that God, who is unknowable, possesses qualities that make his non-existence a logical impossibility?

15 Here comes the science…
Recent critics (including Russell) have argued against Aquinas’ argument from cause on the basis that quantum theory demonstrates the possibility of things coming into existence without a direct or identifiable cause. At the sub-atomic level the ‘laws’ of cause and effect appear to break down, with things spontaneously coming into being.

16 So what? If that is possible, could quantum physics explain the fact that the universe came into existence? REMEMBER – You don’t need to be able to explain quantum physics.

17 Think about this… Even if the criticisms don’t manage to disprove God altogether, what do they say about him? Remember the Cosmological Argument is about the universe’s existence, not its nature Do the criticisms reduce God to merely the first push of the dominoes? If so, does that make God worthy of worship?

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