Friday, July 18, 2014

Taking another look at the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument (LCA)

Before I begin this brief post, I want to make it clear that spam and trolling are prohibited from this blog.  If you're reading this, kilo papa, that applies to you.  If you want your posts published, then you're going to have to change your behavior.  

Speaking of publication, I don't check this blog every day.  Sometimes it takes as long as a week before I check it and publish any comments.  That's due to my busy schedule, and in almost all cases not due to trolling activity on the part of those who comment.

With that out of the way, let's take another look at the modest version of the LCA (and no, I'm not addressing possible worlds semantics, but temporal necessity and contingency):

1. Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause. (Premise)

2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is a timeless, changeless, immaterial, and very powerful external cause. (Premise)

3. The universe exists. (Premise)

4. Hence, the universe has an explanation of its existence. (From 1 and 3)

5. Therefore, the universe is explained by a timeless, changeless, immaterial, and very powerful external cause. (From 2 and 4)

The argument is logically valid, so if the skeptic wishes to reject the argument, then one or more of the premises must be rejected.  Surely nobody - unless maybe a solipsist - would reject premise (3).  The only remaining premises are (1) and (2).  Going backwards, let's turn our attention to premise (2).

There are a number of objections the skeptic could throw at premise (2).  First, there is the objection that the universe, while having an explanation of its existence, simply exists by a necessity of its own nature.  This would mean that no external cause is needed.  The problem with this objection is at least twofold.  First, it is entirely conceivable for the universe to not exist.  While inconceivability does not necessarily entail impossibility, it certainly does undermine the skeptic's alternative.  Secondly, we now know through the amazing discoveries of physics and astronomy that the universe began to exist at the Big Bang, entailing a state of affairs in which no matter or energy existed.  Of course, there are fringe hypotheses that attempt to get around this problem, but with virtually no success, as the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem essentially put the nail in the coffin to any alternative explanation.

A second objection to premise (2) is that it commits the fallacy of composition: "Sure, every part of the universe has an explanation, but the universe as a whole doesn't need to."  I've never been impressed by this objection for (you guessed it) at least two reasons.  First, there is the conceivability mentioned above that the universe might not have existed.  This required the universe to exist contingently, and not necessarily.  Secondly, this objection has always struck me as saying: "Just because there is an explanation of every member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, that doesn't mean the Steelers as a whole have an explanation."  Do I even need to explain what's wrong with this objection?  In case I do, of course the Steelers as a whole require an explanation! :)  Management is an external cause, for example.  We could provide example after example that undermines the composition fallacy objection, but I think enough has been said.

Lastly, what about premise (1)?  Personally, I don't think this premise is even need of defense.  To reject the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR) would be to undermine all of science, in addition to commonsense and everyday experience.  Nobody in their right mind (unless he were jesting) would say: "that elephant in the middle of the street just exists without any explanation whatsoever."  I take this version of the PSR to be properly basic, and even confirmed by the senses.

Now, what about another objection.  Yes, I'm talking about the "what's God explanation?" objection, something that is supposed to appear very profound, but is among the weakest of atheistic objections.  The timeless, changeless, immaterial, and very powerful external cause in (5) - let's call it "God" for expedience-sake - does have an explanation, but would have to exist by a necessity of His own nature.  If God had an external cause, then He would be neither timeless nor changeless, since causation involves the actualization of some potentiality (a change).  Since the universe just is the sum total of all physical space, time, matter, and energy, it follows that God cannot be externally caused and must exist by necessity.

Now, I realize there are other objections to the LCA, but my point in this post is to illustrate that it cannot be simply dismissed by long-refuted arguments against it.  Truth is, the LCA isn't even my go-to argument.  I much rather prefer St. Thomas Aquinas's First, Third, and Fifth Ways (plus the argument from desire), but a Thomist need not hide inside some Thomistic bubble.  I also like the fine-tuning argument, the kalam cosmological argument (KCA), the argument from reason, certain ontological arguments, the moral argument, and even some practical arguments.


  1. Doug

    I don't have too much time at hand, so this is going to be brief.
    I think it is important to notice what exactly "the universe" means. If it is defined as the totality of matter, space and time, then, in case the multiverse hypothesis fails, it is true that the universe began to exist at the Big Bang. If, however, it includes a possible non-material (or rather non-physical state) then it isn't at all obvious that the universe ever began to exist. As I do not wish to beg the question in favour of physicalism, I cannot rule out the possibility of such a state, which could be described as changeless (but not immutable), timeless and immaterial. In this context those three properties as actually the same.
    And, of course , this state would be powerful enough to give rise to the universe. So, that would cover premise 2.
    Since this state is not logically impossible, and given that this state could lead to the universe as we know it, we have a possible alternative to the God hypothesis, which means that, unless it can be shown to be impossible, rules out God as a necssary cause.

    As to your claim that to reject the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR) would be to undermine all of science, in addition to commonsense and everyday experience, that seems to be demonstrably false.
    The possibility that at one stage we would reach something unexplained or inexplicable does in no way undermine science. Claiming that it would undermine science would be equivalent to saying that the possibility of a miracle would undermine science. Lots of people, including you if I am not mistaken, believe both that miracles happen from time to time, and also that science has a lot of merit.
    Now, as I said, these are just a few brief remarks but needless to say that the LCA doesn't make me want to hide in a theistic bubble. there is an infinity of room outside that bubble for me to comfortable reside in.

  2. Walter, good to hear from you again. For the record, you're nowhere near close the banned list. :)

    I should first mention that the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem applies to the multiverse as well, so that wouldn't be any problem. It should also be noted that since time is a measurement of change, then timelessness necessarily entails immutability. Anyway, I'm not convinced that your hypothetical scenario would undermine God's existence. We would still have many of the divine attributes associated with this immaterial Creator. The only difference is that we would have to adopt some form of neotheism (I prefer this term to "theistic personalist." You can ask me why if you'd like.), as opposed to classical theism.

    As for miracles, they don't undermine science. Miracles have a sufficient explanation for their existence; they're just not comprehended by any scientific explanation. The PSR is a necessary precondition for all existing things, whether scientific or supernatural. In fact, I even said that God has an explanation of His existence, which is His necessity.

    By the way, the LCA is not among my favorite theistic arguments. At the very least, I think it's rationally acceptable, even if not rationally compelling. Of course, you and I have already talked about which arguments I do think are rationally compelling, the most obvious I now believe to be the Fifth Way.

  3. Doug

    If miracles don't undermine science, then a partial denial of the PSR doesn't undermine science either. If science were to discover that some thing has no explanation, that would not mean science cannot search for explanations for other things. The same holds for miracles, if some thing is explained by a miracle, then science stops there for that particular thing, but not for other things.

    My scenario, if true of course, would not undermine the existence of every type of God. It would nevertheless undermine and even refute the existence of a necessary personal creator of the universe. So, I don't think theistic personalism would rescue your case, unless you go with Swinburne, but in that case the LCA doesn't make sense anyway.
    I am sure you can always find a new God to believe in, just as, as a Thomist, in order to take the KCA seriously, you would have to start believing in a different God. Becuase the KCA God is timeless but not immutable.
    By the way, this is exactly what makes atheistic arguments so hard. For every God we refute, there is another one that appears.
    But then, I am always in for a challenge.

  4. Walter, all the PSR states is that "everything that exists has an explanation of its existence . . ." It doesn't say everything has a scientific explanation or a supernatural explanation. It just stops with some kind of explanation. What argument can you provide that miracles undermine science? Both scientific explanations and supernatural explanations are subject to the PSR.

    Now, if there is no scientific explanation for a thing, that's precisely when we should embrace a supernatural explanation. Either way, the PSR stands.

    I have no idea how your hypothesis would undermine a necessary personal creator/sustainer/designer of the universe. Could you elaborate?

    For the record, I'm a classical theist, not a theistic personalist. (I don't like the latter term, though, since it conflates two types of personalism. I prefer to call this alternative view "neotheism.") Also, it's Craig's view that God is timeless sans creation and temporal since the moment of creation. That's not my view. Craig adopts an A-theory of time, and I've adopted a B-theory. There's so much to say about this, but I see no reason a classical theist - whether Thomist, Scotist, Augustinian, etc. - cannot embrace the KCA. However, I digress.

    Finally, I've only argued for one God, so "For every God we refute" is inapplicable to me. I'm a classical theist and I support the classical arguments and attributes of God.

  5. Also, keep in mind what I wrote in the last paragraph of the OP:

    Now, I realize there are other objections to the LCA, but my point in this post is to illustrate that it cannot be simply dismissed by long-refuted arguments against it.

    The whole point of the post is to show that the typical objections to the LCA ultimately fail, as even atheistic philosopher, William Rowe, argues.

  6. Doug

    I have never claimed that miracles undermine science, what I claim is that if it's true that miracles don't undermine science (and I believe that is true, which doesn't mean I believe in miracles, BTW), then a partial denial of the PSR does not undermine science either. By a partial denial, I mean that "there may be some brute facts". Science looks for scientific explanations, and if there are no scientific explanations, then there is nothing left for science to explain.
    Whether metaphysics or philospohy can add further supernatural explanations is irrelevant to the role science plays in this. Hence, it may very well be that the PSR stands, but it needs a better argument than the long-refuted argument that the absense of the PSR undermines science.

    But enough about the PSR.
    I have explained in my first post how my hypothesis undermines a necessary personal designer etc of the universe. Now, you don't have to buy my hypothesis, but if you did, you would have to go for a non-necessary creator.
    So in that - hypothetical- case, the God you argue for would have been refuted and you would have to embrace the God of e.g. neotheism or open theism, or whatever. And I could go on refuting all those Gods, which makes my task virtually impossible.

  7. What does the partial denial of the PSR have to do with anything? Is your only objection that the PSR, as I present, needs more argumentation? If that's the case, then I simply disagree. I think belief in the PSR is as properly basic as belief in other minds and belief in an external world. The only difference is that we have actual instances in which the PSR is confirmed through observation. Do we have to observe every single thing having an explanation before you accept the PSR? That would be rather silly, don't you think?

    You didn't explain, at least not very clearly, how the God I'm arguing for cannot be necessary. It's also unclear whether you're talking about logical necessity (existence in all possible worlds) or temporal necessity. In any case, here's your chance to explain your argument again.

  8. Doug

    Yes, I actually do think we would have to observe every single thing having an explanation before we can say with certainty that every single thing has an explanation. We can of course work from the hypothesis or even the theory that every single thing has an explanation. That's the way science works. In order for science to work, the PSR does not, however, need to be accepted as a metaphysical certainty, all science needs is the axiom that some/most things are, indeed explicable. In order for the LCA to work, the PSR must be established with a kind of metaphysical certainty that is impossible to get.

    To answer your second question, I'll repeat what I said earlier. "Since this state is not logically impossible, and given that this state could lead to the universe as we know it, we have a possible alternative to the God hypothesis, which means that, unless it can be shown to be impossible, rules out God as a necessary cause." I am talking about logical necessity here. You claim you are merely using temporal necessity, but the LCA does not work under temporal necessity. If something is temporally necessary but logically contigent, then, as per the PSR, it requires a cause.

  9. Walter, nobody's talking about certainty. I'm confident that you know certainty in an argument's premises is not needed in order for the argument to be sound. The premises need only be more plausibly true than not.

    Secondly, while you're talking about logical necessity, I've made it clear I'm limiting myself to temporal necessity. So, while the PSR may be used to argue for God's logical necessity, I've made it clear there are more modest versions of the PSR that don't require logical necessity. Hence, it's a mistake to say that God, if temporally necessary only, needs a cause.

    Finally, this whole "Since this state is not logically impossible . . ." can simply be reversed. The proponent of the LCA can simply state that it is possible for PSR to be logically necessary and, via S5, it is logically necessary. We've gone over this many time before, though. Not to sound rude, but do you have any new objections?

    1. Of course we don't need certainty in order for an argument to be considered sound, but my point is that science does not need certainty either, so if there were exceptions to the PSR that would not , contrary to what you claim, undermine all of science.

      As to your second point: temporal necessity does not qualify as sufficient reason in the sense the PSR requires, so you will have to modify the PSR to argue for what is basically an eternal contingency.

      And of course I agree that the argument can be reversed, which means that, in the absense of further arguments, we have reached an impasse in which both alternatives are equally possible.
      To answer your final question: yes I have other, new, objections, but they require more time and effort than I can afford right now.
      And, not to sound rude, although we've gone over my objection many times before, I feel you haven't properly dealt with it. So, for the time being, I don't really need another objection.

  10. Walter, first off, I've more than adequately "properly dealt with" your objections. Any neutral observer would tell you the same, which is why my arguments for the Five Ways and responses to objections have been cited by PhD's in Philosophy. I don't say this to name-drop, but to point out that those most qualified to judge between the arguments I've offered, your objections (which really are not so common), and my replies to those objections would say that I certainly dealt with your objections.

    If exceptions to science do not undermine science, then hypothetical exceptions do not undermine the PSR. All we would have to do is modify the PSR as follows: Everything that exists most likely has an explanation of its existence, . . ." Given this, the universe most likely has an explanation of its existence, since the universe does, after all, exist.

    Your response to my second point again misses the point of the OP. I do accept the PSR, but even if I didn't, I would still reject most, if not all, objections to it. That wouldn't make the PSR true, of course, but that's beside the point. The whole point of the PSR is that the LCA cannot be dismissed by the common atheistic objections to it (and I even listed and went on to refute them). So far you haven't tried to defend any of those objections.

    Lastly, you're still under the impression that if the LCA were refuted, then that would effectively destroy classical theism, and I'd have to adopt some form of neotheism instead. This comes out of left field. More importantly, it's incorrect. As I pointed out, the medieval Scholastics weren't using possible worlds semantics. Belief that God possesses temporal necessity is sufficient to be a classical theist. Will you at least concede this and retract your earlier claim? To you remind you, your earlier claim was this:

    "[T]he God you argue for would have been refuted and you would have to embrace the God of e.g. neotheism or open theism, or whatever."

  11. Doug

    When I said you haven't properly dealt with my objections I meant in our exchanges. Maybe you have done so in exchanges with PHD's in philosphy, but since I haven't read those, I can't comment on them. As far as I am concerned, my objections have not been refuted, not by you, and not by any PHD in philosophy. That they are not common is irrelevant, BTW. There should always be room for original arguments and objections.

    I can accept you modified version of the PSR, BTW. All that means is that it is a good idea to keep on looking for explanations.

    My response to your second point was just to point out that you mix up both kinds of necessities. When you state "..., it is entirely conceivable for the universe to not exist", as an objection to the necessity of the universe, then this objection doesn't work for temporal necessity, because temporally necessary entities can be conceived to not exist, they just can't be conceived to cease existing.

    Finally, in your final pargraphs, you completely miss the point I was making, which is not that if the LCA was refuted, that would effectively destroy classical theism. Rather my point is that if there is a possible alternative for the God of classical theism, then classical theism, which posits God as the only possible explanation for the universe, is destroyed. the five ways do not conclude, AFAIK, that the first cause can be God or something else. Well, obviously if something else is possible as the first cause, then the conclusion "the first cause is God" does not follow anymore.

    Now, I feel I have said all I wanted to say here ( and even more), so you can have the last word on this.

  12. Walter, I don't think you've adequately dealt with my responses to your objections. But, there's no point in going back and forth on this. You think you've refuted my arguments, and I don't. Why even bring it up?

    As for the second point, I began talking about temporal necessity again because of your claim that you've refuted classical theism by allegedly refuting the LCA. My point was that even if the LCA is unsound, and even if God is not logically necessary, that's not enough to refute classical theism. I'm not mixing logical necessity with temporal necessity. Rather, I'm mentioning both in separate contexts.

    Okay, so you're not saying that if the LCA is refuted then classical theism is refuted. However, now you're bringing up something else entirely. Can anything other than God be the First Cause of the Five Ways? I'd say no. From that it follows that if there is a First Cause, it's logically necessary that this entity is God. It doesn't, however, follow that God is logically necessary with respect to different possible worlds, e.g. a possible world with only abstract objects.