We discussed two forms of the Argument from Contingency at the NC State chapter of Ratio Christi tonight.
The first form of the argument we discussed, as formulated by Dr. William Lane Craig in On Guard, is below:
- Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence.
- If the universe has an explanation for its existence, that explanation is God.
- The universe exists.
- Therefore, the universe has an explanation of its existence.
- Therefore, the explanation of the universe is God.
We pointed out that the argument is referring to our two explanations of existence in premise one, contingency and necessity. In short, everything either has to exist (necessity) or it happens to exist (contingency). Since the universe exists, then it must either have to exist or happen to exist. We disregarded the notion that the universe has to exist, since it seems unreasonable to think that every atom in the universe is a logically necessary being. We also noted that since the universe came into existence, this is a magic bullet to the idea that the universe has to exist. Whatever comes into existence cannot be a necessary being.
So if the universe happens to exist, then what is sufficient to explain it? It would need to be either an abstract object (like a number) or an unembodied mind, since matter and energy are part of the universe that this being explained. Abstract numbers don’t stand in causal relationships (the number 7 never caused anything to happen), which leads us logically to conclude that it must be an unembodied mind.
We looked at a quick argument for why the explanation of the universe must be personal as well. Since time came to exist with the universe, then the explanation of the universe must have existed in a timeless state (which means that the conditions prior to the beginning of the universe could not change over time). If the cause were impersonal, then it would bring the universe into existence whenever the sufficient conditions were met (it couldn’t *decide* to create). This means that either the sufficient conditions were present timelessly and the universe would exist eternally or the sufficient conditions were not present and the universe wouldn’t exist (since the sufficient conditions could not develop over time). Since the universe does exist but not eternally, the being who stands as the foundation for the universe’s existence must not be impersonal. Only if the being in that causal relationship is personal, and thus able to decide to bring the universe into existence, could we experience a universe that has a finite age.
- If the explanation of the universe is impersonal, the universe is eternally old.
- The universe is not eternally old.
- Therefore, the explanation of the universe is not impersonal.
We also looked at a modified version of the argument that may be easier to remember.
- If contingent beings exist, then a necessary being exists sufficient to explain them.
- Contingent beings exist.
- Therefore, a necessary being exists sufficient to explain them.
We considered two analogies to illustrate this argument.
First, imagine a ball being pushed. The explanation of what is pushing the ball may be a stick. The explanation of that stick’s motion may be another stick. You can only go on like this so far, however, before you must encounter a hand that is pushing the first stick. Without a starting point, itself not moved by anything, then none of the sticks can ever get moving. This was the analogy that Thomas Aquinas gave for an “unmoved mover” of everything, and it works just as well for our argument from contingency.
Second, imagine a chandelier being suspended. The chandelier may be suspended by chain, and the chain may be suspending from yet more chain. If you never get to a ceiling (a fixed point), however, then the whole apparatus can never be suspended. In the same way, you have to get back to an “unsuspended suspender” at some point.
In the same way, you can only go so far with contingent beings but you must inevitably come to a necessary being. If you don’t, then there is nothing to ever get the contingent beings going.
Why does the necessary being have to be God? As we have seen with the first form of the argument, it must be the immaterial, timeless, space-less, and personal foundation for all of reality. There is no better term than “God” for such a being.
We also looked at a few theological truths that we can derive from the argument. Necessity is the obvious one, and also eternality. Whatever can never fail to exist must exist eternally since there is no point at which it would fail to exist.
We also get the concept of “Divine Simplicity”. That is to say that God must be one in his essence, not composed of parts. If God were composed of parts, then he would exist contingent on the aggregation of those parts much like a book is contingent on the binding of its pages together with its cover. Since God exists by necessity, then he does not exist contingent on any parts holding together.
Finally, we get God’s immutability (that God cannot change). If something experiences change, then part of it stays the same while part of it changes. Since God is not made of parts, change would entail the complete annihilation of God and the replacement with something else. Since God exists by necessity, he can never be annihilated. Taken together, this means that God cannot change in his essence or nature. (This should not be confused with his actions, certainly God’s actions can change without God himself changing).
The argument is abstract but powerful when the concepts are held together. I hope that you will find it useful.