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An Easy Way of Destroying Cosmological Arguments

When theists propose one of the Cosmological Arguments (CA), they usually assert the following:

(a) there cannot be an endless regress of causes;

(b) an explanation which ends by postulating a brute fact (such as the universe simply exists uncaused) is not convincing;

(c) God is a person and he created the universe by a free act of will.[1]

I will show, however, that when theists present CA they are actually forced to deny at least one of the three aforementioned points. This will lead to the conclusion that CA are useless as an attempt to prove the existence of the theist God.

The first question is: why did God choose to create/sustain the world?

There are three possibilities:

(1) there was an endless chain of thoughts in God’s mind that ended with the conclusion “I will create/sustain the world”;

(2) the fact that God chose to create/sustain the world was not caused by anything–in which case it is a brute fact;

(3) the thought “I will create/sustain the world” necessarily existed in God’s mind.

If theists accept (1), then they are forced to deny (a).

If theists accept (2), then they are forced to deny (b).[2]

If theists accept (3), then the second question is: did God have a choice to choose not to create/sustain the world despite the necessary thought in his mind? If God did not have a choice, then (c) is denied. If, on the other hand, God did have a choice, then we should ask: why did God choose to put into practice his thought “I will create/sustain the world”? Again, there are three possibilities: an endless chain of thoughts, a brute fact, or a necessary thought such as “I will follow my thought ‘I will create the world.'”

The same points can then be made with regard to (a) and (b). And in case theists would answer that there was a necessary thought in God’s mind such as “I will put into practice my thought ‘I will create the world,'” then my question is: did God have a choice to choose not to follow this thought?

Thus, there are three general options:

(1) there was an endless chain of thoughts in God’s mind, one causing the other, until he reached the thought “I will create/sustain the world”;

(2) God’s decision to create/sustain the world is a brute fact;

(3) the thought which led to the creation of the world necessarily existed in God’s mind, a situation which can either be reduced to the first two options or leads to the conclusion that God did not have a choice to choose not to create the world.

Theists might object, here, in the following way: they could say that the thought “I will create/sustain the world” existed necessarily in God’s mind because of his omnibenevolent nature so that even if God had no choice but to follow this necessary thought, this does not mean that he was not free. Indeed, although he acted out of necessity, this necessity was not imposed on him from the outside but rather is the result of his own nature.

According to this response, the reason God created the world was his omnibenevolence, which necessarily produced in God’s mind the thought “I will create the world.” But this maneuver does not take us too far for the reason that we can ask similar questions, this time with respect to God’s omnibenevolence. Why is God’s nature omnibenevolent? Did he choose it to be that way, or did this quality necessarily exists necessarily? If he chose it, then the three possibilities are repeated. If, however, God did not have a choice, then it seems that he followed out of necessity his necessary omnibenevolence. In this situation, however, it becomes difficult to see how God would have been free in creating/sustaining the world. As William Rowe says:

The absence of something outside a being that determines that being to act in a certain way does not imply that the being has the power not to act in that way. For something within that being may absolutely determine it to act in a certain way. And if something within a being necessitates that it act in a certain way, then, unless the presence or absence of that necessitating factor is within the being’s control, that being lacks the power not to act in that way … An action that an agent performs freely is an action the agent was free to perform and free not to perform; it was up to the agent whether to perform or not perform that act. If some external force or internal passion was beyond the control of the agent, and the agent’s action was inevitable given that external force or internal passion, then the agent did not act freely in performing that action.[3]

When we replace “internal passions,” in Rowe’s quote with “internal nature” or “internal omnibenevolence,” we see that indeed it becomes difficult to see how can God be said to have acted freely in creating/sustaining the world. Therefore, despite their objection, theists would be forced to deny (c) after all.

In conclusion, since I have shown that at least one of the three assertions theists make when they propose CA is faulty, and because all three assertions are required by most versions of CA, it follows that most versions of CA fail.


[1] One reader said that he is not sure whether (c) “is actually a premise in the standard CA.” I think, however, that there are indeed good reasons to think that I am correct about (c). For example, William Craig, one of the most important contemporary proponents of CA, writes: “The only way to have an eternal cause but a temporal effect would seem to be if the cause is a personal agent who freely chooses to create an effect in time.” (William Craig, “The Existence of God and the Beginning of the Universe,” Truth Journal, v. 3, …) Craig uses this assertion in order to show that the cause of the universe is a person.

In addition, another famous philosopher of religion, William Rowe, says, “In the theistic tradition, many thinkers have held that God is infinitely powerful, all-knowing, perfectly good and perfectly free.” [Italics mine] (William Rowe, “Freedom, Divine,” Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Version 1.0, London: Routledge.)

It seems then that the reader’s uncertainty is not very well-founded.

[2] Another reader said, “There is a crucial difference between the brute fact of God’s choice in (2) and the brute fact of the universe’s existence in (b); namely, God is believed to be an agent with free will. The CA argues that since the universe is not an agent with free will it could not have caused itself and therefore must have had a prior cause. It is mechanical causation that would have an infinite regress. A causation born of free will need not have a prior cause.”

This observation is based on the idea that brute facts do not (cannot) exist in nonpersonal contexts. Such a suggestion is, however, unconvincing. Not only that, but I do not see why postulating brute facts in “mechanical” contexts is incoherent or a priori implausible. In fact, many highly-respected contemporary physicists take the existence of spontaneous, brute facts in such contexts quite seriously. In any case, one who chooses to object by saying that the denial of (b) doesn’t follow from (2) for the aforementioned reasons will have to explain why, in principle, explanations that end with brute facts are possible and acceptable in the case of free will but unacceptable in any other case. After all, since brute facts are by definition causeless and unexplainable, it can hardly be said that a personal agent is somehow responsible for them.

On what grounds, then, are we justified into saying that uncaused, nonnecessary facts are not surprising in the context of free will but are so in another context? As far as I know, this has not been done and it is difficult to see what arguments could be given in support of such a thesis.

[3] “The section entitled “The first view and its chief difficulty,” William Rowe, “Freedom, Divine,” Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Version 1.0, London: Routledge

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