The classical arguments for God – Part Four

One thing I like about the classical arguments for God is that they’re logically deduced from our everyday experience. And when one fully understand them (which no detractor I’ve heard so far actually does), we see that asking for evidence becomes a silly question because what could be more evident than that some things are changing.  Also, the nature of these arguments are such that no new discovery in science or cosmology would be relevant to refute them.

Everywhere we look we see things in motion (going from potential to actual). We might also suspect that our continuing existence implies what would technically be called an essential ordering of causality, a most fundamental motive power that our existence is dependent upon in the here and now (it has nothing to do with whether something has a beginning or not).

This is also a central tenet of Christology, as one of the earliest Christian creeds attests. (This was an oral creed that predates the epistle):

16 for through him God created everything
    in the heavenly realms and on earth.
He made the things we can see
    and the things we can’t see—
such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.
    Everything was created through him and for him.
17 He existed before anything else,
    and he holds all creation together. (Col.1:16-17 NLT, emphasis added)

Here’s a great graphic by Classic Theist from his video, “An Argument For the Existence of God” (I highly recommend the video). This graphic illustrates what we mean when we say “God.”

And this brings us to one more classical argument for God—the Argument from Necessity or Contingency. This argument deals with the question, “Why does anything exist at all?”

Argument from Necessity (Contingency)

This is one of Aquinas’s longest arguments for the existence of God, and one of his strongest. You’ll probably notice how this argument builds upon the prior two we already looked at. It’s explained here, broken down in fourteen logical points, as adapted by Robert Delfino (from video podcast here):

  1. We find in reality some things that are capable of existing and not existing, because they are found to be generated and corrupt [they pass on or cease to exist].
  2. We call such beings possible beings.
  3. A possible being cannot be the cause of its own existence.
  4. This is so for two reasons: (1) It would already have to exist in order to cause its own existence, but if it already exists then it does not need to cause its own existence, and (2) If it caused its own existence then it would be both prior to itself and also not prior to itself, which is a contradiction and thus impossible.
  5. Therefore a possible being must get its existence from a cause that exists external to it.
  6. It is impossible that everything which exists is a possible being.
  7. The reason is that nothing could have begun to exist in reality if everything were a possible being because a possible being only comes to exist through an already existing cause external to it, which would not exist if everything were a possible being.
  8. But if nothing could have begun to exist in reality then nothing would have existed in the past and nothing would exist now, because “from nothing, nothing comes.”
  9. But this is absurd because things exist now.
  10. Thus not all things are possible beings—at least one necessary being must exist.
  11. There are two ways for a being to be necessary: (1) it can get its necessity from another; (2) it can get its necessity from itself (per se).
  12. If it has its necessity from another, then it requires a cause external to it.
  13. An infinity of beings that get their necessity from another would not explain how anything came to exist, just as it is clear from the above that an infinity of possible beings would not explain how anything came to be.
  14. Conclusion: There must be a cause that has of itself (per se) its own necessity (i.e., it does not receive necessity from another), and on which all other beings are, ultimately, dependent for their existence.  And this we call “God” [again, a nominal label for the conclusion of the argument].

Why can’t the universe be necessary?

Some skeptics argue that the universe could be non-contingent or necessary. But this is logically impossible, as David Bentley Hart explains in an interview with Robert Kuhn in “Closer to Truth” (paraphrased):

KUHN: Why couldn’t physical matter or the universe be non-contingent (absolute being)?

HART: We first must know what it means to mark something out as contingent. Marks of contingency would include a composite nature, extension, temporal, spatial, even the boundedness of laws, and laws are ontologically inert. A law does not create a reality, it merely describes one.

The classical claim is that when you prescind from all the conditions of contingency inevitably what you arrive at has to be something entirely unconditioned, that is not composite, not dissoluble into parts upon which it’s dependent, not a being among beings and therefore dependent upon some larger sphere of actuality, not temporal. As soon as you begin removing the attributes that make for contingency, you’re left with the question of the absolute that doesn’t make room anymore for things like matter.

KUHN: Why can’t it be the laws of quantum mechanics that make matter spontaneously come into existence?

HART: Laws and quantum events exist within realities that are themselves by the same logical calculus, contingent. Quantum events don’t happen in nothingness in the ontological sense. It just means you’re dealing with a prior physical state that is as of yet unarticulated. But that physical state is not a logical necessary reality, or that it would make it coherent to say that it’s a reality that can be considered an absolute.

You can watch the whole interview here.

To be continued…

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About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 37 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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12 Responses to The classical arguments for God – Part Four

  1. jim- says:

    Logically deduced with massive presupposition just to begin the argument. No one can refutes it Mel, because it’s like trying to defend something that obviously doesn’t even have a smidgen of reality. It is logical to you because you want so badly to prove you are right, you’ve attached to an idea that should keep the wheels of conjecture spinning without answers for generations.

    • “…because it’s like trying to defend something that obviously doesn’t even have a smidgen of reality”

      Actually, the entire argument is based on looking directly at reality. Then deducing from the very fact of such a reality scientifically and empirically existing, even down to the quantum level, there has to be a causal force outside and other than the reality. The wheels of conjecture can end there unless you, yourself, want to be the one ignoring reality.

      • jim- says:

        Haha. I’ve read all these posts.

      • jim- says:

        Mel’s posts indicate he is a deist this month, it changes from month to month. I know. I had my own faith crisis that turned out to be the biggest blessing ever. My eyes were opened, and I became as one of them, knowing good from evil. The real problem with abrahamic religion is it delays your own personal responsibility. You guys have had your shot, and faith in a savior to fix the worlds problems, is the biggest problem there is. What if it’s another 1000 years? This place will be a trash heap thanks to the ideals of religion, denying the obvious destruction you are all ushering in to my home.

        • Mel Wild says:

          Mel’s posts indicate he is a deist this month, it changes from month to month.

          Deist? How could you possibly come up with that? No wonder you think my position changes every month. You totally miss the point! What I’m outlining here is the very opposite of Deism. Deism is like Paley’s watchmaker, God sets the universe in motion 13.7 billion years ago and then takes His hands off. This argument is the very opposite of that. Everything, every moment of every day, requires God’s involvement, He never stops upholding continuous creation and the continuing existence of all things.

          What if it’s another 1000 years? This place will be a trash heap thanks to the ideals of religion, denying the obvious destruction you are all ushering in to my home.

          Nice bit of judgmentalism there, Jim. So, what ideals of religion are you talking about? Obvious destruction? I have no idea what you’re talking about or how this even relates to this post.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Logically deduced with massive presupposition just to begin the argument.

      I’m curious. Where is the massive presupposition? Are you saying that it’s a massive presupposition that “we find in reality some things that are capable of existing and not existing?”

  2. This was well done,Mel. i liked this especially, “A law does not create a reality, it merely describes one.” Believe it or not, there can actually be some confusion about that. I just read, “gravity decreed…” Well, to decree is, “a command made by someone on authority.” Gravity is not a “someone” therefore it cannot “decree.” Gravity is simply a law that describes a force or an action.

  3. Citizen Tom says:

    I think the point here is to make the Prime Mover argument is a bit more difficult to refute. However, if we put the focus on beings instead of continuing existence, the Atheist will point to the Theory of Evolution. They will argue that the non-contingent being is the first life form to be created in that Primordial Soup. Where that breaks down is where did that Primordial Soup come from? Then we eventually get back to the Prime Mover. Deism argues that God created and then walked away. Here the point is that He is still involved.

    We are not talking about the creation of Beings. We are talking about the force that holds everything together and keeps everything in the here and now. So the trick here is discerning the difference between continuing existence and setting off a chain of events that sets things in motion. Unfortunately, those 14 points sound to me too much like the argument for the Prime Mover instead of the need for a non-contingent being.

    I gather that to show the difference between a contingent being and a non-contingent being we need to focus on the fact that the contingent being is dependent in the here and now upon beings and things outside of itself. The non-contingent is not dependent upon anything. Ultimately, everything is dependent upon it.

    Anyway, I guess I need to spend more time with some of these videos. The ideas here are awfully abstract and difficult to grasp.

    • Mel Wild says:

      However, if we put the focus on beings instead of continuing existence, the Atheist will point to the Theory of Evolution. They will argue that the non-contingent being is the first life form to be created in that Primordial Soup.

      That’s right. This is an ontological argument. It has nothing to do with how life came to be from the distant past, but how life exists in the here and now. The first being would not answer the question because we still must ask what kept that being in existence.

      We are not talking about the creation of Beings. We are talking about the force that holds everything together and keeps everything in the here and now.

      Exactly. It has nothing whatsoever to do with when something was created. It has to do with our everyday existence now. Even if the universe is eternal, it would still need a causal force that we are calling the Prime Mover.

      Unfortunately, those 14 points sound to me too much like the argument for the Prime Mover instead of the need for a non-contingent being.

      Well, the Prime Mover is the non-contingent being. These arguments are all pointing to the same thing, just from different angles or perspectives.

      I gather that to show the difference between a contingent being and a non-contingent being we need to focus on the fact that the contingent being is dependent in the here and now upon beings and things outside of itself.

      You pretty much have it. A contingent being cannot cause its own existence, so it’s dependent on some motive force outside of itself. A non-contingent being would also have to be fully actualized, and all the other attributes mentioned in part two and three. A non-contingent being would have to be non-material, eternal, and self-existent. Otherwise, it would necessarily rely on some outside force.

      Anyway, I guess I need to spend more time with some of these videos. The ideas here are awfully abstract and difficult to grasp.

      That’s very true because we’re dealing with metaphysical terminology and logic. That takes a while to grasp. But once you get the concept, it’s actually quite simple.

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