First-Cause Argument for Existence of God


#1

To make this argument let me borrower from Peter Kreeft and his book ‘Fundamentals of the Faith’.

Every being that exists either exists by itself, by its own essence or nature, or it does not exist by itself. If it exists by its own essence, then it exists necessarily and eternally, and explains itself. It cannot not exist, as a triangle cannot not have three sides. If, on the other hand, a being exists but not by its own essence, then it needs a cause, a reason outside of itself for its existence. Because it does not explain itself, something else must explain it. Beings whose essence does not contain the reason for their existence, beings that need causes, are called contingent, or dependent beings. A being whose essence is to exist is called a necessary being. The universe contains only contingent beings. God would be the only necessary being-if God existed. Does he? Does a necessary being exist? Here is the proof that it does. Dependent beings cannot cause themselves. They are dependent on their causes. If there is no independent being, then the whole chain of dependent beings is dependent on *nothing *and could not exist. But they do exist. Therefore there is an independent being.

This argument does not prove God exists as much as it refutes atheism.


#2

[quote=martino][Premise 1] Every being that exists either exists by itself, by its own essence or nature, or it does not exist by itself. [Premise 2] If it exists by its own essence, then it exists necessarily and eternally, and explains itself.
[/quote]

The first clause of premise 2 is dubious.

The second clause, self-explanation, on the other hand, is always trivially valid, since every premise implies itself (i.e. p -> p is always true, even if p is false) and every true premise entails itself.

I would like to see a more precise definition of “necessarily” in evaluating this argument; its interpretion as an operator of modal logic is absurd in the specified context. Presumably it means “uncaused”, but we know that causality is not a logical necessity (since *everything *that exists, whatever that is, and whether or not that includes God, cannot be caused).

So the first clause of premise 2 above seems arbitrary and easily deniable. Since the argument depends critically on the first clause of premise 2, its easy deniability undermines the argument completely.


#3

[quote=PLP]The first clause of premise 2 is dubious.

The second clause, self-explanation, on the other hand, is always trivially valid, since every premise implies itself (i.e. p -> p is always true, even if p is false) and every true premise entails itself.

I would like to see a more precise definition of “necessarily” in evaluating this argument; its interpretion as an operator of modal logic is absurd in the specified context. Presumably it means “uncaused”, but we know that causality is not a logical necessity (since *everything *that exists, whatever that is, and whether or not that includes God, cannot be caused).

So the first clause of premise 2 above seems arbitrary and easily deniable. Since the argument depends critically on the first clause of premise 2, its easy deniability undermines the argument completely.
[/quote]

Causality is in fact a logical necessity for dependent beings. Please help me to understand how it would not be necessary? a being either has a cause or it doesnt? if it doesnt then that being would be able to explain itself, if its explanation comes from outside of itself then it needed a cause to exist.

you said it was dubious, absurd and easily deniable but you have to do more than just deny it…explain how a being would not need a cause to cause its existence!


#4

[quote=martino]Causality is in fact a logical necessity for dependent beings.
[/quote]

Well, yes, if “dependent” is taken to mean “caused”. In which case the linguistic inverse of dependent is “independent”, not “necessary”. Necessary carries the connotation of logical irrefutability or truth in all possible worlds, a connotation that is not implied by independent.

This version of the first caused argument creates a false dichotomy. Either:
[list=1]
*]An entity is caused
*]An entity is logically necessary (denial of the entity would entail a logical contradiction
[/list]

But the existence of an independent, uncaused entity, while perhaps surprising or counterintuitive, would not entail a logical contradiction.

It should be noted that the statement, “Everything exists” is, in a sense, “logically necessary”, at least in the context of making the statement; if nothing existed, then the statement itself would not exist.

you said it was dubious, absurd and easily deniable but you have to do more than just deny it…

The characterization of “absurd” was in reference only to interpreting the meaning of “necessity” in terms of modal logic. I infer from that absurdity only that I should not interpret the word in that sense in the context to the argument.

The first clause of the second premise is “dubious” (able to be doubted) and “easily deniable” in the sense that contradicting it does not entail a logical contradiction.

I don’t need to do any more than deny a premise, since, by virtue of introducing the statement as a premise, the original argument does nothing but assert it.

… explain how a being would not need a cause to cause its existence!

It’s certainly the case that a caused being needs a cause. However, it is not at all clear that every being requires a cause. Indeed we can be analytically certain that everything (whatever that is) as an entity, is not, in fact, caused, at least not by anything outside of itself. So we can be certain at least that external causality is not a logical necessity.


#5

This is insightful and true, if what you mean by “exists” is “exists of itself”.

For a carpenter can build a chair, but the chair does not exist of itself: it can be disassembled into a pile of wood, which will no longer be a chair.

I would like to share a line of reasoning about existence.

1. Nothing can come from "total nothingness"
2. But there is not “total nothingness” now
3. Therefore, there must have never actually been “total nothingness”

And as a corollary,

4. Therefore, there must have actually always been “something”

At this point, we do not know what this “something” is, except that it must have actually always been.

Continuing…

5. But there is something now that has not always been
6. Therefore, there must be a distinction between something that must have actually always been, and something that has not always been

By now we can see that it is logical, sensible, and reasonable that there is more to “existence” than first meets the eye. We can see “something” that was not always here before. Our own being changes over time, and new people are being born every day.

Continuing…

7. But something that has not always been cannot begin to be something from nothing
8. Therefore, something that has not always been began from something that already was

This makes sense. For example, we bake bread from flour, water, yeast, and heat. The bread then exists, but was dependent on the pre-existence of materials and agents of change.

But the ingredients themselves had not always been. Flour grew from the ground as wheat, and needed water to grow. Water itself is a collection of molecules made up of atoms. The atoms have to be combined in a special way to act like water. Atoms themselves are made of components that had to be combined in a special way. And those atomic components are themselves considered to consist of smaller ones called quarks.

And yet there is something at some level “that always was”, and in which true existence inheres. The composed things we witness in nature do not exist of themselves, but they are not totally nothing, either. This gives us insight into the issue of existence, and is something I think is exciting to contemplate! It is as if we can really experience the somethingness that always was, even if it is only through the veil of the nature in and around us.

In conclusion…

9. Therefore there are three types of things:
[list=1]
*] something that must have actually always been
*] something that has not always been:
(that began directly from something that must have actually always been)
*] something that has not always been:
(that began from something else that has not always been)
[/list]

So using logic, natural sense, and human reason, one can safely conclude that there is a sort of hierarchy in the existence of things that somehow are. This is almost as far as one can get to being certain about it: we naturally know there is an eternal existence (existing of itself) that is the ultimate cause of temporal existence (existing without itself), and that temporal existences can somehow be a secondary cause to other temporal existences.

It should be noted that one can make a number of additional logical conclusions.

But we don’t thereby know the eternal existence or even all the temporal existences. Through natural science, we are learning much more about temporal existences and their other temporal “causers”, but it is limited to materials measurable by other materials, and thus can not and will not consider anything else.

Therefore, any discussion with an atheist discounting faith can not go any further than the above demonstration of an eternal “something” that must have been the ultimate cause of all things we can actually recognize in life. But it suffices to show that being an atheist is an untenable, illogical, nonsensicle, and unreasonable position to hold. The only question is how or if we are going to relate to this eternally existing “something”, which is certainly the ultimate source of all nature and our very conscousness.

hurst


#6

[quote=PLP]It’s certainly the case that a caused being needs a cause. However, it is not at all clear that every being requires a cause. Indeed we can be analytically certain that everything (whatever that is) as an entity, is not, in fact, caused, at least not by anything outside of itself. So we can be certain at least that external causality is not a logical necessity.
[/quote]

im not sure i even know what you are talking about now. give me an example of something that is not caused.


#7

[quote=hurst]…

Therefore, any discussion with an atheist discounting faith can not go any further than the above demonstration of an eternal “something” that must have been the ultimate cause of all things we can actually recognize in life. But it suffices to show that being an atheist is an untenable, illogical, nonsensicle, and unreasonable position to hold. The only question is how or if we are going to relate to this eternally existing “something”, which is certainly the ultimate source of all nature and our very conscousness.

hurst
[/quote]

Hardly… nothing in your logic demonstrates that whatever is this eternal something must be a thing which can reasonably be called God - and it is the existence of such a thing that the atheist denies; nothing more.


#8

[quote=EnterTheBowser]Hardly… nothing in your logic demonstrates that whatever is this eternal something must be a thing which can reasonably be called God
[/quote]

Whatever this eternal something is, it is clearly the ultimate source, somehow, of the things that have not always been. I showed this. Now, “God” is the name given to the Creator, and that is the reason they must be the same thing.

However, if you wish to define “God” as something else, then I can hardly stop you. But regardless of that, it remains that something has always been which is the source of things that have not always been.

hurst


#9

I don’t see why this thing ought to be considered sentient, omniscient, or omnipotent, all generally known as characteristics of God.


#10

[quote=EnterTheBowser]I don’t see why this thing ought to be considered sentient, omniscient, or omnipotent, all generally known as characteristics of God.
[/quote]

Granted, that was not part of the demonstration.

But it follows that this eternal something is the source of all power and all knowledge. So it is logical for it to be omnipotent and omniscient, among other things.

As for sentient, what do you actually mean?

From Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary

Sentient : \Sen"ti*ent, a. [L. sentiens, -entis, p. pr. of sentire to discern or perceive by the senses. See Sense.]
Having a faculty, or faculties, of sensation and perception. Specif. (Physiol.), especially sensitive; as, the sentient extremities of nerves, which terminate in the various organs or tissues.

By this definition, I would associate “sentient” to creatures. Yet, it is reasonable to hold that the ability to be sentient ultimately came from the same eternal source as everything else we experience.

Again, I do not propose that we can know the nature and essence of God. I am saying that by natural sense and human reason, we can know that something has always been from which all else ultimately depends. It is reasonable to call this God.

If you assert something about “God” that turns out to be false (e.g. sentient being), and in denying that aspect conclude that “God” does not exist, then you have made an erroneous conclusion based on a false premise. This might be classified as a strawman, btw.

In any case, I am not taking the approach of proving that what you call “God” exists. Instead, I am demonstrating what we can know with certainty about existence in general. Anything called “God” has to at a minimum have the naturally knowable attributes of the “eternal something” which is clearly the source of all else that has not always been. Anything beyond that cannot be known by our nature, but requires supernatural faith.

If you decide to recognize the existence of the eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, infinite something, then it would not be an act of faith, because it is natural knowledge.

I suppose you could still be an “atheist” in your own mind, denying some particular definition of “God”. The early Christians were also derided as “atheists” because they did not believe in the pagan “gods”. But then it boils down to semantics.

hurst


#11

Hurst,

there is an error in your analysis. One cannot necessarily assign an ordinal number to events, and thus arrange them into a numerical order. Observe the positive numbers, whole numbers and franctions, all greater than zero. There is no “first” or “smallest” number in this sequence, even though they have a lower boundary (namely zero).

Thus one may very well imagine a universe which is bound in time, yet there is no “first” event. Therefore the whole idea of “first cause” is meaningless.


#12

[quote=hurst]Granted, that was not part of the demonstration.

But it follows that this eternal something is the source of all power and all knowledge. So it is logical for it to be omnipotent and omniscient, among other things.
[/quote]

Regarding, first, omniscience: that depends on a particular view of knowledge; specifically, of knowledge and ideas existing in a way similar to the way the external world exists - seperate and independent of human minds. But if that is not the case - if knowledge and ideas are created by humans - then it does not really follow that this thing knows everything.

Regarding omniscient, I’m not sure what’s impossible about the view that this eternal something is capable of starting the universe in motion, as it were, and nothing more.

As for sentient, what do you actually mean?

From Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary

Sentient : \Sen"ti*ent, a. [L. sentiens, -entis, p. pr. of sentire to discern or perceive by the senses. See Sense.]
Having a faculty, or faculties, of sensation and perception. Specif. (Physiol.), especially sensitive; as, the sentient extremities of nerves, which terminate in the various organs or tissues.

By this definition, I would associate “sentient” to creatures. Yet, it is reasonable to hold that the ability to be sentient ultimately came from the same eternal source as everything else we experience.

By sentient I meant a thing which thinks, I suppose. For example, let’s say that this necessarily existent something that you’ve been talking about is just the initial conditions of the universe and the physical laws which describe it (or something like that). I don’t see why a thing like that would be correctly said to think.

Again, I do not propose that we can know the nature and essence of God. I am saying that by natural sense and human reason, we can know that something has always been from which all else ultimately depends. It is reasonable to call this God.

No, it is not. Saying that a thing is “god” generally means more than just “the thing upon which everything depends” - particularly, if as I have been arguing, such a thing is not sentient, omnipotent, or omniscient.

If you assert something about “God” that turns out to be false (e.g. sentient being), and in denying that aspect conclude that “God” does not exist, then you have made an erroneous conclusion based on a false premise. This might be classified as a strawman, btw.

This is actually a very interesting philosophical question - when do we start calling a thing by a different name and when do we say that the properties of the thing are not as we had previously thought? For example, Dalton’s “atom” meant something a bit different than the modern “atom,” yet we admit that we were talking about the same thing - and then discovered new properties and discarded old ones. On the other hand, during the development of modern medicine, we completely abandoned terms like “demon” (a la the old demon theory of sickness) - we assert that there are no such things as demons which cause disease, not that the previous healers had a mistaken conception of what “demon” was - but that we both refer to the same thing.

All that aside, I want to say that your argument does not show the existence of something which is omnipotent, omniscient, and sentient; like I would say to a pantheist: if you want to call the universe “God,” go right ahead, but make sure that you tell people that you (exhaustively) define “God” to mean “the universe,” because otherwise they might get confused.

In any case, I am not taking the approach of proving that what you call “God” exists. Instead, I am demonstrating what we can know with certainty about existence in general. Anything called “God” has to at a minimum have the naturally knowable attributes of the “eternal something” which is clearly the source of all else that has not always been. Anything beyond that cannot be known by our nature, but requires supernatural faith.

If you decide to recognize the existence of the eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, infinite something, then it would not be an act of faith, because it is natural knowledge.

I suppose you could still be an “atheist” in your own mind, denying some particular definition of “God”. The early Christians were also derided as “atheists” because they did not believe in the pagan “gods”. But then it boils down to semantics.

hurst

I can’t really say that I don’t believe in the existence of God without really specifying what I mean by God - in other words, I must necessarily deny some particular definition of “God” (or a class of related definitions).


#13

[quote=Hitetlen]Hurst,

there is an error in your analysis. One cannot necessarily assign an ordinal number to events, and thus arrange them into a numerical order. Observe the positive numbers, whole numbers and franctions, all greater than zero. There is no “first” or “smallest” number in this sequence, even though they have a lower boundary (namely zero).

Thus one may very well imagine a universe which is bound in time, yet there is no “first” event. Therefore the whole idea of “first cause” is meaningless.
[/quote]

To add: just as boundedness does not necessarily imply a minimal element; finiteness does not imply boundedness (eg the surface of a torus).


#14

[quote=Hitetlen]Hurst,

there is an error in your analysis. One cannot necessarily assign an ordinal number to events, and thus arrange them into a numerical order. Observe the positive numbers, whole numbers and franctions, all greater than zero. There is no “first” or “smallest” number in this sequence, even though they have a lower boundary (namely zero).
[/quote]

you make the assumption that the set of events is (A) actually infinite, and (B) uncountably so.

why should anyone believe this?

[quote=Hitetlen]Thus one may very well imagine a universe which is bound in time, yet there is no “first” event. Therefore the whole idea of “first cause” is meaningless.
[/quote]

one can “imagine” a lot things, but that doesn’t necessarily amount to anything more than the exercise of forming a picture in one’s mind and then labelling it with some putative name. like “universe with no first event”. one’s ability to engage in such an exercise does not entail the logical possibility of the picture.

the set of events is formed by sequential addition, and one cannot form an actually infinite set by sequential addition. to that extent, your analogy with the set of natural or even real numbers, limps. badly.


#15

[quote=Hitetlen]Hurst,

there is an error in your analysis. One cannot necessarily assign an ordinal number to events, and thus arrange them into a numerical order.

[/quote]

I am not sure what you are trying to say here. However, one can definitely put an order to events in general.

For example, before a wooden chair can be made, a tree has to grow and be cut down. Do you agree to that much?

Your reasoning makes no sense to me.

If your premise is that of being able to imagine a universe with no first event, then your conclusion that first causes are meaningless only applies to your imagined universe. Yet even there it fails! Because you are the first cause of that imagined universe.

In any case, your agument is not based on sensible reality.

I showed the distinction between “that which must have always been”, and “that which has not always been”. We can know that with the certainty of logic, sense, and reason.

It follows that there was a beginning to that which had not always been. We don’t actually know the first things that had not always been, but we know they must have somehow come from that which must have always been. And we know that new things can also come from other things that have not always been. We ourselves are agents that cause new things to be composed. So though we don’t see all things, we can know with certainty that there are three kinds of things, as I posted in #5.

hurst


#16

[quote=john doran]you make the assumption that the set of events is (A) actually infinite
[/quote]

If there were an infinite number of events that preceded the present moment, we would never have reached the present moment, because it would have taken an infinitely long time.


#17

[quote=EnterTheBowser]Regarding, first, omniscience: that depends on a particular view of knowledge; specifically, of knowledge and ideas existing in a way similar to the way the external world exists - seperate and independent of human minds. But if that is not the case - if knowledge and ideas are created by humans - then it does not really follow that this thing knows everything.

[/quote]

It is simpler than you seem to realize.

Anything that exists, could not have come from “total nothingness”. Therefore, we can know that a human mind is participating somehow in the eternal existence by which all things ultimately depend, and so that eternal something is intimately associated with everything the human mind is doing. It has to participate in it, even as it has to participate in daily life. And yet, contrary to pantheism, the human mind is not itself that which must have always existed.

(This is actually a very stimulating concept!)

You meant omnipotence here. The point here is that any power that exists could not have come from “total nothingness”, and so is somehow derived from that which must have always been. Therefore, even after somehow causing it to begin, it also must continue to keep it in existence.

I submit to you that the fact that we cannot destroy our invisible interior consciousness is an example of this power. Perhaps you will contend that it goes away upon death. Even so, in nature there are natural laws that no one seems to be able to destroy or circumvent (though people do try).

I don’t think it would think like us. However, in order for us to do our thinking, we have to somehow or other participate in that which must have always existed.

We can naturally know with certainty that there is something that must have always been, and that it is “the thing upon which everything depends” – including our very consciousness, free will, memory, and all the laws and forces of nature (and more).

How is this not God? Only because it doesn’t think like a man? Or “know” like a man? “God” must be way above all that, because “God” must be the source, cause, and sustainment thereof.

Anything visible changes, and could not have always been. The universe is not “God”.

Whether I showed the existence of your definition of “God” is indeed debatable. But I would rather encourage you to set aside your definition and consider the reality that I did show. Maybe you are not prepared to call it “God”, fine. But the consideration of such actual existence is nonetheless something I thing worthy of contemplation for anyone.

Hence my comment regarding the strawman. Whatever it is you are denying, it is a sideshow to what I am focusing on in my faith, and the natural knowledge of the true God that I base it on. I indeed choose to believe the Revelation taught by the Catholic Church on top of it all, but that is not the matter of discussion here.

hurst


#18

[quote=hurst]It is simpler than you seem to realize.

Anything that exists, could not have come from “total nothingness”. Therefore, we can know that a human mind is participating somehow in the eternal existence by which all things ultimately depend, and so that eternal something is intimately associated with everything the human mind is doing. It has to participate in it, even as it has to participate in daily life. And yet, contrary to pantheism, the human mind is not itself that which must have always existed.

(This is actually a very stimulating concept!)
[/quote]

I don’t really think this is true. Let’s imagine that which necessarily exists to be the initial starting conditions of the universe and the laws which govern the universe’s behavior. Now, it would be wrong to say that these things think. They might indeed provide the possibility for thought, by allowing for that particular arrangement of matter which generates thought, but they themselves would not exemplify that sort of arrangement and hence would not think.

You meant omnipotence here. The point here is that any power that exists could not have come from “total nothingness”, and so is somehow derived from that which must have always been. Therefore, even after somehow causing it to begin, it also must continue to keep it in existence.

I do not see how this follows. For example, let’s say that billiard ball A strikes billiard ball B, causing B to move. Afterwards I destroy B - is it then true that A stops moving?

But maybe this isn’t what you mean. In that case, here is something else to consider: in order to have power over something, I would need to be able to do something to interfere with it. Now, in what way would this eternal something have that sort of power over something else? It would have that power, I suppose, if it were to stop causing this other something to be. But it seems to be incapable of that - the very nature of this eternal something is that it must necessarily cause these other things - that is, in a sense, the whole point.

I submit to you that the fact that we cannot destroy our invisible interior consciousness is an example of this power. Perhaps you will contend that it goes away upon death. Even so, in nature there are natural laws that no one seems to be able to destroy or circumvent (though people do try).

Again, I do not think it follows from the fact that physical laws are apparently constant that this eternal something is omnipotent.

I don’t think it would think like us. However, in order for us to do our thinking, we have to somehow or other participate in that which must have always existed.

Why?

We can naturally know with certainty that there is something that must have always been, and that it is “the thing upon which everything depends” – including our very consciousness, free will, memory, and all the laws and forces of nature (and more).

How is this not God? Only because it doesn’t think like a man? Or “know” like a man? “God” must be way above all that, because “God” must be the source, cause, and sustainment thereof.

Let’s say that, as I talked about previously, the necessarily existent things are the initial conditions of the universe and the physical laws which govern it. Would it be proper to call such things “God”?

Anything visible changes, and could not have always been. The universe is not “God”.

In a sense - my point exactly. Similarly, something which does not have knowledge is not God as is generally understood.

Whether I showed the existence of your definition of “God” is indeed debatable. But I would rather encourage you to set aside your definition and consider the reality that I did show. Maybe you are not prepared to call it “God”, fine. But the consideration of such actual existence is nonetheless something I thing worthy of contemplation for anyone.

I think it is not yet clear what exactly you have shown.

Hence my comment regarding the strawman. Whatever it is you are denying, it is a sideshow to what I am focusing on in my faith, and the natural knowledge of the true God that I base it on. I indeed choose to believe the Revelation taught by the Catholic Church on top of it all, but that is not the matter of discussion here.

hurst

Well, if we mean different things by the word “God,” this is understandable. So I might as well ask: what is an exhaustive definition of God?


#19

[quote=Maranatha]If there were an infinite number of events that preceded the present moment, we would never have reached the present moment, because it would have taken an infinitely long time.
[/quote]

Bravo! A very succinct agruement that causality must be finit, extending into the past and end in an uncaused caused.


#20

This is interesting. I did not call it “that which necessarily exists”, but rather “that which must have always existed”, or more specifically,

4. Therefore, there must have actually always been “something”

There is a sublime difference between the two.

The initial starting condition of the universe? If you mean the concept of the point from which the big bang is hypothesized to have sprung, then I would say that it can not qualify as eternally existing because it no longer exists.

Or do you believe it was “God”, and “God” died or exploded, leaving the visible universe in its wake, which itself will eventually die out also? If you think that, then you probably also believe that all thought processes and even your consciousness is just the result of chemical interactions in matter. But such thinking is folly, and misses something very obvious: that there are also things existing that are not visible nor made of material matter, and do not depend on the human mind to exist.

This whole notion of which you speak could become a thread by itself…

Agreed. Matter and energy cannot think.

hurst


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