Contingency Argument refuted

The contingency argument is an argument for the existence of God. The argument is as follows:

1. Every contingent thing has an explanation of its existence.

2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is a transcendent, personal being.

3. The universe is a contingent thing.

4. Therefore, the universe has an explanation of its existence.

5. Therefore, the explanation of the universe is a transcendent, personal being (which is what everybody means by God).
As we can see, the argument starts from the Principle of Sufficient Reason (i.e. Premise 1 of the argument) and tries to conclude with God’s existence.

One might first object to this argument by questioning whether our cosmos is contingent.
In addition, if the universe/cosmos (i.e.multi-verse) is eternal, what exactly is the problem? Because, if every single thing is explained by some other thing, then there doesn’t seem to be an issue. Someone might object that the series as a whole isn’t explained, but so what? Why does that matter?

Now, let’s look at the necessary being (God) upholding the cosmos from eternity past. Is that act necessary or contingent? If it is necessary, then one is committed to saying that the cosmos necessarily exists. But if we grant that the universe necessarily exists, then we don’t need God at all.

But suppose that God upholding the cosmos is contingent. Then, what explains why we have this specific cosmos rather than another cosmos? If there’s no explanation, then we do we need to invoke God at all? Why not just go with the simpler explanation by saying the cosmos just exists, end of story. But, even if there is a reason for God to uphold this cosmos, that explanation is still contingent.

The main problem with the argument is the version of the PSR that it endorses. This version presupposes that there is no possible world where there exists contingent things that exist eternally and independently. But why is this impossible? What exactly is the issue? In a world where there exists an eternal and independently existing (contingent) universe, there is nothing to knock it out of existence. In other words, the universe is factually necessary. As a result, invoking the PSR is not needed.

Finally, there doesn’t seem to be any support for the PSR, which most supporters of the PSR seem to grant quickly. Or, they will either say the PSR is self-evident and/or it can be supported indirectly. However, claiming something is self-evident does not make it so. And what about supporting the PSR indirectly? Well, the only argument I’ve seen for this says that if the PSR is false, then nothing requires explanation. But, this is a bad argument because it’s a non-sequitur. Just because some things don’t have an explanation, that doesn’t mean no thing has an explanation. One could think that most things require explanation, or one could think that non-eternal things require further explanation.

#Objections to the argument from contingency #refutation of the contingency argument

5 thoughts on “Contingency Argument refuted

  1. Fun blog. A few responses for your consideration:

    1. An argument for PSR you did not consider is an inference to the best explanation of the many cases where things have some explanation.

    2. Another argument for PSR is based on irrelevant differences: if my cup needs an explanation for its existence, then changing its shape or size is not a relevant difference with respect to the objects’ need for an explanation.

    3. The usual forms of the argument from contingency I have seen aim to show that some necessary being exists, but they leave open (or lay a foundation for) further questions about the nature or personhood of this being. The term “being” in this context is neutral with respect to personhood. A necessary being is something that has esse (being) in a necessary way.

    4. In view of the above point, to say that the universe is necessary is not an objection. In fact, one of the classic theories of God is that God is the Whole. In any case, the conclusion is just that something is necessary. If the universe is necessary, that doesn’t refute the argument. It vindicates the argument!

    5. Besides, the hypothesis that a totality of contingent things is itself contingent contradicts all experience. We have no verified cases of a necessary totality of purely contingent things, while we have many verified cases of contingent totalities of contingent things. So, I infer that the totality of contingent things is itself contingent. (If instead, the totality is itself a necessary being, then the argument is *still* vindicated!)

    6. As for why the necessary being would cause this contingent world, here is one possibility: the necessary being has the power to choose on the basis of non-deterministic reasons.

    7. One of the major problems I see with a “factually” necessary foundation is that there is then no explanation for its continual existence. Imagine a particle that is, at every moment, capable of not existing. What, then, explains how this particle manages to exist for eternity? That strikes my mind as absurd. Now you might answer that it has a nature that precludes it from *ceasing* to exist. But what stops this very nature from ceasing to exist? More importantly, the simplest explanation of how a thing would be unable to cease is that it is unable to *not* exist. I’ve seen no better explanation than that. Hence, I guess I have a major problem with your main objection.

    Despite all my objections, I still value your post! In fact, part of the value of your post is that it stimulates good discussion and further inquiry by serious-minded truth-seekers.

    All the best,

    1. Thanks. This wasn’t my best blog post.

      As I said on my other response, I don’t buy into the notion of necessity utilized in Craig’s argument. I don’t think anything exists out of necessity.

      1. Perhaps the PSR is the best explanation of our experience. But when you get down to deeper levels of reality, I have no idea.

      2. Unless the cup is preceded by something before it for infinity. Then, it’s not obvious why we need some further explanation, or whether it even makes sense to ask for a further explanation

      3. Once again, I’m skeptical that anything can exist necessarily, which was assumed to get the argument off the ground.

      4. My point in saying that (perhaps) the universe is necessary, was to point out that we haven’t even gotten to deism.

      5. How do we know that the cosmos is contingent? How do we know that every part is contingent?

      6. It still looks like we are going to end up with a brute fact here.

      7. It’s only “capable” of not existing in terms of logical possibility, which the PSR doesn’t address. Even if the PSR could answer logical necessity, we could ask, “Well, why does God exist rather than nothing?”.

      I just don’t buy into the notion of metaphysical necessity.

  2. Thanks. One small follow-up, if I may: someone could think some *actions* of things could be brute while still thinking there are explanations for the existence of contingent things.

    Of course, you can respond that if actions can be brute, then perhaps contingent things can be, too… Someone can respond back that the burden is on the one making an exception. You can respond back by meeting that burden. And so on. 🙂

  3. Thomist K

    >In addition, if the universe/cosmos (i.e.multi-verse) is eternal, what exactly is the problem? Because, if every single thing is explained by some other thing, then there doesn’t seem to be an issue. Someone might object that the series as a whole isn’t explained, but so what? Why does that matter?

    See my response on your post about the PSR.

    >But suppose that God upholding the cosmos is contingent. Then, what explains why we have this specific cosmos rather than another cosmos?

    Under Thomism, our universe (and all creation) is entirely contingent. What explains why we have this specific cosmos rather than another? That would be God’s free will, which is selfsame with his essence. (Do not confuse this with WHAT God wills, which is not selfsame with his essence, but which can also sometimes be called “God’s will).

    >Why not just go with the simpler explanation by saying the cosmos just exists, end of story.

    See my comment on your PSR thread…

    >The main problem with the argument is the version of the PSR that it endorses. This version presupposes that there is no possible world where there exists contingent things that exist eternally and independently. But why is this impossible? What exactly is the issue? In a world where there exists an eternal and independently existing (contingent) universe, there is nothing to knock it out of existence. In other words, the universe is factually necessary. As a result, invoking the PSR is not needed.

    The problem is that there would be nothing to bring this universe into existence in the first place, not that nothing could knock it out of existence. The important question here is, “Why does anything exist at all?”

    The reason one should not accept that our universe is a contingent thing that exists as an eternal and independent brute fact is because it leads to absurdity. Again, look at the PSR thread.

    Since pretty much anything I could say will just lead to “go check the PSR thread,” I’ll just say this. If there was no need for things to have an explanation, then the arguments for the existence of God would be undermined. That is why, in books like W. Norris Clarke’s “The One and the Many,” the author starts by defending the intelligibility of being before entering into discussion on topics like essences, act/potency, etc.

    So again, the question for people to consider is, “Why does something exist rather than nothing?”

  4. Peter A.

    Premise Two is the premise I would not include within this argument, because it is both completely unnecessary and actually works better when it is not there. Try this:
    P1. Every contingent entity/process/phenomenon has an explanation for its existence.
    P2. Our reality, which we define as being the observable universe, is contingent, for that is what all the evidence tells us.
    P3. Our reality, in being contingent, requires an explanation for its existence that is in no way, shape or form, constrained by that reality (i.e. something necessary).
    Conc: There is an explanation for our existence that lies beyond our physical reality, and this explanation (which many refer to as “God”) contains within itself the reasons why it is what it is (i.e. is necessarily necessary).

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