Twenty Arguments for God – Seven – The Argument from Contingency

This post is one of a serious that picks apart the arguments for god that can be found at the link below. This post addresses number 7:

http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics-more/20_arguments-gods-existence.htm#7
If you don’t want to click over there to read it, the full argument goes like this:

7. The Argument from Contingency

The basic form of this argument is simple.
If something exists, there must exist what it takes for that thing to exist.
The universe—the collection of beings in space and time—exists.
Therefore, there must exist what it takes for the universe to exist.
What it takes for the universe to exist cannot exist within the universe or be bounded by space and time.
Therefore, what it takes for the universe to exist must transcend both space and time.
Suppose you deny the first premise. Then if X exists, there need not exist what it takes for X to exist. But “what it takes for X to exist” means the immediate condition(s) for X’s existence. You mean that X exists only if Y. Without Y, there can be no X. So the denial of premise 1 amounts to this: X exists; X can only exist if Y exists; and Y does not exist. This is absurd. So there must exist what it takes for the universe to exist. But what does it take?
We spoke of the universe as “the collection of beings in space and time.” Consider one such being: yourself. You exist, and you are, in part at least, material. This means that you are a finite, limited and changing being, you know that right now, as you read this book, you are dependent for your existence on beings outside you. Not your parents or grandparents. They may no longer be alive, but you exist now. And right now you depend on many things in order to exist—for example, on the air you breathe. To be dependent in this way is to be contingent. You exist if something else right now exists.
But not everything can be like this. For then everything would need to be given being, but there would be nothing capable of giving it. There would not exist what it takes for anything to exist. So there must be something that does not exist conditionally; something which does not exist only if something else exists; something which exists in itself. What it takes for this thing to exist could only be this thing itself. Unlike changing material reality, there would be no distance, so to speak, between what this thing is and that it is. Obviously the collection of beings changing in space and time cannot be such a thing. Therefore, what it takes for the universe to exist cannot be identical with the universe itself or with a part of the universe.
Question 1: But why should we call this cause “God”? Maybe there is something unknown that grounds the universe of change we live in.
Reply: True. And this “unknown” is God. What we humans know directly is this sensible changing world. We also know that there must exist whatever it takes for something to exist. Therefore, we know that neither this changing universe as a whole nor any part of it can be itself what it takes for the universe to exist. But we have now such direct knowledge of the cause of changing things. We know that there must exist a cause; we know that this cause cannot be finite or material—that it must transcend such limitations. But what this ultimate cause is in itself remains, so far, a mystery.
There is more to be said by reason; and there is very much more God has made known about himself through revelation. But the proofs have given us some real knowledge as well: knowledge that the universe is created; knowledge that right now it is kept in being by a cause unbounded by any material limit, that transcends the kind of being we humans directly know. And that is surely knowledge worth having. We might figure out that someone’s death was murder and no accident, without figuring out exactly who did it and why, and this might leave us frustrated and unsatisfied. But at least we would know what path of questioning to pursue; at least we would know that someone did it.
So it is with the proofs. They let us know that at every moment the being of the universe is the creative act of a Giver—A Giver transcending all material and spiritual limitations. Beyond that, they do not tell us much about what or who this Giver is—but they point in a very definite direction. We know that this Ultimate Reality—the Giver of being—cannot be material. And we know the gift which is given includes personal being: intelligence, will and spirit. The infinite transcendent cause of these things cannot be less than they are, but must be infinitely more. How and in what way we do not know. To some extent this Giver must always remain unknown to human reason. We should never expect otherwise. But reason can at least let us know that “someone did it.” And that is of great value.

Here is another of those arguments which boils down to ‘stuff, therefore god’. I wonder why the author went to so much effort to essentially repeat the same fallacious argument using slightly different words and titles.

The logic starts off okay.

If something exists, there must exist what it takes for that thing to exist.
The universe—the collection of beings in space and time—exists.
Therefore, there must exist what it takes for the universe to exist.

I’m okay with this so far (I’m ignoring the oddly phrased ‘collection of beings’), it does really need some evidential backup to support the premise though. It shouldn’t be assumed to be true just because I agree that it seems reasonable. One should make adequate steps to confirm what one assumes is true before making further assumptions based on it. I’m not even halfway through this list and how many times has that been said?

What it takes for the universe to exist cannot exist within the universe or be bounded by space and time.

This is where it starts to wobble. It seems a reasonable statement on the face of it, but it needs experimental confirmation before it can be asserted as a truth. The bounded by space and time is the critical part. We already know that the time that we experience depends on the matter in the universe. However, the phrasing of that sentence suggests to me that the author thinks that is not the case and that time (and space) may exist outside of the universe, there is some clarity missing. Making more assumptions based on unclear explanations will only lead to greater errors and more confusion.

The argument also assumes that there is indeed something outside of the universe on which the universe depends. Well, more accurately it’s trying to argue that that is indeed the case. Physics hasn’t been able to identify anything that is not within the universe. Our knowledge of how the universe came about is incomplete. All we can be certain of is that the laws that govern matter within the universe do not apply to the inception of the universe and if there is indeed an ‘outside the universe’ those laws certainly will not apply. Yet this argument seems to ignore all of that and carry on with its own conclusions based on arguments that can be observed within the universe. This is a basic error.

So there must be something that does not exist conditionally; something which does not exist only if something else exists; something which exists in itself.

Please tell me you saw that bit coming. It should have been obvious. The author is a Christian, so of course the non conditional existing thing is the Christian god, nothing else would be accepted. This really is a case of framing the argument around the already assumed but unevidenced conclusion. Why can’t the non conditional existing thing be the universe or the bigger god that created the Christian god? Both of those suggestions fit the logic. The author would reject those two options because they don’t result in the Christian god. The Christian god is the X that needs no Y and no other option will be discussed or considered.

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Stellar Proof of an Old Universe

I know that the E in YEC stands for Earth. However, being a YEC means taking the first few verses of Genesis literally and that means believing that the universe predate the Earth by only a couple of days. To accept an old universe but a young earth is to deny the very beginning of YECism.

The mechanics behind stars is well tested and scientists now know will great confidence how stars burn and die and the processes that go on within them. In short, stars start off burning Hydrogen, which forms Helium. This process continues, with a new, slightly heavier element being formed as a result of the burning of another. Eventually the Iron is reached, at which point the process stops and the star gets an Iron core, surrounded by layers of the preceding elements. When the iron core gets to a critical point, the star dies in a spectacular explosion and it is from this explosion that further, heavier elements are created. These include precious metals like Gold and Silver as well as radioactive elements like Uranium.

How does this prove an Old Universe?

This proves an old universe at its basic level because as humans, our very existence and culture relies on there having been at least one star that has gone kaboom and in earth shattering manner. The calcium in your bones and the gold in the wedding band on my left hand exist because a star once exploded.

Because stars are so well studied and understood and we know their lifetimes are measured in the millions of years, there is simply no chance whatsoever that the universe could only be a few days older than the earth. For a YEC to literally believe in a universe that young, they must believe that either all the elements that are attributed to a star exploding were miraculously created on spec, or in the first days of creation stars were created and exploded in order to create those elements. The lifespan of those stars would have been massively compressed and the burning hugely accelerated. Neither of which can be proven.

This is the continuing problem for the YEC, unprovable ideas which fly in the face of scientific discovery. Why did the YEV God create everything in an instant, but make it look like it was all so old? Its as though he is the greatest deceiver that ever lived.

I should have paid more attention in school

I find this revelation about stars utterly fascinating and pondering on the fact that I am made of star stuff is mind blowing in its awesomeness. Yet, I also have to embarrassingly remember that I learnt about the Nuclear Fusion (or is it Fission?) within stars in science at school. How come when I sunk into YECism I never pondered this for longer? It might have saved me a whole load of trouble.