Why Does Anything Exist?

whyThough I’m new to defending the Kalam Cosmological Argument, I’ve long supported the argument proposed by Leibnitz. One difficult thing about this is the fact that these arguments are so often confused with one another.

That is, whenever I claim that God is the best explanation for the existence of contingent things, there is a very strong chance that my listener will hear “God caused the big bang”. In many conversations, I don’t tend to bother correcting people (as it is often beside the point being made). Still, I’ve been stuck many times trying to explain how references to modern cosmology don’t have any bearing on the libnitzian argument.

As I’m nearing the end of my discussion of the Kalam, I thought I’d spend some time on this argument.

It could be summarized as follows:

Premise 1: Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its being, or on some outside thing.
Premise 2: If the universe has an explanation for its existence, that explanation is God
Premise 3: The universe exists
Conclusion: Therefore, the explanation for the universe is God

This is logically consistent, meaning that the only real area of controversy is over the premises. The first point to keep in mind is that this argument is consistent both with the universe having a beginning and its being eternal. It is also consistent with a multiverse, or anything else cosmologists claim about the origin of the universe.

Rather, this argument is based on the idea that things, even eternally existing things, don’t simply exist for no reason at all. That is the heart of the first premise. And, in my experience, is the real area of controversy between theists and materialists.

And this strikes me as very strange. The idea that nothing comes from nothing is a vital part of the foundations of science. To claim that things can exist for no reason at all seems to be an abandonment of all inquiry and appeal to what philosophers call a brute fact.

As a lover of inquiry (both scientific and philosophical), I can’t bring myself to accept this idea. It seems far more reasonable that there is indeed a reason why the universe exists. So, the interesting premise, in my view, is the second one.

But I’ll explain why I accept it in a future post.

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19 responses to “Why Does Anything Exist?

  • indytony

    First, I confess it’s been a loooong time since I took Logic in College.

    I can’t remember the term, so bear with me. But doesn’t your premise #2 exhibit a flaw in that it is a (for lack of a better phrase) “argument by definition”?

    In other words, couldn’t you replace the word “God” with any word – “Higher Power” “Ultimate Reality” “The Force” – and it would serve the argument just as well?

    • Debilis

      It would simply be a different premise.
      That is, any word (even something silly like “alien”) would serve the argument in the sense that it is logical. It all hangs on whether or not one accepts that premise.

      Of course, the atheist isn’t likely to accept premise 2 on the face of it. Even I wouldn’t without some clarity about what is meant there. But I’ll try to get to that (hopefully this week).

      • Persto

        I think you are selling yourself short here.

        God is the only concept that makes any sense here because what being’s essence involves its existence without that being being the being that theists refer to God? I can’t think of a necessary being–exists in a logically possible worlds–that isn’t God, as we understand her. Can you?

        Regards

        • Persto

          *in all logically possible worlds

        • Hagiographic

          We both know the “because it makes sense” line is a red flag of a fallacy, right?

        • Persto

          I was pointing out that it is confusing to think of a necessary being that is not a maximally great being, but, if you don’t agree, then maybe you can answer this question: what being’s essence involves its existence without that being being the being that theists refer to as God?

    • Persto

      I think this is a better bare bones version of the argument:

      1) Every being that exists is either contingent or necessary.
      2) Not every being can be contingent.
      3) Therefore, there exists a necessary being on which the contingent beings depend.
      4) A necessary being on which all contingent beings exist is what we mean by ‘God.’
      5) Therefore, God exists.

      A necessary being is a self-existing and independent being that has its explanation in itself, whereas contingent beings do not, but rather depend on other beings. One prominent advantage of the contingency argument is that the First Cause cannot cease to exist because the world depends upon its existence. It is really like a set of chains that are supported in midair. You can count the links backward, but at some point one must reach a being sufficient to maintain the whole chain of dependent beings. So, only something outside the contingent reality, a self-existing reality, can constitute the ultimate ground of existence for anything else. God becomes the logical connection between the contingent world and the noncontingent world.

      Of course, the argument has a problem with premises 2 and 3. Just because not every being is contingent it doesn’t seem to follow that there must be an independent existing being. It seems fallacious. Suppose:
      1) Every human being has a father.
      2) Therefore, every human being has the same father.

      This seems absurd to infer one father from all the children ever born. So, it still remains unanswered why there couldn’t be more than one necessary being? If I am not mistaken Aristotle allowed for multiple prime movers.

      However, one may rightfully wonder how there could be multiple necessary beings if being a necessary being constitutes being a maximally great being, which for a being to be necessary is for the idea of it to involve its existence. So, a necessary being must be a maximally great being, and if a maximally great being exists, then God exists. If God, as we understand her exists, then only one maximally great being can exist because it seems superfluous to suppose more than one all-powerful being. Also, Leibniz would argue that if two beings bear all the same predicates, then there are two identical beings, which means, in other words, that there is only one being. Of course, one might also argue that if there are two gods, then both cannot be omnipotent because, by one god being omnipotent, the other could not be omnipotent. Therefore, if there are two gods, then none are God, which is illogical. And several other contradictions could be provided that frustrate the notion of multiple maximally great beings.

      Regards

  • myatheistlife

    Leaving aside all the myriad things that are wrong with the KCA, the “idea” that everything exists for a reason is fallacious at it’s core. It is a presupposition without supporting evidence.

    I refer you to Lawrence Krauss on the matter of what ‘nothing’ actually is. Suffice it to say that we need a working definition of ‘nothing’ to have this conversation. To say that it is not known why there is existence is nothing like saying it exists for no reason at all. Your interpretation does seem to preclude further investigation, but your interpretation is not correct. In common parlance, ‘existence has no purpose/cause’ is interchangeable with “things exist for no reason at all” …

    To you it may seem reasonable that there is a reason why the universe exists yet you have no evidence for this. That it ‘seems’ reasonable to you does not make it so.

    Premise two is nothing less than a ‘god did it’ claim that is not supported by credible evidence nor is it supported by premise one.

    The KCA is logic fail from start to finish.

    • Debilis

      This post isn’t about the KCA. I had thought I clarified this, but apologies if that was not clear.

      However, I have commented on it (the KCA) elsewhere, and always welcome criticisms if you’re interested to go there. (In fact, I’ll have something up on it tomorrow.)

      But, I am aware of Krauss’ argument, and I’d say that there are two clear problems with it.

      First is the fact that it is based on an equivocation fallacy. The quantum vacuum isn’t nothing in the relevant sense. To offer a better definition of nothing, I’d say “not anything”. It is a term of universal negation.

      In fact, I find Krauss’ position dubious in general. He tends to spend a lot of time attacking aristotellian logic. Personally, if I as a theist had to attack logic in order to support my case, I expect that non-theists would tend take that more as support for their position than a persuasive argument.

      But the second problem is, in my view, much more severe. Krauss’ argument doesn’t even purport to answer Leibnitz’s question. He’s attempting to address the Kalam–explaining where the big bang could have come from. His talk about “how” questions doesn’t answer “why” questions.

      Nor will it do to simply dismiss the principle of sufficient reason. Which is where I get the idea that the universe has an explanation for its existence. This principle is at the very heart of science. To dismiss it is to dismiss science. Again, if I as a theist had to dismiss the core of science in order to make a case, I doubt it would be very persuasive.

      And, of course, the success of science is excellent evidence that things don’t exist for no reason at all.

      But it is entirely true that I’ve not yet defended premise two. The only thing I’ll say on that, then is that it we cannot accuse metaphysical conclusions about God as being “God did it”. I really need to write up the real god-of-the-gaps fallacy, and how different it is from anything Leibnitz ever claimed.

      Briefly, this is because I wasn’t suggesting that God did anything (this, again, seems to be confusing Leibnitz’s argument with the Kalam).

      So, I promise I’ll get to premise two. But, for now, the key point is that this argument is not the KCA.

      • myatheistlife

        Rather than further comment on KCA, let me summarize what I thought to be showing: There is no good or credible reason to believe that there is an answer to the ‘why’ part and subsequently there is no sound reason to suggest that there is an answer. Positing that there might be as a hypothesis is one thing. Suggesting that there is substantive reason to think there is a why is just pushing the limits of sensibility.

        We have the how of snowflakes and there is no special intelligent/intentioned why for them. Same with just about everything else in nature that I can think of. Given the weight of that, there is IMO no special reason to suppose that the universe or existence itself has any intelligent or intentional why behind it. The refutations of the KCA support this position.

      • Eduardo

        Actually, Leibniz argument is firmly realted with the attempt to prove that there are no such things as brute facts, Why doesn’t have to be intentional as objective based, teleology had different forms before modern times.

        KCA, is not refuted by saying… oh I don’t see why there should be an intelligence behind it all, that is not what the argument is going for at all, Really you people caould you know…. read books about it, like Craig’s Kalam Cosmological Argument or read the originals before talking because … I mean for us to know just a little bit what you are talking about, we just see one clueless argument after the other, and this coming from a person who is not fully acquainted to the subject at hand…

    • Debilis

      This strikes me as odd. Simply insisting on a reason that we should further inquiry, and maintaining that (until such reason is presented) we should not seek to further inquiry seems a very strange approach. Certainly, this is counter to the entire enterprise of science.

      Rather, the willingness to accept the most reasonable conclusion has been a staple of inquiry (most notably, scientific inquiry) for centuries. I find myself very suspicious of any argument which requires that I abandon inquiry in order to hold to its conclusion. It tends to strike me as a promotion of ignorance.

      We have the how of snowflakes and there is no special intelligent/intentioned why for them.
      My semi-serious reaction is “How do you know?”.
      More seriously, the argument doesn’t depend on there being an intelligent/intentioned ‘why’. Rather, it depends on there being an explanation.

      Simply saying that “there’s no why for snowflakes” doesn’t strike me as much of an objection to Leibniz, then.

      And, last, this is simply not the KCA. Even were Krauss’ statements a good refutation of that argument (they are not), they simply don’t apply at all to this one. We need to distinguish these arguments.

      • myatheistlife

        What? Science says we observe, hypothesize, test, retest, conclude, let others test… see what the facts say. What you suggest has no facts and you claim further that there can be no facts. Why bring science into the managerie of your making?

        The most reasonable conclusion is that which has evidence. Any conclusion that is without evidence is not reasonable as a conclusion.

        Yes, all objections to your ideas simply do not apply… am I right? Keep telling me that I’m not even in the same argument rather than address the objection head on.

        Okay, so go on, state your argument with great precision so that I won’t confuse it for some other argument that you’re not going to talk about or that simply doesn’t apply to what you are talking about. It’s your argument, so go on, be precise.. help me to not be confused.

    • Debilis

      Science says we observe, hypothesize, test, retest, conclude, let others test… see what the facts say.
      Yes, that is one form of furthering inquiry. What science does not do is say “show me why we should look at the available theories and try to select the most reasonable one”. That is completely counter to the nature of science.

      What you suggest has no facts and you claim further that there can be no facts.
      This is untrue. Everything I said was based in fact.
      Not all of those facts were empirical facts, but to demand that only empirical facts “count” as facts is to beg the question in favor of materialism.

      The most reasonable conclusion is that which has evidence. Any conclusion that is without evidence is not reasonable as a conclusion.
      Evidence is certainly a very important factor, though this principle isn’t as true, even in science, as this statement would indicate.

      But, if this is your position, what evidence is there for materialism?

      Yes, all objections to your ideas simply do not apply… am I right?
      They are off the topic of the argument I gave, yes.
      With deductive arguments, the only way to refute them is to show a flaw in the logic, or show one (or more) of the premises to be false. This isn’t an idiosyncrasy; it is a basic fact of logical systems.

      Keep telling me that I’m not even in the same argument rather than address the objection head on.
      My problem with that is that I don’t know what it is an objection to. It doesn’t refute my argument. Rather, it is simply the claim that verificationism is true.

      My head-on addressing of that would be to point out that there is absolutely no physical evidence for the demand that everything needs physical evidence. Hence, this position fails its own test.

      Okay, so go on, state your argument with great precision so that I won’t confuse it for some other argument that you’re not going to talk about or that simply doesn’t apply to what you are talking about. It’s your argument, so go on, be precise.. help me to not be confused.
      I’ll do my best:

      Premise 1: Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its being, or on some outside thing.
      *This is the idea that contingent things–that is, things that could not have existed, but do–should be explained. If it is logically possible for something to not exist, then there must be a reason why it does.

      This is not the same as saying that it has a cause. That is one way, of course, to explain its existence. But we haven’t yet shown that this is the only form of explanation.

      Premise 2: If the universe has an explanation for its existence, that explanation is God
      * This is the idea that, when one looks closely at the situation, God is the most reasonable sort of explanation for the universe.

      But, we haven’t gotten into this premise, so I’ll not elaborate.

      Premise 3: The universe exists

      * I assume this is already clear enough. It means just what it said.

      Conclusion: Therefore, the explanation for the universe is God

      * This follows rather simply from the above.

      The main thing to keep in mind here is that no scientific statement has been made. Science is pertinent to other arguments (such as the Kalam), but not here.

      Okay, I hope that makes more sense this time.
      Let me know if anything is still unclear.

  • Logan Rees

    Hate to plug my own post, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on this theory: http://duckrabbits.wordpress.com/2013/04/24/the-god-of-solipsism/

    I didn’t get a lot of feedback, so I’m not sure if it makes sense to anyone but me.

  • Inconceivable! | Fide Dubitandum

    […] Hallq’s” response to William Lane Craig is the Leibnitzian Cosmological Argument. I’ve already defended the argument in the past. So I’ll simply be responding to Hallquist’s challenge […]

  • Rational Inquiry vs “Just Because” | Fide Dubitandum

    […] For those that aren’t familiar with the argument, I’ve outlined it in the past. […]

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