Assessing the Kalam Cosmological Argument, Part I

*Introductory note: This is a new series exploring and assessing the Kalam Cosmological Argument. I am a theist, but am currently unsure of where I stand in relation to this particular argument, i.e. I’m not yet sure whether I think it is successful or not. This provides me the opportunity to approach the argument from a somewhat neutral and distanced perspective. I’m not committed to defending or rejecting the argument. Here, all I want to do is think about and discuss it. 

For the most part, the Kalam Cosmological Argument currently reigns as the most popularly defended and discussed argument for the existence of God. Mainstream apologetics circles are especially obsessed with it, but quite a decent amount of attention has been given to it within the realm of academic philosophy of religion as well. Historically, however, this has not always been the case; and indeed for many centuries the Kalam was perhaps seen as the “odd man out” when it came to cosmological arguments generally. As philosopher Edward Feser notes, “Most versions of the cosmological argument . . . are not concerned with trying to show that the universe had a beginning” [1]. For the Kalam, on the other hand, showing the universe to have had a beginning is precisely what it is concerned with. The Kalam thus occupies a unique position in all natural theology. Continue reading

Souls and an Argument from Motion in Plato’s Phaedrus

If one reads through the dialogues of Plato, it won’t take long to realize that he is never short of arguments for the immortality of the soul. It seems to be one of his favorite topics to write about, and apparently he held the point as of utmost significance. A few months ago, I wrote a paper for school on three of these arguments in his Phaedo. But he also writes about it in the RepublicMeno, a bit in Timaeus, and, the one we’ll be looking at in this post, Phaedrus. In general, as an Aristotelian rather than a Platonist, I don’t tend to accept many of Plato’s arguments for the immortality of the soul (although I find them fascinating and profound), especially considering that Plato held the soul to not only exist after death, but also to have pre-existed our physical birth. Plato is, in many ways, a radical dualist, holding the human soul to be the true self and the body to be merely a prison thereof. I strongly disagree. But for now, my reason for looking at one of these arguments is not to discuss immortality.

I regard Aquinas’s “Argument from Motion” or First Way as perhaps the strongest argument for the existence of God that there is. But it’s certainly not an argument that St. Thomas just drew out of thin air; it had a long history of development. For the most part, this history can be traced to Aristotle, since he first presents the argument as really intended to show that there exists some ultimate being or cause behind the universe. While Aristotle’s version is certainly the first fully drawn out and “technical-ized” form of the argument, I think its general sentiment can be found earlier, namely in Plato. Although, as we’ll see, Plato doesn’t really seem to have used the argument as pointing to some cause of motion behind the universe; but I think his presentation thereof still has some interesting implications. Continue reading

Beginning Metaphysics: First Philosophy as ‘Lord of the Sciences’

Introduction

“The least initial deviation from the truth is multiplied later a thousandfold” [1] wrote Aristotle in his De Caelo. It is to this that St. Thomas refers when he begins his own brilliant metaphysical treatise, De Ente et Essentia, by stating: “A small mistake in the beginning is a big one in the end” [2]. His point is that we must start our metaphysical inquiry from the right place (which for him means noting the distinction between essence and existence) or else we will go awfully awry by the time we reach the end. But on an even broader level, we might say that we must begin all rational inquiry with a solid metaphysical foundation, or else our entire understanding of reality will be, ultimately, completely skewed and fundamentally flawed. So despite the fact that the word “meta-physics” literally means after physics, Aristotle was right all along when he originally named it “first philosophy”, to which physics is “second”, with all other sciences proceeding therefrom. Continue reading

Epicurean Cosmological Argument

Over at the ex-apologist blog, another highly respected online advocate for naturalism/atheism has posted a very interesting argument which is much more up my alley than some of the more contemporary type arguments I’ve been responding to (although Mr. Lowder also has an argument which is related to this present one that we’ll look at within a few weeks or so). The ex-apologist labels the argument an “Epicurean Cosmological Argument for Matter’s Necessity”, and it acts as a kind of metaphysical counter argument to some of the theistic cosmological arguments, including Aquinas’s first three Ways, which I’ve written about on this blog.

The basic argument goes like this:

“One can find, through the writings of Lucretius, a powerful yet simple Epicurean argument for matter’s (factual or metaphysical) necessity. In simplest terms, the argument is that since matter exists, and since nothing can come from nothing, matter is eternal and uncreated, and is therefore at least a factually necessary being” [1].

This argument, apart from being interesting in its own right, is actually pretty significant, in that the materialism (atomism) of ancient philosophers such as Epicurus is one of the main adversaries to the Platonic/Aristotelian transcendental worldviews adopted by and implicit within classical theism. And, unlike some of the more contemporary arguments I’ve been examining recently, this argument gets down into the very fundamental nature of reality. Continue reading