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Introduction to Philosophy

6.3 Cosmology and the Existence of God

Introduction to Philosophy6.3 Cosmology and the Existence of God

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Describe teleological and moral arguments for the existence of God.
  • Outline Hindu cosmology and arguments for and against the divine.
  • Explain Anselm’s ontological argument for the existence of God.
  • Articulate the distinction between the logical and evidential problems of evil.

Another major question in metaphysics relates to cosmology. Cosmology is the study of how reality is ordered. How can we account for the ordering, built upon many different elements such as causation, contingency, motion, and change, that we experience within our reality? The primary focus of cosmological arguments will be on proving a logically necessary first cause to explain the order observed. As discussed in earlier sections, for millennia, peoples have equated the idea of a first mover or cause with the divine that exists in another realm. This section will discuss a variety of arguments for the existence of God as well as how philosophers have reconciled God's existence with the presence of evil in the world.

Teleological Arguments for God

Teleological arguments examine the inherent design within reality and attempt to infer the existence of an entity responsible for the design observed. Teleological arguments consider the level of design found in living organisms, the order displayed on a cosmological scale, and even how the presence of order in general is significant.

Aquinas’s Design Argument

Thomas Aquinas’s Five Ways is known as a teleological argument for the existence of God from the presence of design in experience. Here is one possible formulation of Aquinas’s design argument:

  1. Things that lack knowledge tend to act toward an end/goal.
  2. These things act toward an end either by chance or by design.
    1. It is obvious that it is not by chance.
    2. Things that lack knowledge act toward an end by design.
  3. If a thing is being directed toward an end, it requires direction by some being endowed with intelligence (e.g. the arrow being directed by the archer).
  4. Therefore, some intelligent being exists that directs all natural things toward their end. This being is known as God.
A faded woodcut with worn edged, colored in black and red, shows a robed figure, its head surrounded by a halo, holding a brightly glowing book open to the viewer. An image of robed figures attending Christ's crucifixion, including the haloed figure, appears at the top of the woodcut.
Figure 6.10 Thomas Aquinas proposed a teleological argument for the existence of God, basing God’s existence on what he viewed as the inherent design within reality. (credit: “Saint Thomas Aquinas, c. 1450” by Rosenwald Collection/National Gallery of Art, Public Domain)

Design Arguments in Biology

Though Aquinas died long ago, his arguments still live on in today’s discourse, exciting passionate argument. Such is the case with design arguments in biology. William Paley (1743–1805) proposed a teleological argument, sometimes called the design argument, that there exists so much intricate detail, design, and purpose in the world that we must suppose a creator. The sophistication and incredible detail we observe in nature could not have occurred by chance.

Paley employs an analogy between design as found within a watch and design as found within the universe to advance his position. Suppose you were walking down a beach and you happened to find a watch. Maybe you were feeling inquisitive, and you opened the watch (it was an old-fashioned pocket watch). You would see all the gears and coils and springs. Maybe you would wind up the watch and observe the design of the watch at work. Considering the way that all the mechanical parts worked together toward the end/goal of telling time, you would be reluctant to say that the watch was not created by a designer.

Now consider another object—say, the complexity of the inner workings of the human eye. If we can suppose a watchmaker for the watch (due to the design of the watch), we must be able to suppose a designer for the eye. For that matter, we must suppose a designer for all the things we observe in nature that exhibit order. Considering the complexity and grandeur of design found in the world around us, the designer must be a Divine designer. That is, there must be a God.

Often, the design argument is formulated as an induction:

  1. In all things we have experienced that exhibit design, we have experienced a designer of that artifact.
  2. The universe exhibits order and design.
  3. Given #1, the universe must have a designer.
  4. The designer of the universe is God.

Think Like a Philosopher

Read “The Fine-Tuning Argument for the Existence of God” by Thomas Metcalf.

Evaluate the arguments and counterarguments presented in this short article. Which are the most cogent, and why?

Moral Arguments for God

Another type of argument for the existence of God is built upon metaethics and normative ethics. Consider subjective and objective values. Subjective values are those beliefs that guide and drive behaviors deemed permissible as determined by either an individual or an individual’s culture. Objective values govern morally permissible and desired outcomes that apply to all moral agents. Moral arguments for the existence of God depend upon the existence of objective values.

If there are objective values, then the question of “Whence do these values come?” must be raised. One possible answer used to explain the presence of objective values is that the basis of the values is found in God. Here is one premise/conclusion form of the argument:

  1. If objective values exist, there must be a source for their objective validity.
  2. The source of all value (including the validity held by objective values) is God.
  3. Objective values do exist.
  4. Therefore, God exists.

This argument, however, raises questions. Does moral permissibility (i.e., right and wrong) depend upon God? Are ethics an expression of the divine, or are ethics better understood separate from divine authority? To explore this topic further, students will find a helpful overview and updated references in the Stanford Encyclopedia article, "Moral Arguments for the Existence of God."

Write Like a Philosopher

Watch “God & Morality: Part 2” by Steven Darwall.

Darwall’s argument for the autonomy of ethics may be restated as follows:

  1. God knows morality best (1:44).
  2. God knows what is best for us (2:12).
  3. God has authority over us (2:48).

How does Darwall refute the conclusion? What is the evidence offered, and at what point within the argument is the evidence introduced? What does his approach suggest about refutational strategies? Can you refute Darwall’s argument?

As you write, begin by defining the conclusion. Remember that in philosophy, conclusions are not resting points but mere starting points. Next, present the evidence, both stated and unstated, and explain how it supports the conclusion.

The Ontological Argument for God

An ontological argument for God was proposed by the Italian philosopher, monk, and Archbishop of Canterbury Anselm (1033–1109). Anselm lived in a time where belief in a deity was often assumed. He, as a person and as a prior of an abbey, had experienced and witnessed doubt. To assuage this doubt, Anselm endeavored to prove the existence of God in such an irrefutable way that even the staunchest of nonbelievers would be forced, by reason, to admit the existence of a God.

Anselm’s proof is a priori and does not appeal to empirical or sense data as its basis. Much like a proof in geometry, Anselm is working from a set of “givens” to a set of demonstrable concepts. Anselm begins by defining the most central term in his argument—God. For the purpose of this argument, Anselm suggests, let “God” = “a being than which nothing greater can be conceived.” He makes two key points:

  1. When we speak of God (whether we are asserting God is or God is not), we are contemplating an entity who can be defined as “a being than which nothing greater can be conceived.”
  2. When we speak of God (either as believer or nonbeliever), we have an intramental understanding of that concept—in other words, the idea is within our understanding.

Anselm continues by examining the difference between that which exists in the mind and that which exists both in the mind and outside of the mind. The question is: Is it greater to exist in the mind alone or in the mind and in reality (or outside of the mind)? Anselm asks you to consider the painter—for example, define which is greater: the reality of a painting as it exists in the mind of an artist or that same painting existing in the mind of that same artist and as a physical piece of art. Anselm contends that the painting, existing both within the mind of the artist and as a real piece of art, is greater than the mere intramental conception of the work.

At this point, a third key point is established:

  1. It is greater to exist in the mind and in reality than to exist in the mind alone.

    Have you figured out where Anselm is going with this argument?

    1. If God is a being than which nothing greater can be conceived (established in #1 above);
    2. And since it is greater to exist in the mind and in reality than in the mind alone (established in #3 above);
    3. Then God must exist both in the mind (established in #2 above) and in reality;
    4. In short, God must be. God is not merely an intramental concept but an extra-mental reality as well.
A printed etching, spotted with age, shows a robed and bearded figure wearing a mitre. The figure’s head is encircled by a halo. The figure holds up two fingers of one hand to a second figure, who is propped on their side on the ground. A stream of air rises from the second figure's mouth.
Figure 6.11 Anselm’s proof for the existence of God is structured like a mathematical proof, working from a definition of the term “God” to the conclusion that God must exist. (credit: “S. Anselme, évêque de Cantorbéry (St. Anslem, Bishop of Canterbury), April 21st, from Les Images De Tous Les Saincts et Saintes de L'Année (Images of All of the Saints and Religious Events of the Year)” by Jacques Callot/The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Public Domain)

Hindu Cosmology

One of the primary arguments for the existence of God as found within Hindu traditions is based on cosmological conditions necessary to explain the reality of karma. As explained in the introduction to philosophy chapter and earlier in this chapter, karma may be thought of as the causal law that links causes to effects. Assuming the doctrine of interdependence, karma asserts that if we act in such a way to cause harm to others, we increase the amount of negativity in nature. We therefore hurt ourself by harming others. As the self moves through rebirth (samsara), the karmic debt incurred is retained. Note that positive actions also are retained. The goal is liberation of the soul from the cycle of rebirth.

Maintenance of the Law of Karma

While one can understand karmic causality without an appeal to divinity, how the causal karmic chain is so well-ordered and capable of realizing just results is not as easily explainable without an appeal to divinity. One possible presentation of the argument for the existence of God from karma could therefore read as follows:

  1. If karma is, there must be some force/entity that accounts for the appropriateness (justice) of the karmic debt or karmic reward earned.
  2. The source responsible for the appropriateness (justice) of the debt or reward earned must be a conscious agent capable of lending order to all karmic interactions (past, present, and future).
  3. Karmic appropriateness (justice) does exist.
  4. Therefore, a conscious agent capable of lending order to all karmic interactions (past, present, and future) must exist.
  5. Therefore, God exists.

Physical World as Manifestation of Divine Consciousness

The cosmology built upon the religious doctrines allows for an argument within Hindu thought that joins a version of the moral argument and the design argument. Unless a divine designer were assumed, the moral and cosmological fabric assumed within the perspective could not be asserted.

Hindu Arguments Against the Existence of God

One of the primary arguments against the existence of God is found in the Mīmāmsā tradition. This ancient school suggests that the Vedas were eternal but without authors. The cosmological and teleological evidence as examined above was deemed inconclusive. The focus of this tradition and its several subtraditions was on living properly.

Problem of Evil

The problem of evil poses a philosophical challenge to the traditional arguments (in particular the design argument) because it implies that the design of the cosmos and the designer of the cosmos are flawed. How can we assert the existence of a caring and benevolent God when there exists so much evil in the world? The glib answer to this question is to say that human moral agents, not God, are the cause of evil. Some philosophers reframe the problem of evil as the problem of suffering to place the stress of the question on the reality of suffering versus moral agency.

The Logical Problem of Evil

David Hume raised arguments not only against the traditional arguments for the existence of God but against most of the foundational ideas of philosophy. Hume, the great skeptic, starts by proposing that if God knows about the suffering and would stop it but cannot stop it, God is not omnipotent. If God is able to stop the suffering and would want to but does not know about it, then God is not omniscient. If God knows about the suffering and is able to stop it but does not wish to assuage the pain, God is not omnibenevolent. At the very least, Hume argues, the existence of evil does not justify a belief in a caring Creator.

The Evidential Problem of Evil

The evidential problem considers the reality of suffering and the probability that if an omnibenevolent divine being existed, then the divine being would not allow such extreme suffering. One of the most formidable presentations of the argument was formulated by William Rowe:

  1. There exist instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.
  2. An omniscient, wholly good being would prevent the occurrence of any intense suffering it could, unless it could not do so without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.
  3. (Therefore) there does not exist an omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good being. (Rowe 1979, 336)

Western Theistic Responses to the Problem of Evil

Many theists (those who assert the existence of god/s) have argued against both the logical and evidential formulations of the problem of evil. One of the earliest Christian defenses was authored by Saint Augustine. Based upon a highly Neo-Platonic methodology and ontology, Augustine argued that as God was omnibenevolent (all good), God would not introduce evil into our existence. Evil, observed Augustine, was not real. It was a privation or negation of the good. Evil therefore did not argue against the reality or being of God but was a reflection for the necessity of God. Here we see the application of a set of working principles and the stressing of a priori resulting in what could be labeled (prima facie) a counterintuitive result.

An African Perspective on the Problem of Evil

In the above sections, the problem of evil was centered in a conception of a god as all-powerful, all-loving, and all-knowing. Evil, from this perspective, reflects a god doing evil (we might say reflecting the moral agency of a god) and thus results in the aforementioned problem—how could a “good” god do evil or perhaps allow evil to happen? The rich diversity of African thought helps us examine evil and agency from different starting points. What if, for example, the lifting of the agency (the doing of evil) was removed entirely from the supernatural? In much of Western thought, God was understood as the creator. Given the philosophical role and responsibilities that follow from the assignment of “the entity that made all things,” reconciling evil and creation and God as good becomes a problem. But if we were to remove the concept of God from the creator role, the agency of evil (and reconciling evil with the creator) is no longer present.

Within the Yoruba-African perspective, the agency of evil is not put upon human agency, as might be expected in the West, but upon “spiritual beings other than God” (Dasaolu and Oyelakun 2015). These multiple spiritual beings, known as “Ajogun,” are “scattered around the cosmos” and have specific types of wrongdoing associated specifically with each being (Dasaolu and Oyelakun 2015). Moving the framework (or cosmology) upon which goodness and evil is understood results in a significant philosophical shift. The meaning of evil, instead of being packed with religious or supernatural connotations, has a more down-to-earth sense. Evil is not so much sin as a destruction of life. It is not an offense against an eternal Creator, but an action conducted by one human moral agent that harms another human moral agent.

Unlike Augustine’s attempt to explain evil as the negation of good (as not real), the Yoruban metaphysics asserts the necessity of evil. Our ability to contrast good and evil are required logically so that we can make sense of both concepts.

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