There are a numberof versions of cosmological arguments for God floating around out there, and a number of serious refutations to the classical version of this proof. I want to introduce to the readership here a “new and improved” version of the cosmological proof developed by Mortimer Adler, professor of philosophy at the University of Chicago (chairman of the “Great Books” program, founder of the Aspen Institute, etc. etc..)
I’ll try to give a bit of a simpler (and hence slightly less precise) version than Adler uses.
A Cosmological Argument for the Existence of God.
First of all, many critics of cosmological arguments have reasoned that we don’t need a first cause. There can simply be an infinite series of causes, each explaining the other for eternity. Let’s grant this possibility. Perhaps existence can be passed on through some sort of “inertia of being” from one link in an infinite chain to the next. Let’s assume, then, for the purposes of our improved cosmological argument, that the cosmos is eternal. On to the simplified argument:
1. If something exists, and requires a cause, then the cause also exists. 2. The cosmos as a whole exists. 3. The cosmos as a whole is contingent (ie only possible) rather than logically necessary, it therefore requires an ongoing cause outside itself preventing its non-existence. 4. Any cause outside the contingent cosmos is both supernatural (since the cosmos includes all of nature) and non-contingent, this supernatural, necessary cause is God.
The controversial premise is clearly #3. Let’s elaborate on it a bit.
One of the points critics try to make is that perhaps the cosmos as a whole is logically necessary. I would argue that it is much more likely to be contingent. Here’s why.
We can imagine alternatives to the cosmos. We can imagine a cosmos with different natural laws, different structure, etc. We don’t see any compelling reason why these alternate cosmoses are logically impossible. Ordinarily, it is impossible to coherently imagine something which is logically impossible, such as a square circle. The fact that we can coherently imagine an alternate cosmos strongly suggests that our cosmos is not logically necessary, but merely possible, something which might have been different.
Anything which MIGHT have been different… might also not have existed at all. It’s non-existence is a real possibility.
BUT – given infinite time, all real possibilities would have been realized an infinite number of times. Hence at some point, the cosmos would have ceased to exist. And once replaced by absolute nothingness, the cosmos can no longer pass on its existence.
Hence, the only way this merely possible cosmos can continue to exist – is if a Necessary Being maintains it in existence.
The only alternative is that, despite all appearances, the cosmos as a whole IS logically necessary, even though we have absolutely no proof of that.
It is therefore reasonable to believe, in fact likely, that a supernatural being maintains the cosmos in existence.
Several articles by Dr. Adler discussing these ideas can be found at : http://www.radicalacademy.com/adlertheology1.htm