In a paper titled Is our existence in need of further explanation, Carlson argues that our universe, even if fine tuned, and even if granted to have a meaningfully very low probability, does not need a creator nor does it need a multiverse to explain it.

He says, “If there are many cosmoi, was their creation a chance event? Might there instead have been only half as many cosmoi, or just a few, or a single one? And if there is a cosmos creator, might it have been the case that he had not existed, or that he had chosen to create some other cosmos, or none at all? If the answers to these questions are positive, the creator-or-many-cosmoi theorist has merely pushed the invoking of chance one step back in the explanatory chain. This achievement does not make her hypothesis preferable to the single-cosmos- plus-chance hypothesis. Admittedly, she may speculate about some `hidden necessity’ behind the existence of many cosmoi, or a creator. But the single- cosmos-without-creator theorist may with equal justification (or lack thereof) speculate that the existence of our cosmos is somehow necessary, thus removing the element of chance from his hypothesis.

One could respond to this by stating that even if the cosmos’s existence initially is necessary, it does not follow that everything else within the cosmos is necessary. Given indeterminism in quantum mechanics, one can argue that the universe’s state of affairs then cannot be necessary. One can’t say the same for God if we simply define God to be necessary not just in terms of His existence but also His actions.

But what if one changes the argument to “in need of an explanation” instead of using the word “necessary”? Are these the same things?

For example, does the following reasoning work: “God is posited to be a necessary being who always existed. One can still ask why He is necessary, with His particular attributes, instead of anything else. One can respond to this by stating that He is in no need of an explanation. But if this can be done without justification, then one can state that the universe, even if indeterministic, needs no explanation.”

If legitimate, then something not needing explanation does not depend upon whether something is deterministic or not. Is this true?

  • I’m not sure how you can even show that something is contingent in a metaphysical (and not logical) sense. It’s a common presumption by philosophers that things in the universe could have been otherwise. Many point to indeterminism to justify this, but a lack of prediction does not imply a lack of inevitability. There is no evidence that the universe, in any capacity, could have been otherwise. The simple reason for this is that one cannot rewind time. Thus, there is no evidence that anything is contingent in a metaphysical sense. Sep 12 at 6:26
  • The quote merely points out that positing necessity does not add explanatory or justificatory value. It has nothing to do with your usual play of words around modalities of God, it actually argues that things like that are futile.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Sep 12 at 10:00
  • There is a sort of "compulsion" towards understanding in human being: thus, we can go on forever to ask "why". But science is different: science asks question that can be formulated rigorously and thus, in principle, answered according to the current scientific knowledge and theories. Sep 12 at 10:26
  • Thus, being more specific, science CANNOT answer question about existence of "God(s)" and a fortiori cannot answer questions about its necessity. Sep 12 at 10:27
  • 1
    I'm tempted to answer your question by asking whether we couldn't simply define God as unnecessary and be done with it. But I'm not sure that's relevant. I think there's a typo in the second paragraph after the quotation. Shouldn't it read "in no need of an explanation"? If there is a question buried in the series of speculations that you build from the speculations in the quotation, it is very hard to disentangle anything except "am I right?" from the confusion.
    – Ludwig V
    Sep 12 at 13:54

1 Answer 1


Based on that one quote, Carlson seems to mostly just be taking issue with the special pleading when it comes to God.

It's not so much a positive claim of "the universe is necessary", and more a case of taking issue with people saying "the universe exists, therefore God" and then "God is necessary", and presenting this as if it somehow solves the origin of everything problem. That's adding an additional claim that provides no explanatory power and no termination beyond a claim of necessity, but one could've just put necessity on "the universe" instead. So God doesn't solve that problem at all.

God might be necessary. The universe might be necessary. The multiverse might be necessary. Zeus might be necessary. The Flying Spaghetti Monster might be necessary. We just don't know.

One could "simply define God to be necessary", but the question would be how do you know that God exists at all? Defining the universe to be necessary is far less problematic, because we already have good reason to believe the universe exists, and this is fairly universally accepted (even idealists and solipsists may accept that the universe they're observing exists as thoughts in their mind, if nothing else). We could discuss whether the universe does actually exist, but you'd need to make an equally-strong or stronger case for the existence of God if you want to assert God's necessity above the necessity of the universe.

People try to get around this by building the necessity of God into the definition of God, but that necessarily leads them to begging the question when trying to demonstrate God's necessity: they're assuming God is necessary to prove that God is necessary.

What if one changes the argument to "in need of an explanation" instead of using the word "necessary"?

Nothing is "in need of an explanation". Things are, regardless of our ability to explain them.

There's a related topic of "has a cause", which has been extensively discussed. This is roughly the Kalam cosmological argument, and it suffers from the same problem.

"God is posited to be a necessary being who always existed. One can still ask why He is necessary"

Maybe. Not really.

Claiming that something is necessary somewhat precludes questions of "why".

One could potentially say that something necessary can deterministically cause something necessary. But usually necessity is presented as a terminating point, as "the first thing", which is not contingent on or caused by anything else.

At best you can ask what justification someone has for claiming something to be necessary, and that is indeed a good question to ask.

  • But we know the universe or atleast the way that events play out in the universe are not necessary. They are contingent, especially if in the microscopic scale, we can’t predict what will happen next. Thus, it seems more accurate to say that god is necessary (since he is defined as such along with his actions) but that the universe (even if its original “existence” may be) cannot be. Now of course, the god explanation would still be unsupported, but the logic of “if god can be necessary, so can the universe” doesn’t seem to make sense to me. Sep 12 at 9:56
  • @thinkingman When saying "the universe is necessary", the claim is not that everything playing out exactly as it did is necessary. It's that there is some necessary starting/infinite/timeless state/part of the universe. Necessity is addressing the question of the origin of things rather than addressing how things ended up where they are now.
    – NotThatGuy
    Sep 12 at 10:08
  • Yes, I agree, although I did acknowledge that. The point though is that isn’t it easier to postulate a completely necessary state of affairs vs. a necessary initial state and then proceeding with a contingent state of affairs? Why or why not? Sep 12 at 10:15
  • @thinkingman A conscious being (even if itself necessary) cannot "freely" (non-deterministically) choose to give rise to something necessary, by definition of "necessary". It's possible that the universe is deterministic (even with QM), so that would be the postulation that's "easier" than God. But I consider appeals to necessity to be philosophically lazy, or idle philosophising, rather than having any practical value. The goal of philosophy (or my goal, at least) is to improve my thinking process and my understanding of reality. Simply calling something "necessary" is the antithesis of that.
    – NotThatGuy
    Sep 12 at 11:48

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