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I am sure the cosmological argument has been raised here by people like me who know nothing about philosophy numerous times before on this board. But I'm wondering if a slightly different approach can strengthen it.

It seems to me that all forms of the argument (at least that I've seen) sets itself up for failure by laying out as a PROPOSITION that "everything in existence demands an explanation for its existence", but then of course crashes and burns at the end because it somehow secretly sneaks a "god exists but needs no explanation" in there, of course contradicting the beginning proposition.

But what if we "argue by contradiction". That is,

  1. Suppose that every entity in existence owes its existence to some other entity other than itself.

  2. It follows from (1) that the universe owes its existence to some other entity other than itself, which itself owes its existence to some other entity other than itself, ad infinitum, leading to an infinite regress.

  3. Because 1 implies 2, and 2 is an infinite regress, it cannot be that 1 is true. The logical negation of claim 1 is "There exists an entity that does not owe its existence to some other entity other than itself".

If you are using this argument to argue for some sort of god, the guaranteed (?) entity at the end of point 3 is what one would call god. Of course, it keeps open the possibility that there are a multitude of these "necessary beings", as the argument only guarantees the existence of at least one.

Lastly, one may ask why we reject the infinite regress as an impossibility. This is where my philosophy fails me. I know that other philosophical arguments have been rejected if they lead to such a regress, and so I apply that here. I also know that modern philosophers such as William Lane Craig have argued that such regresses are unobserved in the physical world and hence should be rejected on that basis.

Anyway, let me know what you think. Am I a famous philosopher now? Haha!

  • Note however that my argument rules such circular regresses out: Every time, for every entity A, we have another entity B OTHER THAN A for which A's existence is explained. So by the construction of the argument, we can find a chain of entities, each causing the next, and have each one of them be unique, or never show up twice. – Mark Aug 3 at 19:18
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    Your reformulation fails on the same thing every cosmological argument fails: it does not proves God. At best, if we accept the premises and the logic, and most of all the terms used to formulate it (some do not), you have proven that the universe has a cause, but certainly not that this cause is anything like a god, let alone a certain god of a certain religion. There is always this gross (no other term) leap at the end: "we have a cause we know nothing about, I call it God, therefore God". In the end it is an argument from ignorance fallacy. – armand Aug 3 at 23:02
  • Now, on the argument itself, I have issues with the terms. We are trying to prove something of higher importance here, so we must agree on every single term, be sure they make sense. Define: entity, existence, owe ones existence. I am not nittpicking here: there are different ontologies out there, with different meanings for these terms. Does my chair owes its existence to the maker, the wood, the saw ? When did it start existing ? – armand Aug 3 at 23:10
  • Does it make sense to assume everything that exists is explained by something else that exists? It appears to be schoolboy error of logic. To explain existence we need a phenomenon prior to existence and this would be the God of Classical Christianity. To argue for God's fundamental existence (as opposed to His Reality) is to make Him logically impossible. The cosmological argument cannot work while it assumes existence is explained by an existent. We would need Nicolas de Cusa's God who lies beyond the 'coincidence of contradictories' (such as exist/not-exist). . . . . – PeterJ Aug 4 at 8:52
  • Are you aware that this argument is unnecessary in a universe where time compresses to a singularity as you go further back in time? I believe the Physics Stack Exchange has some very good explanations. – forest Aug 4 at 9:11
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First of all, as a matter of logic, arriving at a contradiction means that one or more of your assumptions must be false. So, to see what the argument by contradiction proves you have to consider everything that it assumes. So here are some assumptions of the argument:

A. Every entity in existence owes its existence to some other entity other than itself (this is just premise 1).

B. The universe is an entity in existence (this is required to infer 2 from 1).

C. Infinite regress of causes is impossible (this is assumed in 3).

If your argument really does lead to contradiction, then (at least) one of A,B,C must be false (given that there are no other assumptions). To conclude that A is false (as you do), you must show that B and C are true. And they are not trivially true. B resembles the problematic assumption that the set of all sets is itself a set, which leads Russell's paradox. And you yourself observe that C needs an explanation. Not every infinite regress is bad. It's one thing to reject an argument that leads to an infinite regress of assumptions, it's another to reject an argument that entails an infinity of something else (infinite sets, for instance, are commonly accepted).

Moreover, even if we accept that A is the assumption that must be denied, and conclude that "There exists an entity that does not owe its existence to some other entity other than itself" there's still some distance to go to conclude that God exists. For one thing, the conclusion is compatible with there being many entities that do not owe their existence to anything else. For another, even if there is a unique such entity, you still have to show that that entity is God. Something like the Big Bang, for instance, could be that entity. (I'm not saying that these possibilities are true, but your argument is incomplete unless you rule them out.)

You can read about cosmological arguments in great detail in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

  • Thank you for your comments. I hope that I made it clear in my post that I am not trying to arrive at "God" in any modern religious sense, rather a necessary entity, or one who does not owe it's existence to something other than itself. You make a great point that arriving at a contradiction means that to then suggest that one of the elements is false, all others must be true. Let us amend my second claim involving the universe to one involving myself. "I think, therefore I am" as Descartes would say :) I am pretty sure of my own existence. That only leaves C, the infinite regress.... – Mark Aug 3 at 15:14
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Welcome to Philosophy SE.

You mentioned that the cosmological argument "crashes and burns" because the existence of God as uncaused or unexplained contradicts one of the premises of the argument. This is the "what caused God?" objection, but it rests on a misreading of the argument.

The cosmological arguments put forward by philosophers do not say that "everything has a cause", and so they do not suffer from the "what caused God?" objection - this is a common internet straw man, but no famous version of a cosmological argument says it. (The SEP article on the cosmological argument doesn't even mention the "what caused God?" objection.) Cosmological arguments do not arbitrarily exempt God from needing a cause, nor do they say that God does not need an explanation.

There are two broad versions of the cosmological argument, a causal version and an explanatory version. They are similar, but there are subtle differences that when ignored lead to the "what caused God?" mistaken objection. The causal version relies on the principle of causality, which says that everything of a certain type requires a cause (such as William Lane Craig's "everything that begins to exist has a cause". He does not say that everything has a cause. Only things that begin to exist need a cause)(see note 1). If we wish to avoid an infinite regress of causes, we must terminate the chain of causes backwards at an entity which is not of the type of thing that requires a cause, since it was of this type it would indeed require a cause. And, since it is not of the type that needs a cause, it can be uncaused. "What caused God?" can be answered in an entirely consistent way by saying "nothing, God is uncaused because he didn't begin to exist. The premise only commits us to needing a cause for things that begin to exist."

The explanatory version does indeed say that everything (true proposition, entities, events) has an explanation; this is the principle of sufficient reason, and is basically a rejection of brute facts. But in the explanatory version, things can be self-explanatory (where in the causal version, things cannot be self-causing, since self causing is absurd). Since all contingent things (contingently true propositions, contingent beings, contingent events) cannot be self-explanatory, since their contingency implies that they may have been false or non-existent, we must terminate the chain of explanation at a non-contingent (i.e. necessary) thing if we wish to avoid an infinite regress of explanations.

To summarize the difference between the causal and explanatory versions of the cosmological argument: enter image description here

There are, I think, worthy objections to each version of the cosmological argument (such as challenging the relevant version of the principle of causality or principle of sufficient reason, or challenging that a first cause or explanation must be a personal God and not, say, some impersonal law). But "what caused God?" is not a good objection.

As for your three-point argument, it looks fine to me. It's quite similar to how defenders of the cosmological argument justify the impossibility of an infinite chain of backward causes.

** NOTE 1: There are other version of the principle of causality. See Edward Feser's book Five Proofs of the Existence of God for more of them, such as anything which is composed of actuality and potentiality must have a cause, or anything whose existence is distinct from its essence must have a cause. Note, again, that he does not say that everything has a cause, just things of a certain type.

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    I don't think the question "What caused God?" Is a misreading of the argument. I think most people imply it as special pleading rebuttal. Proposing that god never began to exist therefore has no cause doesn't change anything in that regard. It still suffers from special pleading. On what basis is an eternal beginningless existance less absurd than infinite regress? I think they are both abstract constructs that equally have no support. – Cell Aug 4 at 2:55
  • The idea that something can exist without having a cause does not prove the existence of a god. In fact, the contemporary understanding of the expansion of the universe defines time in such a way that this argument is unnecessary in the first place. After all, this argument stops having meaning if you assume that time has a beginning (a view which is supported by scientific observations). – forest Aug 4 at 9:08
  • Hi @Cell. I think it only seems like special pleading in caricature versions of the argument. If the theist said "the universe needs a cause, that cause is God, and God doesn't have a cause" then this is special pleading because it's arbitrarily saying what has a cause and what doesn't. But this is not the argument. The cosmological arguments provide principled, non-arbitrary ways to say why the universe requires a cause (in Craig's argument, everything that begins to exist has a cause) but whatever the first cause is, it cannot require a cause itself, and so must be without a beginning. – Adam Sharpe Aug 4 at 14:17
  • @Cell It's also not special pleading, because it's doesn't apply uniquely to God. If one believes in such things, then abstract objects (like numbers), propositions, universals, and so on, wouldn't seem to require a cause; if they exist, they exist necessarily, and didn't begin to exist. In fact, I believe Craig is a nominalist about such entities, but the point is the relevant premise in the Kalam argument only applies to objects in time, and there are a whole bunch of imaginable objects that might not require a cause. – Adam Sharpe Aug 4 at 14:19
  • Hi @forest. I'm not trying to defend Craig's Kalam argument across the board, because I don't think it's the best version of the cosmological argument. It's just a popular one, and so I used it as an example. I'm only saying that the particular "what caused God?" objection is a "pop" objection that isn't considered a serious problem by most philosophers. Your objection is a different one, and, if I understand it correctly, one that I agree with myself. Craig believes in the "wrong" theory of time (the A-theory of time, which is not supported by contemporary physics) to set up his argument. – Adam Sharpe Aug 4 at 15:15

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