I have a friend that claims to be theist because they exist and it's extremely unlikely for them (and the Universe, their experience of life, etc.) to exist. They say that it would be simpler (for example, in terms of entropy) if nothing existed, but instead we have something. Therefore, some complexity (God) needs to be involved in the existence of being instead of not-being.

What's the name for this argument for God's existence, and what are the philosophical counter-arguments?

Note that it's not the same as the well-known first cause argument because it's just a matter of being instead of not-being, causality does not need to interfere here.

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    I wouldn't be so sure this is not a first cause argument. "Cause" means something different today than it meant a thousand years ago. In Medieval thought, a contingent being needs a cause to exist. Commented Mar 5, 2023 at 23:22
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    As per @DavidGudeman's observation, we should consider that the Aristotelianism of scholasticism allowed talk of formal causes to endure in this context, so that an argument from complexity might be seen as an argument from formal causality, and hence still a first-formal-cause derivation might be seen as in play. And I think that in Kant's taxonomy of theistic deductions, he has any contingency-based reasoning as cosmological. Commented Mar 6, 2023 at 0:20
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    @eirene - the "therefore" is jut not a "therefore". This is not an argument, but a series of assertions. On the other hand, you can concede the argument and equate "god" with "all that there is": if we grant that being is more "complicated" than not being, then some complexity is involved in being (tautology, we are just saying being = complex compared to not being), but then that complexity can be ... it, god, the ultimate ground of being, ... you just proved that there is being rather than not being, and you chose to give an arbitrary name "god" to that being.
    – Frank
    Commented Mar 6, 2023 at 1:29
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    The name of the argument is "word salad". More seriously, it's an "argument from incredulity", I.e. find some vague reason to be incredulous about the universe existing on its own (why is it "simpler", and what has entropy to do with anything?) and conclude that, since it's impossible that we just don't know, it must be God. The next step is ask your friend what they can know about this God and what impact it has on their life, and if they are rational and in good faith they should answer "nothing", so they might as well not believe in it.
    – armand
    Commented Mar 6, 2023 at 6:32
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    – Valorum
    Commented Mar 6, 2023 at 18:34

3 Answers 3


I am reframing this question slightly because I don't think the argument is a philosophical one - it sounds more like probability, and his mention of entropy suggests he is making more of a scientific or statistical argument.

I'm no scientist, but as I understand it, the second law of thermodynamics tells us that all things tend to entropy in an isolated system. Now, it is debated whether or not our universe is an isolated or closed system. Many arguments in favour of life appearing by chance rely on the premise that the astronomically improbable chance of it happening is possible because the universe is infinite, so it had to happen somewhere (like monkeys writing Shakespeare) and it happened here on earth. However, nearly everybody believes that the universe had a beginning and is expanding, neither of which make for a strictly infinite universe. It began, so it hasn't existed into the infinite past, and as it is growing it must be measurable at any given moment in time. As Douglas Adams once glibly wrote, space is just really big, but that doesn't make it infinite. The ridiculously improbable odds of us appearing by chance are then very, very real. This of course adds weight to your friend's argument. Entropy in our finite universe isn't just more likely than our spontaneous existence - its very expansion is believed to cause entropy, as stars pull away from each other working against the forces that brought them together.

Further, the difference between an isolated system and a closed one is that energy can still flow in and out of a closed system. Most agree that the energy necessary for the creation of matter from which our universe is formed must have existed before the universe itself. So, could our finite universe be expanding into something that is infinite? If so, then the chance of intelligence existing in the infinity beyond our universe is actually more likely than it existing within it - infinitely probable, in fact. And that could well be where your friend believes God, the creator of the physical universe, resides.

My point, and my answer to you, is that your friend's argument sounds more rooted in probability than religion, therefore I don't believe there is a philosophical argument that can undermine it. There are certainly other theoretical physics models and philosophies that define infinity or the origin of the physical universe differently, but these only offer alternative explanations, not counterarguments. I appreciate you've already selected an answer to your question but am happy to offer an alternative.

  • "as it is growing it must be measurable at any given moment in time" The universe is "expanding", it doesn't follow that it is "growing". It could be infinite in extent, and so expand without become larger.
    – James K
    Commented Mar 6, 2023 at 22:02
  • @JamesK You've misquoted me. It is growing and it had a beginning. Unless you're saying it didn't have a beginning, can you say at what point in its expansion it became infinite?
    – Astralbee
    Commented Mar 6, 2023 at 22:13
  • It could always have been infinite. At no time was it finite.
    – James K
    Commented Mar 6, 2023 at 22:21
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    @Astralbee you seem to have some fundamental misconceptions about modern cosmology. It’s certainly not settled fact that the universe is infinite, but the mere fact of the Big Bang (which may or may not have actually been the ‘beginning’ of the universe) does not imply that universe is finite in extent.
    – Cubic
    Commented Mar 6, 2023 at 22:23
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    @Astralbee we’re talking about physics here, no longer about bare philosophy. I’ve never studied philosophy itself formally, but I should think even first semester courses include some warning labels about not applying overgeneralised principles and intuition to topics you don’t know anything about.
    – Cubic
    Commented Mar 7, 2023 at 6:23

"Therefore, some complexity (God) needs to be involved in the existence of being instead of not-being".

The reference to complexity and implied design leads me to think of William Paley's Watchmaker Analogy. Paley wrote:

"...suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place... There must have existed, at some time, and at some place or other, an artificer or artificers, who formed [the watch] for the purpose which we find it actually to answer; who comprehended its construction, and designed its use. ... Every indication of contrivance, every manifestation of design, which existed in the watch, exists in the works of nature; with the difference, on the side of nature, of being greater or more, and that in a degree which exceeds all computation. — William Paley, Natural Theology (1802)

Essentially, Paley is claiming that whenever we come across an object that shows evidence of complexity and design, we conclude that it must have a designer, and that therefore, when we encounter the incredible complexity of the natural world, we should conclude that it too was designed.

Youtuber Rationality Rules points out that rebuttals of this argument include:

  1. It is a false analogy. Just because two things (EG: the 'natural world' and a watch) share one quality (ie. complexity), it does not follow that they share other qualities. The complex watch, if designed in 1957, says nothing to suggest that nature was also designed in 1957.

  2. It confuses correlation with cause. The number of handwritten letters has decreased greatly over the past two decades. The number of Youtube channels has vastly increased over the same time. This does not mean that one caused the other. Just because there is a correlation between complexity and designers when it comes to many objects, we cannot reasonably conclude that complexity is always designed.

  3. It commits a special pleading fallacy. When Paley asserts that a complex watch must have has a designer, he is also stating that if the universe is complex, it must have had a designer. But if the designer is complex, then it too must have a designer, so who designed the designer? The argument is self-refuting. (A counter argument posited by some theists is that God is of such a perfect, simple, eternal nature that he is capable of producing complexity without requiring design himself. The trouble is, we have no evidence of such an entity and cannot really grasp how such an entity might function, so to call upon it as an exception to the complexity/designer rule seems an exercise in imagination more than anything else).

  4. Paley's argument initially indirectly assumes that the watch is distinguishable from nature because of its complexity, but then goes on to use th complexity of nature as evidence of it's design. It is therefore self-refuting.

  5. It implies not one, but many designers. If a person finds a watch, they presume a watchmaker designed it. It a person finds a shoe, they presume a shoemaker designed it. By this logic, each aspect of the Earth might have been designed by a different designer. (A counter to this might be that of an intelligent design, in which the whole process of cosmology, abiogenesis and evolution was instigated by a designer).

  6. Paley's watch didn't come from nothing. It was constructed by a process of rearranging preexisting materials. So, any God inferred by the analogy can be claimed not have necessarily created everything from scratch, but to have merely rearranged matter that was already present in the cosmos.

  7. Even if, despite these flaws, the argument was accepted, it does not describe a particular god of a specific religion, but merely a designer, with none of the many other traits ordinarily attributed to deity by various religions. Given all the design flaws (including suffering) which occur in the world, it argues against the relevant god being omnipotent, omnisicient and/or omnibenevolent.

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    1. The watch and nature share the essential qualities that drive the argument, so it is not a false analogy. 2. It doesn't argue from correlation to cause; it argues that certain qualities have a certain kind of cause. 3. It is not a special pleading because the person making the argument does not accept the essential premise of the counter argument. 4. Simply false. The watch is not distinguished from "nature" but from objects within nature that are produced by natural causes. 5, 6, and 7 are not counters to the argument itself. Commented Mar 6, 2023 at 7:58
  • @davidgudeman. To discuss each one is probably beyond reasonable for the comments section, but if you want to discuss further, we could do in chat. Cheers. Commented Mar 6, 2023 at 8:19

I don't know what the name of this argument is, but I would like to offer the following remark: it seems to me that this argument would simply establish that there is something ("being") rather than nothing.

If we grant that something ("being") is "more complicated" (to be defined) than nothing, we could conclude quite tautologically (?) that something "complex" (to be defined) has to be involved in "being". So far so good. At least we can point to that "complex" thing and call it "god" if we want. But that's it. After that, a link is missing to show that something "complex" requires "something equally or more complex" to come into existence. Why would something complex not spontaneously come into existence? But even if you manage that step, that "complex something" that created the complex being we see may or may not be "god" (which you would have to define anyways).

So it seems two more steps are missing, one to justify that the complex "being" we observe resulted from something complex/more complex (rather than a spontaneous process, or a slow evolution from something simple and spontaneous, for example), and one more step to explain why this would be "god" - and what you mean by "god".

Otherwise, you can also stop at being amazed that there is "something complex rather than nothing" and decide to call that "something" god, or the universe, or the ultimate ground of being, or the ultimate reality or Being. You end up on a spiritual path which may or may not include "god" or "gods", but which seems completely compatible with this "argument".

  • Never mind, I was confusing the question with another answer to the question. Commented Mar 6, 2023 at 7:45

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