The Spiritual Rejection of the Cosmological Argument

That Look You Give When an Atheist SaysSaint Paul says this concerning spiritual warfare, “For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and power, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places.” (Eph. 6:12) In the past I had misidentified the spiritual battle for souls to be with individual persons rather than those anti-Christ ideologies powered by Satan. By the grace of God I have been shown my error and continually work toward remembering this important teaching of Saint Paul. Moreover, Ephesians 6:12 should always be in the front of our mind when we evangelize and do apologetic work. When confronting the New Atheist movement, for example, we are seeking to glorify God and win souls to Christ and his Church instead of impressing people with our rhetorical and analytical abilities. In addition to Saint Paul’s valuable teaching, Saint Peter instructs us to “sanctify the Lord Christ in your hearts” and to defend the faith with “modesty and fear.” (1 Pet. 3:15,16) An attitude of pompous self-righteousness should be far from us.

In order to create ideologies to counteract the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the truth must be distorted to further deceive those persons still in the state of original sin, intellectually weakened by sin, and afflicted with concupiscence. A rhetorical maneuver seeking to deform the truth does not require sweeping claims or the mind of a genius; all that is necessary is to subtly twist the words, teachings, or arguments that properly elucidate revealed truth. The tactical machinery of subtle distortion is especially on display in the Garden of Eden when the serpent tricks Eve into doubting God’s command. The shrewd implantation of doubt pushes Eve to seek autonomy from her Creator, which eventually leads to the fall of man when Adam partakes in the deception. Another example is the tempting of Christ in the desert. Satan tries three times to trick the Lord into foregoing his mission by distorting the word of God. Jesus is able to recognize the devious method the devil is using against him and rebukes the fallen angel to depart from him with the command, “Be gone”.

These examples in Scripture teach us to properly know our faith so that those who may do the enemy’s bidding will not prevail in their endeavor. In addition to distorting the Sacred Page, alterations of philosophical truth are also quite prevalent. Saint Paul warns us of the power of philosophy to mislead when he teaches, “Beware lest any man cheat you by philosophy, and vain deceit; according to the tradition of men, according to the elements of the world, and not according to Christ.” (Col. 2:8) To follow this instruction we ought to adhere to the proclamation of Saint Bonaventure, “Christ is our metaphysics” or the Christo-centric poetry of Saint Thomas Aquinas.

The cultural institutionalization of metaphysical naturalism and epistemological scientism provides a good example of the power of philosophy to draw people away from arguments that clearly demonstrate the existence of our divine Creator. Can anybody think of a philosophical argument or group of arguments that are as misrepresented and/or maligned more than the cosmological arguments for the existence of God? Isn’t it odd that these misrepresentations, no matter how many times they are corrected, are continuously stated over and over again? I am talking about the famous (infamous) objection, “If everything needs a cause, then what caused God?” which does absolutely nothing to address a single premise in any version of the cosmological argument offered throughout Church history, and yet, remains to this day the quintessential “knock down” response to the best set of arguments for God’s existence. There has never been a single philosopher in the history of the field that has argued, “Everything must have a cause.” This is a blatant misrepresentation of the argument, and at this point should be an embarrassing demonstration of ignorance on behalf of the detractor.

Here are a few examples of this error:

Richard Dawkins says this when responding to the first three ways of Saint Thomas Aquinas – “All three of these arguments rely upon the idea of a regress and invoke God to terminate it. They make the entirely unwarranted assumption that God himself is immune to the regress.” (The God Delusion, Pg. 77)

In his book, godless, Dan Barker has this opening comment in the chapter titled, Cosmological Kalamity – “Daddy, if God made everything, who made God?’ My Daughter Kristi, asked me this when she was five years old.

‘Good question,’ I replied. Even a child sees the problem with the traditional cosmological argument.

The old cosmological argument claimed that since everything has a cause, there must be a first cause, an ‘unmoved first mover.’ Today no theistic philosophers defend that primitive line because if everything needs a cause, so does God. The only way they can deal with my kindergartner’s question is if they can first get God off the hook.” (godless, Pg. 130)

Daniel Dennett says – “The Cosmological Argument, which in its simplest form states that since everything must have a cause the universe must have a cause – namely, God – doesn’t stay simple for long. Some deny the premise, since quantum physics teaches us (doesn’t it) that not everything that happens needs to have a cause. Others prefer to accept the premise and then ask: What caused God? The reply that God is self-caused (somehow) then raises the rebuttal: If something can be self-caused, why can’t the universe as a whole be the thing that is self-caused? This leads in various arcane directions, into the strange precincts of string theory and probability fluctuations and the like, at one extreme, and into ingenious nitpicking about the meaning of ‘cause’ at the other. Unless you have a taste for mathematics and theoretical physics on the one hand, or the niceties of scholastic logic on the other, you are not apt to find any of this compelling or even fathomable.” (Breaking the Spell, Pg. 242)

Although Julian Baggini is not a card carrying member of the New Atheist movement, this summary of the cosmological argument contains many, if not every, superficial criticism utilized by contemporary atheist thinkers – “The cosmological argument in a nutshell is that since everything must have a cause, the universe must have a cause. And the only cause of the universe that could be up to the job is God, or at least that the best hypothesis for the cause of the universe is God. The cosmological argument is there whenever someone turns around and says to the naturalist, ‘ Ah, well the universe may have begun with the big bang, but what caused the big bang?’

The argument is to my mind utterly awful, a disgrace to the good name of philosophy and the only reason for discussing it is to expose sloppy thinking. One fatal flaw among the many is that the argument is based on principles it then flouts. The intuitive principles that lie behind the argument are that nothing exists uncaused and that the cause of something great and complex must itself be even greater and more complex. But it ends by hypothesizing God’s existence without a cause greater than God, why can’t the universe exist without a cause greater than itself? Either the principles that inform the argument stand or they don’t. If they stand, then God requires a cause and the causal chain goes back ad infinitum. If they don’t, then there is no need to hypothesize God.

The second fatal flaw is that even if the logic of the argument works, we don’t arrive at God. What we arrive at is a cause which is greater and more complex than the universe itself and which is itself uncaused. Whether or not this resembles the traditional God, who is much more like an individual personality than a super-universe, is surely open to question. So the argument cannot really establish that the cause is anything like God at all.” (Atheism: A Very Short Introduction, Pg. 94, 95)

Ed Feser nicely captures the mistakes of the atheist critics in his essay, The New Atheists and the Cosmological Argument,

“So, to ask “What caused God?”, far from being the devastating retort the New Atheist supposes it to be, is in fact painfully inept. When interpreted in light of what the various approaches to the cosmological argument actually mean by “cause” and “God,” it really amounts to asking, “What caused the thing that cannot in principle have had a cause?” In particular, it amounts to asking, “What actualized the potentials in that thing which is pure actuality and thus never had any potentials of any sort needing to be actualized in the first place?”; or “What principle accounts for the composition of the parts in that which has no parts but is absolutely simple or non-composite?”; or “What imparted a sufficient reason for existence to that thing which has its sufficient reason for existence within itself and did not derive it from something else?”; or “What gave a temporal beginning to that which has no temporal beginning?” And none of these questions makes any sense.”

Why does such a response continue to take place? In my view, the answer brings us back to the spiritual warfare identified above. The enduring confusion is an indication that there is something else going on; that these misrepresentations are due to something other than a lack of understanding or poor reasoning. I cannot think of another philosophical argument that undergoes such painfully deformed caricatures.

All of these examples provided above (and there are many more than can be produced) demonstrate a spiritual rejection of the cosmological argument rather than a reasoned denunciation. The rejections are based on pronounced mischaracterizations of the arguments. Instead of identifying a fatal flaw in the ratiocination offered by Saint Thomas Aquinas, for example, we are given a hand waving dismissal. I think the distortions have more to do with the spiritual tools of the evil one than it does with the reasoning of the individual person, whether a fundamentalist atheist or professional philosopher.

The reason for such a contemptuous reply is because of the consequence of the argument. The cosmological argument in all its variant formations is so badly hated and misrepresented because it provides a non-naturalistic answer to the most important philosophical question — “Why is there something rather than nothing.” The answer to this question introduces the individual person to the God in which they live, and move, and have their being. The atheist cannot have this in their knowledge of the world, so they react in puerile fashion.

It isn’t reason that blocks recognition of the truth; it is the result of a spiritual rejection of reason’s conclusions.


– Lucas G. Westman

The Spiritual Rejection of the Cosmological Argument – Updated

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