Apologetics, Metaphysics, Philosophy, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Scholasticism, Thomism

Ed Feser on Rejections of the Cosmological Argument

MetaphysicsTaken from Ed Feser’s essay, The New Atheists and the Cosmological Argument:

III.2. Maybe the universe itself (or the Big Bang, or the multiverse, or indeterministic quantum events, or the laws of physics) is the uncaused, self-explanatory, or necessary being: This objection, often concomitant with the first, is raised in various forms by Dawkins, Dennett, Krauss, Rosenberg, and Stenger. And like the first objection, it completely misses the point of each of the versions of the cosmological argument we’ve considered. As we have seen, whatever one thinks of those arguments, there is no arbitrariness or special pleading in their denying that God requires a cause while insisting that everything other than God does. The difference is in each case a principled one. And the principle in each case gives an answer to the question why the universe, the Big Bang, etc. cannot be the terminus of explanation.

For the Aristotelian, any actualization of a potency requires a cause, while what is pure actuality, and only what is pure actuality, does not. But the universe is a mixture of actuality and potentiality, and the Big Bang involved the actualization of a potential, as would each stage in the evolution of a multiverse and each quantum event (indeterminism being irrelevant). The laws of physics are also by themselves merely potential insofar as they could have been other than they are. Hence none of these could be self-explanatory, necessary, or “uncaused” in the relevant sense of being the sort of thing that need not and could not have a cause.

Similarly, for the Neoplatonist neither the universe nor the multiverse could be uncaused, necessary, or self-explanatory, precisely because they are composite. Quantum events and laws of physics also lack the metaphysical simplicity that the Neoplatonist argues we must attribute to the first principle of all. Their contingency is one indication of this, insofar as the fact that they could have been other than they are entails a distinction between essence and existence. Leibniz, of course, would point out that the universe, Big Bang, quantum events, and laws of nature are all contingent rather than necessary and thus could not provide an ultimate explanation; while the defender of the kalam argument would point out that since his claim is precisely that the Big Bang and everything that came into being with it – the universe along with the laws of physics, including the laws of quantum mechanics, that govern it – require a cause, it simply begs the question against him to claim that any of these things might be the terminus of explanation.

Much more could be said. In particular, the metaphysical status of laws of nature is itself so vexed an issue that it is amazing that anyone could think a glib reference to the laws of physics might settle anything in this context. What is a law of nature? How does it have any efficacy? Is a law of nature merely a statement to the effect that such-and-such a regularity exists? In that case it isn’t an explanation of anything but merely a description of the very thing that needs to be explained. Is a law of nature a kind of Platonic entity? In that case we need an account of how the world comes to participate in such a law, and why it participates in the specific laws it does rather than others. And in that case too, laws cannot be ultimate explanations. Is a law of nature a shorthand description of the way a natural substance will tend to behave given its nature or essence? In that case the existence of laws is parasitic on the existences of substances themselves, and again cannot then be an ultimate explanation.

Naturally, the New Atheist might reject any of these views of laws of nature, along with the Aristotelian, Neoplatonic, Leibnizian, or kalam accounts of why the universe cannot be an uncaused cause or self-explanatory or necessary being. The point, however, is that the New Atheist has given no reason whatsoever to reject any of this. Merely to suggest that the universe, Big Bang, etc. might be the terminus explanation is imply to ignore the cosmological argument, not to answer it.


 

– Lucas G. Westman

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One thought on “Ed Feser on Rejections of the Cosmological Argument

  1. Pingback: The Socratic Catholic:Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange on the Point of Culmination by Lucas G Westman – documentation.erlande

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