The Spiritual Rejection of the Cosmological Argument – Updated

That Look You Give When an Atheist SaysThrough the Church of Ephesus, St. Paul informs us of the spiritual battle we find ourselves, “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) I had often misidentified the spiritual battle for souls, described here by St. Paul, to be with individual persons rather than those anti-Christ ideologies powered by satanic influence. Rather than battling the individual, we are combatting the great deceiver who whispers error into the ears of those who are created in the image and likeness of God. Similar to Grima Wormtongue, the demonic influence upon darkened minds strengthens the disordered passions of the fallen will. Until such a spiritual stronghold is vanquished, and the informer is expelled from the seat of influence, the tools of pure rationalism will not suffice in any apologetic endeavor.

In addition to St. Paul’s valuable instruction, St. Peter trains 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. These passages should be continuously in the front of our mind when we evangelize and do apologetic work. These considerations point us toward an important examination of why various apologetic arguments are routinely misrepresented and rejected by atheist critics.

In order to create ideologies that counteract the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the truth must be distorted in order to further deceive those persons still in the state of original sin, 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 to draw us away from truth. In addition to distorting the Sacred Page, alterations of philosophical truth are also quite prevalent. St. 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) Following this instruction, we ought to adhere to the proclamation of St. Bonaventure, “Christ is our metaphysics,” and follow the imaginative Christo-centric poetic spirituality 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 anyone 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? Of course, 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. There has never been a serious philosopher that has argued, “Everything must have a cause.”[1] 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 (emphasis added) – “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.”[2]

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.”[3]

Daniel Dennett says (emphasis added) — “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.”[4]

Christopher Hitchens states, while borrowing from and entirely misrepresenting William of Ockham (emphasis added) – “Indeed, Ockham stated that it cannot be strictly proved that god, if defined as a being who possesses the qualities of supremacy, perfection, uniqueness, and infinity, exists at all. However, if one intends to identify a first cause of the existence of the world, one may choose to call that ‘god’ even if one does not know the precise nature of the first cause. And even the first cause has its difficulties, since a cause will itself need another cause. ‘It is difficult or impossible,’ he wrote, ‘to prove against the philosophers that there cannot be an infinite regress in causes of the same kind, of which one can exist without the other.’ Thus the postulate of a designer or creator only raises the unanswerable question of who designed the designer or created the creator. Religion and theology and theodicy (this is now me talking and not Ockham) have consistently failed to overcome this objection. Ockham himself simply had to fall back on the hopeless position that the existence of god can only be ‘demonstrated’ by faith.”[5]

Hitchens continues,

“Actually, the ‘leap of faith’ – to give it the memorable name that Soren Kierkegaard bestowed upon it – is an imposture. As he himself pointed out, it is not a ‘leap’ that can be made once and for all. It is a leap that has to go on and on being performed, in spite of mounting evidence to the contrary. This effort is actually too much for the human mind, and leads to delusions and manias. Religion understands perfectly well that the ‘leap’ is subject to sharply diminishing returns, which is why it often doesn’t in fact rely on ‘faith’ at all but instead corrupts faith and insults reason by offering evidence and pointing to confected ‘proofs.’ This evidence and these proofs include arguments from design, revelations, punishments, and miracles. Now that religion’s monopoly has been broken, it is within the compass of any human being to see these evidences and proofs as the feeble-minded inventions that they are.”[6]

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.”[7]

Finally, in his book, Why There is No God, Armin Navabi says (emphasis added), “The cosmological argument for God is an attempt to infer God’s existence from the known facts of the universe. Essentially, this argument states that because everything is derived by cause and effect, something must have caused the universe to be created. However, although many physical laws of the universe do generally work in a cause-and-effect away, that does not necessarily mean that God is the cause.

If you follow events backwards through time, you will always find a preceding event that led to it, but theists reason that this chain of events could not go on forever. Something must have started all of it into motion. Since events cannot cause themselves, something else must have existed first to cause all of these things.

This might seem like a reasonable argument, but it falls victim to the same problem as the hypothetical God behind the argument from design, as discussed in Chapter 1: if everything has a cause or a creator, then who created God? And who, then, created the entity that created God? Rather than solving the problem of infinite causality, the cosmological argument simply recreates the problem using different terms. God is used as an answer, but in reality, the issue of God simply raises new questions. You cannot solve a mystery by using a bigger mystery as the answer.

This issue falls prey to the ‘special pleading’ fallacy, a specific type of hypocrisy that arises when someone realizes that the solution he’s offering fails to live up to the rules he’s already established. In this type of fallacy, the rules apply to everything but the arguer’s solution, which gets a special exception for the rule despite there being no clear reason why that exception should exist in the first place. If everything requires a creator, why doesn’t God? And if God does not require a creator, why must everything else?

Indeed, if we can accept the idea that something could exist without being created – as theists claim for their god(s) – why could this same logic not apply to the universe itself? This could cut out the middleman and make just as much sense as a deity without the other complications that belief in God can create.”[8]

Ed Feser captures the mistakes of these critics in this paragraph,

“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.”[9]

So why does such a response continue to take place among atheist critics despite being shown that such an objection does not withstand scrutiny? 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. Its not that atheists are unable to apprehend the simplicity of a basic premise contained within the syllogism of the cosmological argument; rather, they don’t want to understand the simplicity of the premise. I simply cannot think of another philosophical argument that undergoes such painfully deformed caricatures.

How, then, shall we approach this continued error among atheists? Do we simply restate the argument and hope that this time around, the light of human reason will recognize the error being made? Or should we examine the manner in which we present these arguments in the first place? I maintain that we ought to examine how we deliver our defense of the faith. Simple repetition is the mark of an approach that does not recognize the fluidity of human interaction, especially when presenting the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In my view, a lack of appreciation for the spiritual battle taking place when defending the faith has produced an arid rationalism in mainstream apologetics. Confronting the deceptive strategies of casuistry, which justify the incoherence of atheism, requires an acknowledgment of theological truths such as original sin and the redemptive work of Christ. For any apologetic endeavor to proceed in the task of defending the faith by ignoring what God has revealed will result in a weak presentation of “another option for understanding the world” or “the best explanation for the facts.” To defend the faith is to defend the Gospel. Anything less than this is spiritually futile. The significant point is that the psychology of the person who remains dead in their sin and a slave to their passions, will deny what they know to be true so that they may remain within the illusion of a deluded relativistic autonomy.

For example, I once attended a debate between a Christian apologist and atheist Dan Barker on the topic “Can We Be Good Without God?” Mr. Barker is a seasoned debater and a skilled orator. At some point during his remarks, he emphatically stated that there was not a single commandment delivered to Moses that was morally relevant for our modern society. Now, anyone who is familiar with the content of the Ten Commandments would immediately recognize the stupidity of such a statement, that is, unless the atheist is willing to accept theft and murder as morally virtuous pillars for the flourishing of the civil order. What this example demonstrates, along with the evidence provided above, is that it isn’t the “reasoning” of the atheist that is the primary problem, it is the psychology of the fallen man. For such a person, I myself once included in this category, anything will be said or believed in order to protect the sinful darkness of our heart from being exposed by the light of Christ.

The Bible clearly, and unequivocally, provides us with illuminating descriptions of the psychology of fallen man. Romans 1:18-22 is just one example of such passages, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and injustice of those men that detain the truth of God in injustice: Because that which is known of God is manifest in them. For God hath manifested it unto them. For the invisible things of him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; his eternal power also, and divinity: so that they are inexcusable. Because that, when they knew God, they have not glorified him as God, or given thanks; but became vain in their thoughts, and their foolish heart was darkened. For professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.”

The beginning of our apologetics, it seems to me, should at the very least incorporate an awareness of the fallen humanity we seek to bring into the Mystical Body of Christ. Metaphysics, natural theology, and natural philosophy should be united with a robust spiritual awareness of the sinfully disordered intellect and will of those who have not been baptized into Christ.

I contend that all of these examples provided above (and there are many more that 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 argumentation offered by St. Thomas Aquinas, for example, we are given a hand waving, polemic dismissal. It is not that intellectually challenging to state the first premise of an argument correctly, and yet, most atheists seem invincibly ignorant on this particular issue. These distortions have more to do with the spiritual tools of the evil one influencing the fallen nature of man than it does with the reasoning of the individual person, whether a fundamentalist atheist or professional philosopher.

The cosmological argument in all its variant formations is so badly hated and parodied because they provide 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 spiritual rejection of reason’s conclusions that suppresses the truth in unrighteousness.


– Lucas G. Westman

Originally Published on August, 23rd, 2016

[1] “The problem is this: Not one of the many prominent defenders of the cosmological argument referred to above ever actually put forward anything like this so-called ‘basic cosmological argument.’ In particular – and to hammer the point home – you will not find such an argument in Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, Al-Ghazali, Avicenna, Averroes, Maimonides, Anselm, Bonaventure, Aquinas, Scotus, Suarez, Leibniz, Clarke, Locke, Berkeley, Garrigou-Lagrange, Maritain, Gilson, Adler, Reichenbach, Tayler, Swinburne, Koons, Gale, Pruss, Haldane, Martin, Oderberg, Davies, Craig, or, as far as I know, in any other philosopher who has defended the cosmological argument. Indeed, Le Poidevin (who, as a philosopher of religion, is better informed about the subject than the other critics quoted above) admits as much, writing that ‘no-one has defended a cosmological argument of precisely this form.’ He just thinks it ‘provides a useful stepping-stone to the other, more sophisticated, versions’ of the argument.” (NeoScholastic Essays, Feser, Pg. 122)

[2] The God Delusion, Pg. 77

[3] godless, Pg. 130

[4] Breaking the Spell, Pg. 242

[5] god is Not Great, Pg. 70, 71

[6] Ibid, Pg. 71

[7] Atheism: A Very Short Introduction, Pg. 94, 95

[8] Pg. 72, 72

[9] Neo-Scholastic Essays, Pg. 138

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