Where are we with the Cosmological Argument?

Alexander R. Pruss, Baylor University

Cosmological arguments face four basic problems:

  1. the Glendower Problem;
  2. the Regress Problem;
  3. the Taxicab Objection; and
  4. the Gap Problem.

A. The Glendower and Regress Problems

"Glendower: I can call spirits from the vasty deep. Hotspur: Why, so can I, or so can any man; But will they come when you do call for them?" - Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part I.

  1. The Glendower problem is essentially about moving from the fact that something calls for an explanation or cause, to the existence of that explanation or cause. The Regress Problem is about avoiding an infinite sequence of explanations or causes.
  2. There seem to be three basic options currently used for the Glendower Problem:
    1. A localized causal principle (LCP) for entities coming into existence or "small" contingent individuals. (Kalaam, Aquinas)
    2. An expansive causal principle (ECP) that includes things like the history of the cosmos, or the cosmos as a whole including its past. (Koons)
    3. Leibniz's PSR and variants on it (weak PSR, PSR for positive states of affairs, restricted PSR, Principle of Only Explanation, defeasible principles).
  3. Of these, the LCP is least controversial, but requires a further argument to get around the Regress Problem. Two options are available:
    1. Kalaam arguments against an infinite past.
    2. Aquinas' idea that intermediate causes are different in kind from and require non-intermediate causes.
  4. The ECP is more controversial, in particular because it doesn't seem very far from the PSR. It completely gets around the Regress Problem. Koons has offered an epistemological argument for the ECP.
  5. The PSR is the most controversial, because of the van Inwagen argument, the Quantum Mechanics argument and the Free Will argument. To get around the Regress Problem it requires an argument against Hume-Edwards Principle. Pruss has offered various arguments for the PSR and for weaker versions of it.
  6. Avenues for future research:
    1. LCP: It would be good to better understand the idea that intermediate and non-intermediate causes are different in kind and the former depend on the latter.
    2. ECP: Does the epistemological argument for the ECP lead one to scepticism or Cartesianism?
    3. PSR: It would be good to better understand ceteris paribus nomic explanations.
    4. PSR: It would be good to better understand the interaction of choice, explanation and reasons in libertarian free will.
    5. PSR: Are there other arguments for or against the PSR?
    6. PSR: Are there weaker versions of the PSR that avoid the difficulties of the PSR but do justice to the intuitions behind the PSR? There are two things one might conclude:
      1. The weaker versions do not support a Cosmological Argument, in which case the opponent of the argument has a way out: "We can do justice to the intuitions behind the PSR, without committing ourselves to a PSR strong enough to ground the Cosmological Argument."
      2. The weaker versions are sufficient for running a Cosmological Argument.

B. The Taxicab Objection

  1. Why not apply whatever principle was used to overcome the Glendower Objection to God?
  2. Responses:
    1. LCP: God doesn't come into existence.
    2. ECP: God is not contingent.
    3. PSR: This requires work on free will.
  3. Options (B.2.2) and (B.2.3) require that God be a necessary being.
  4. Avenue for future research: Clarify this necessity (essence=existence, existence of an ontological argument, non-analytic necessities, etc.)

C. The Gap Problem

  1. How to move from the existence of a First Cause or Ultimate Explanation to the existence of God, specifically arguing:
    1. The Ultimate Explanation is based on the activity of an entity. (Entityhood)
    2. The First Cause is not material or otherwise a part of the contingent universe. (Transcendence)
    3. There is only one such entity. (Uniqueness)
    4. That entity is a person. (Personhood)
    5. That person has at least a number of the attributes we associate with God. (Attributes)
  2. Arguments based on the LCP or ECP can skip the Entityhood issue.
  3. One strategy for all of these is to combine the cosmological argument with a teleological argument (Koons).
  4. Arguments based on the ECP and PSR tend to base many of the answers on necessity (Gellman, Koons) or some kind of deeper firstness, such as independence (Aquinas, Clarke).
  5. Personhood one might get from the PSR if libertarian free will is the only explainable form of indeterministic causation.
  6. The principle that the cause contains the reality of the effect can yield Personhood. (Clarke)
  7. Omnipotence might follow if the same being grounds the Ultimate Explanation in all possible worlds (Gellman).
  8. Uniqueness might follow from total independence plus interaction arguments (Gellman).
  9. Simplicity is used by Aquinas and Clarke to yield uniqueness, perfection, and many other Attributes.
  10. Avenues for future research:
    1. Clarify the relationship between necessity, total independence and total firstness (and ensure that one gets the right quality from one's chosen Cosmological Argument). Cf. (B.4).
    2. Does simplicity follow from necessity, total independence and/or total firstness?
    3. Does perfection follow from simplicity?
    4. Is there any way to defend the principle that the cause contains the reality of the effect?
    5. Understand the metaphysics behind Aquinas' series of arguments.

D. What do I think?

  1. The ECP and PSR based arguments do show the existence of a First Cause. The Glendower, Regress and Taxicab issues, it seems, can be solved or circumvented. Of these, the Glendower Problem is the hardest.
  2. Aquinas' arguments in regard to the Gap Problem seem plausible, but require a lot of hard metaphysical work to translate into language I understand, and to justify.
  3. The most fruitful avenue for future research is the Gap Problem, followed by the Glendower Problem.