Theistic Arguments Series: Leibniz’s Cosmological Argument
In my previous post, I made several points about deductive arguments, briefly summarized here, with some additional discussion:
1. The argument should be stated precisely, using clearly defined terms.
Imprecisely defined terms are the cause of endless debate over whether an argument succeeds. They lead to equivocation. Often, people will disagree about whether a particular statement is true because they don't interpret the statement in the same way. I find that this situation can go unrecognized, and the parties to the debate end up talking past each other, without realizing that a statement means something different to each of them, and this can affect their view of the logical validity of the argument.
2. There is no information in the conclusion that is not contained in the premises.
Logical operations merely manipulate the existing information included in the premises to arrive at a conclusion. Often, arguments depend on assumptions that are not explicitly stated. These assumptions form part of the information that is purported to be "proven" in the conclusion. This should be avoided, because it is easy for an assumption to be taken for granted that would be disputed if it was stated explicitly. Even if an assumption is not stated, it must be regarded as a premise to the conclusion. A good argument should state its assumptions.
3. The premises must be proven if the argument is to succeed.
This is a logical necessity. Either the premise is based on axiomatic truth (something to which all reasonable people would agree), or its truth must be demonstrated. Assumptions that form part of the argument are typically taken for granted without being proven, but they cannot be allowed to pass without challenge. If there is legitimate disagreement about the truth of a premise or assumption, then the argument has not succeeded.
Keith Rozumalski presented Leibniz’s cosmological argument as follows:
(1) Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause.This is an example of the general form of argument called argument from first cause. It is also an example of the things I discussed that make for bad arguments. Let's examine them.
(2) If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.
(3) The universe exists.
(4) Therefore, the universe has an explanation of its existence.
(5) Therefore, the explanation of the existence of the universe is God.
1. Is this argument stated precisely with well-defined terms?
No. In particular, it uses the word 'explanation' in a confusing manner that appears to be conflated with 'cause'. An explanation is not a cause. An explanation is something that people devise as a rationalization. It may or may not be true, and has no bearing on what actually causes something. Premise (1) says that everything has an explanation. That is not true. If something exists that we are completely unaware of, and we have never attempted to explain its existence, then there exists no explanation for it. Furthermore, before there were people to explain things, there was no explanation for the universe. The argument is really about causes, and so it should be restated in terms of causes rather than explanations. That would serve to eliminate the kind of confusion that leads to statement (2), which is also false. I could say that the universe is explained by fairies scattering pixie dust, which magically transforms into worlds. It may not be a good explanation, but it is an explanation, and the explanation is not God. So (2), as stated, is false.
Now you may think that my objection is too nit-picky, but if 'cause' is meant when the term 'explanation' is used, try substituting the word and read the argument again. You will easily see that it becomes a blatantly circular argument.
2. Does this argument contain unstated assumptions that form part of the conclusion?
Yes. One is that all physical things must have a cause that is external to themselves. This excludes the possibility of something existing as a brute fact. If the universe (or the thing from which the universe spawns) exists as a brute fact, it has no cause. To insist that it must have an external cause is nothing more than special pleading. Another assumption is the prohibition of an infinite regress. Why can't there be an eternal succession of worlds spawning worlds? There's no mathematical axiom or law of physics that prohibits it. A third assumption is the uniqueness and attributes of the ultimate cause. It is said that this cause must be God. It is assumed that there is one and only one such cause, and that this God must have the attributes of a god, including omniscience and omnipotence. Otherwise, it wouldn't be acceptable to theists as the ultimate cause of the universe. These assumptions are common among arguments from first cause.
It's OK to make assumptions, but you need to back them up with real justification. Which brings me to the next question:
3. Are the premises to this argument (including unstated assumptions) proven?
No. None of the assumptions identified above are proven. The first two have some rational justification, but the justification falls short of proof. In our human experience, we see that physical objects and events have causes. But our experience doesn't extend to transcendent things (ie, things that may exist outside the space-time of our universe). We simply don't know what's behind the curtain. In our finite world, there are no infinite sets of physical things, but what do we know about what might exist outside the confines of our own little world? The assumption of a godly being is not only unproven, but it doesn't even have rational justification that I can see. What if this creator had no knowledge of what it was doing? Can theists prove that it does? Or do they posit these attributes simply because that's what they want to believe?