Arguing God from First Cause?

Closer to Truth interviews William Lane Craig

Closer to Truth

Robert Lawrence Kuhn (host of PBS' "Closer to Truth") asks William Lane Craig about God being the first cause of the universe. Questions explored: What is the cosmological argument for God's existence? What are the subsets of the cosmological argument? What is the Leibnizian argument (aka Contingency argument) for God's existence? How is God the explanation of the universe? What is the first temporal argument (Kalam Cosmological argument) for God's existence? What is the history of the cosmological argument? When did the cosmological argument "resurface" in the philosophical world? Has science affirmed the beginning of the universe? How does astrophysics give empirical evidence for the beginning of the universe? What are the philosophical and scientific argument for the beginning of the universe?


Robert Lawrence Kuhn: What is the cosmological argument for the existence of God?

Dr. Craig: The cosmological argument is actually a family of arguments—different arguments—that all attempt to prove on the basis of the existence of the world, that there is some sort of a first cause or sufficient reason for the existence of the world.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: And what are some of the subsets of these arguments?

Dr. Craig: Well, for example, there’s the so-called argument from contingency that has been defended by various philosophers such as Leibniz and others, and it would go something like this: Anything that exists has a reason or an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in some external cause. Now, if the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation would be God, a transcendent being beyond space and time. The universe is something that exists, obviously, and therefore it would follow that the universe has an explanation of its existence and that that explanation is God. That would be a kind of quick and easy summary of the basic premises of the contingency argument. And then one would need to talk about why one believes those premises to be true.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: Are there some other cosmological arguments?

Dr. Craig: Yes, another version would be the argument for a first temporal cause of the universe, and it’s very simple. It would go like this: Whatever begins to exist has a cause. The universe began to exist. Therefore the universe has a cause. And that would be an argument, again, for a transcendent creator of the universe.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: And how have these arguments fared through their intellectual history?

Dr. Craig: Through their intellectual history, they’ve been defended by some of the greatest minds of the Western world. They fell into disfavor during the Enlightenment with the critiques of David Hume and Immanuel Kant. But during the 20th century, these arguments have resurfaced with enormous vigor, such that today, among the finest philosophers in the English-speaking world, you will find sophisticated defenders of all of these traditional arguments for God’s existence. So, we’re really living at a time which is enjoying something of a renaissance of natural theology.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: And with the cosmological argument, has some of the cosmological data from the world of science—the Hubble Telescope—been helpful or contradictory?

Dr. Craig: Oh, it’s been very helpful. You see, during the Middle Ages when there was no scientific evidence, for example for a beginning of the universe, philosophers presented purely philosophical arguments against the infinity of the past or an infinite regress of causes. But with the advent of modern astrophysical cosmology, it turns out that there is very good empirical evidence for the truth of the premise that the universe is not a necessarily existing being, but is contingent in a radical way, namely, that it began to exist. So, we have both philosophical arguments and scientific confirmation of the key premise of that second version of the cosmological argument.