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#235 Is Part of the Universe a Necessary Being?

October 16, 2011

Christian philosopher C. Stephen Layman suggests in his book 'Letters to Doubting Thomas: A Case for the Existence of God' (OUP, 2007) that the naturalist can escape a Leibnizian-type cosmological argument from contingency by maintaining that "some part (or aspect) of physical reality exists of necessity" and "the necessary part (or aspect) of physical reality generates additional parts or aspects of physical reality in a contingent manner (not of necessity)" (p.96). This kind of "necessity naturalism" can then account for the existence of contingent beings: although most of the physical reality is contingent, there is some part (or aspect) of it that exists necessarily, and that necessary part generates the rest of the universe in a contingent manner. (Layman´s conclusion actually is that "necessity naturalism" can indeed account for the existence of contingent beings as well as theism, but the price is that this makes naturalism a more complicated hypothesis than mere "basic naturalism".)

If this is a viable option for the naturalist, then one doesn´t have to postulate a supernatural necessary being to explain the existence of contingent beings. A natural (physical) necessary part of the universe (or the multiverse) can do the job. If this is right, then surely this is a problem for a Leibnizian-type cosmological argument, at least if the cosmological arguer wants his conclusion to have some theological implications.

So do you think that this is a viable option for the naturalist?

Thank you, and thanks also for your encouraging and learned work.


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Dr. craig’s response


No, I don't think it is a viable option, Ilari, and neither does any naturalist! I'm rather surprised that Layman would take this option so seriously. I'm afraid this is one of those cases where philosophers are looking for any academic loophole in an argument rather than weighing realistic alternatives (rather like avoiding the cosmological argument by denying that anything exists).

No naturalist I have ever read or known thinks that there is something existing in outer space which is a metaphysically necessary being and which explains why the rest of the universe exists. The problem isn't just that such a hypothesis is less simple than theism; it's more that there is no plausible candidate for such a thing. Indeed, such a hypothesis is grossly unscientific. Ask yourself: What happens to such a being as you trace the expansion of the universe back in time until the density becomes so great that not even atoms can exist? No composite material object in the universe can be metaphysically necessary on any scientifically accurate account of the universe. (This is one reason Mormon theology, which posits physical, humanoid deities in outer space, is so ludicrous.)

So the most plausible candidate for a material, metaphysically necessary being would be matter/energy itself. The problem with this suggestion is that, according to the standard model of subatomic physics, matter itself is composed of fundamental particles (like quarks). The universe is just the collection of all these particles arranged in different ways. But now the question arises: Does each and every one of these particles exist necessarily? It would seem fantastic to suppose that all of these independent particles are metaphysically necessary beings. Couldn't a collection of different quarks have existed instead? How about other particles governed by different laws of nature? How about strings rather than particles, as string theory suggests?

The naturalist cannot say that the fundamental particles are just contingent configurations of matter, even though the matter of which the particles are composed exists necessarily. He can't say this because fundamental particles aren't composed of anything! They just are the basic units of matter. So if a fundamental particle doesn't exist, the matter doesn't exist.

No naturalist will, I think, dare to suggest that some quarks, though looking and acting just like ordinary quarks, have the special, occult property of being necessary, so that any universe that exists would have to include them. Again, that would be grossly unscientific. Moreover, the metaphysically necessary quarks wouldn't be causally responsible for all the contingent quarks, so that one is stuck with brute contingency, which is what we were trying to avoid. So it's all or nothing here. But no one thinks that every quark exists by a necessity of its own nature. It follows that Laymen's alternative just is not a plausible answer to the question.

- William Lane Craig