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#241 Must Some Contingent Being or Other Exist?

November 28, 2011

Greetings Dr. Craig,

While I am a non-Christian, I deeply admire your research and work, which is why I am writing to ask you about a critique you gave to Bede Rundle's position that it is necessary that something or other exist (namely, some physical Universe or other), but nothing in particular exists necessarily. You pointed out:

Alexander Pruss has pointed out that Rundle's view has an extremely implausible consequence. It's plausible that no conjunction of claims about the non-existence of various things entails, say, that a unicorn exists. After all, how could the fact that certain things do not exist entail that some other contingent thing does exist? (Reasonable Faith, pg. 110)

While at first I found your criticism quite compelling, I realized that theism suffers from the same difficulties that you pointed out in Rundle's position. For instance, classical theism holds that God is a necessary being (a being who exists in all possible worlds), but this being also has contingent properties. There are possible worlds in which some properties obtain (such as the property of creating the Universe), and there are other possible worlds in which some properties don't (in a possible world, God the Son didn't have the contingent property of becoming flesh).

I mention this because the relevant claim that some contingent property or other must exist necessarily is a position that the theist must hold in relation to God Himself. If God chose to refrain from creating the Universe, then He possesses the contingent property of not actualizing a world (or rather, He 'actualized' a possible world in which the physical Universe didn't exist). Either way, He made a deliberate choice to refrain from the act of creation. So there are two different collections of possible worlds: Ones in which He exercises His free agency in actualizing physical states of affairs, and others in which He actively refrains from creating anything, and thus by consequence, actualizes a possible world in which no creation occurs.

Jay Wesley Richards, for whom you wrote an endorsement, writes:

God might just as well have enjoyed the contingent property of not having created any world. This contingent property would still have been the product of his will. If--contrary to fact--God had so chosen, he would have had at least this one contingent property. Since God is free to create or not to create this or any other world distinct from him, this is how it should be...That property--but not any contingent property in particular--is a part of God's essence (though not, in any untoward sense, a part of God). (The Untamed God, pg. 183)

It seems to me that the accurate position of the Christian (or any other theist) is that it is necessary that God possess some contingent property or other, but there is no particular contingent property that God possesses necessarily. Am I going in the right path, or am I missing some important aspect of your argument? Thank you for taking the time to read this.


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Dr. craig’s response


For those who lack the background to understand this question, let me say that Ariel is talking about a proposed escape from the Leibnizian cosmological argument from contingency for the existence of God as a metaphysically necessary being. In opposition to the premiss

1. Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause.

Rundle makes the novel suggestion that although there is no being that exists by a necessity of its own nature, nevertheless something or other exists in every possible world. That is to say, there is no possible world in which there are no contingent beings. So ultimately it is just inexplicable why contingent beings exist. None of them exists necessarily, nor is there a metaphysically necessary being who causes them in any world in which they exist. There isn’t even any world in which something(s) necessarily exists and no contingent beings exist. Contingent beings just appear in every possible world, end of story.

This is a bizarre view on its face. But Alexander Pruss has raised an intriguing philosophical objection to it. A conjunction of statements about things that do not exist—e.g., “Horses do not exist, and mountains do not exist, and leaves do not exist, and pencils do not exist, and so on” would not seem to entail that a specific thing, say, unicorns, does exist. But on Rundle’s view a conjunction predicating non-existence of every contingent thing other than unicorns entails that unicorns exist! For something contingent has to exist on Rundle’s view, and it can’t be any of those other things, so it must be unicorns, which seems crazy!

Now your point, Ariel, seems to be that the theist himself holds that, necessarily, there are contingent truths. For as you rightly point out, God Himself will have contingent properties in different worlds. Just as Rundle holds that necessarily, there are contingent beings, so the theist holds that necessarily, there are contingent truths.

But I don’t see where your reply to Pruss’ objection goes from there. Given the theist’s claim that God exists in every possible world, it’s hard to see how an analogous argument against the theist would go. Suppose, for example, you say that no conjunction of statements about what God does not create entails a statement that He created unicorns. No problem! For God could have created nothing at all, and so the untoward consequence does not result.

I suspect that what lies behind your argument is the conviction that on theism there are contingent truths for which there is no explanation. That contention is plausible, though mooted by Pruss himself. But while that might have troubled Leibniz, committed as he was to a strong Principle of Sufficient Reason, which held that there is no fact or truth for which there is no explanation, the genius of Stephen Davis’ formulation of the argument from contingency, which I follow here, is that its first premiss is a very weak form of the Principle of Sufficient Reason which requires merely that things do not exist without an explanation of their existence. It is entirely compatible with there being truths which are brute facts about the world. (What it will require is that the propositions which are the bearers of those contingent truth values must have an explanation, not of their truth value, but of their existence, and that can be provided by the theist.)

Thus, I don’t see that the theist’s holding that necessarily, there are contingent truths occasions any problem for theism parallel to the problem which Rundle’s view would occasion for atheism.

- William Lane Craig