The cosmological argument presented by Clarke differs quite significantly from that provided by other well known philosophers even though all of these arguments are based on the fact that every being has a cause. Clarke’s argument stands out because the author draws a very sharp contrast between contingent and necessary beings.
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This paper looks at Clarke’s cosmological argument. Specifically, it provides a thesis and proceeds to give a discussion on the argument, objections, and responses by different scholars. Key points are summarized toward the end.
The opinion expressed in this paper is in line with Clarke’s argument which alleges that all beings are dependent on one being that has been in existence for several years, with other beings considered to be contingent or dependent on it (Slater 185). In addition, there exists a very solid reason to explain the existence of every event or thing that has come to be. For this reason, there is nothing that can exist without a good explanation for its existence. According to Taliaferro, Draper and Quinn (116), the general understanding based on Clarke’s argument is that every being must have a cause.
To a large extent, Clarke’s argument is based on the claim that every single truth is based on the fact that it must be true in the virtue of something that is quite distinct from it, and also on the assumption that some propositions would be necessarily true even in the absence of finite minds (Taliaferro, Draper and Quinn 118). Consequently, it follows that necessary truths could not be true in the virtue of facts regarding human psychology alone. Arguably, all truths are true in the virtue of the forms existing outside of any mind. In his argument, Clarke endeavors to show that at least one independent being has been in existence for eternity. According to Clarke, every being is either a dependent being or an independent being. The assumption that every being is dependent is thus false. Consequently, there exists an independent being as well as a necessary being.
Generally, there are at least three different ways of looking at the expression “necessary being”. First of all, it is alleged that a being is factually necessary if it does not casually rely on any other being and all other beings depend on it. This is the feature of necessary being that is vital to theism. As it applies to things or events, contingent implies dependent or caused. In other words, one thing or event is contingent upon another. On the contrary, necessary refers to the fact that one thing or event does not in any way depend on another. Moreover, it is necessary for other things to depend on it. A certain thing is regarded as being necessary if it happens to be indispensable. This kind of necessity is referred to as factual necessity. Being a theist implies that one has a strong belief in the existence of God, who is factually necessary with all other things being contingent or dependent on him.
Clarke’s version of the cosmological argument depends upon a very general version of the principle of sufficient reason and one which apparently holds that there is a very good explanation for the existence of every contingent being, regardless of whether it was already in existence or not (Slater 186). By seeking a reason to explain the existence of every single being, the principle of sufficient reason rules out the possibility of contingent beings having no explanation whatsoever. Arguably, this includes the possibility that the universe itself might be a positive fact that exists without any reason or explanation. The principle of sufficient reason is able to rule out such a possibility considering that it maintains that beings come in only one of two logically possible forms. In the event that one accepts the principle of sufficient reason, which many intuitively believe to be true, he or she is thereby committed to the premises and conclusion of the argument. Apparently, this is a fact that tends to excite many theists and agnostics who proceed to search for reasons to reject it.
Interestingly, Clarke’s version of the argument represents a classic piece of natural theology that upon closer examination does not conform to the model of what is commonly referred to as classical theology (Slater 187). The most significant thing concerning Clarke’s argument is its implicit challenge to naturalism and particularly to the naturalist explanations of the existence of the universe. Clearly, it challenges Kitcher’s claim that “everything we know rules out or discredits supernatural religious beliefs” (Slater 187).
According to Taliaferro, Draper and Quinn (118), there are three exceptions that can be raised regarding Clarke’s cosmological argument. The first objection has to do with the fact that the whole point about absolute existence is quite problematic. Apparently, it is impossible to think about a necessary being that does not exist in the first place.
The second objection is that God can not be the causal explanation for the existence of a series of contingent beings without a temporal beginning. This is based on the allegation that causal relation refers to a priority in time and a beginning of existence. Arguably, it is possible in some way to conceive of non-temporal causal relation. God, from outside time, makes a series of contingent beings that has always been in existence.
The third objection is that in a causal series of contingent beings without a temporal beginning, each being will have a causal explanation by virtue of its predecessors. Considering that there is no first being, there is bound to be a causal explanation for every contingent being on the basis of previously existing contingent beings. However, if each individual contingent being has a causal explanation, then it follows that the entire series of contingent beings has an explanation. Ostensibly, every whole is absolutely nothing without it different parts much like the human body is only complete when every individual part is present and functioning effectively.
It has also been alleged by Hume that the expression “necessary existence” does not have a meaning (Hume on Religion par. 3). Apparently, the existence of necessary being would imply that the universe is itself that necessary existence. In essence, this discredits need for the existence of a contingent deity as the cause of the universe. This is linked to the allegation that the universe has been in existence from the very beginning. This way, the argument presented by Clarke fails to provide enough details in support of his allegations.
As pointed out by Slater (189), remarks of such philosophers as Hume and Kitcher clearly indicate that the argument presented by Clarke has a number of shortcomings and is thus not very convincing. However, Clarke’s argument has a number of proponents such as Leibniz and Craig who have made to clarify Clarke’s argument by explaining the principle of sufficient reason. To a certain extent, it is presumed that Clarke’s version of the cosmological argument heavily relies on a very general version of the principle of sufficient reason and one which apparently holds that there is a very good explanation for the existence of every contingent being, regardless of whether it was already in existence. This has, however, been challenged by a number of philosophers such as Hume and Kant, who are of a contrary opinion (Craig and Leaman par. 7).
Clarke’s argument is largely based on the assumption that all truths are premised on the fact that they must be true in the virtue of something else that is quite distinct from it. Clarke’s argument is founded on the belief that certain propositions presented by him would be necessarily true, their truth is positioned as a given, although these necessary truths could not be true in the virtue of facts that are concerned with matters of human psychology alone.
From the discussion presented in this paper, it is obvious that while Clarke’s contribution is of great significance to many across the world, it has a number of shortcomings. The objections and responses given by various scholars are a clear indication of the fact that the argument presented by Clarke is not conclusive. For this reason, the proponents of the cosmological argument have endeavored to give explanations that can help to justify some parts of Clarke’s argument. As earlier explained, the most significant thing concerning Clarke’s argument is its implicit challenge to naturalism and particularly to the naturalist explanations of the existence of the universe. As noticed by Kitcher, every single thing that we know rules out or discredits supernatural religious beliefs (Slater 187).
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Craig, Edward and Oliver Leaman. God, arguments for the existence. 2002. Web.
Hume on Religion. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2013. Web.
Slater, Michael. Pragmatism and the Philosophy of Religion. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2014. Print.
Taliaferro, Charles, Paul Draper and Philip Quinn. A Companion to Philosophy of Religion, Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2010. Print.