God, Chance and Necessity is the title of an excellent book by Keith Ward that deals with the cosmological argument for the existence of God. The cosmological argument is the idea that the existence of God can be justified by asking how the universe came about and positing God as its source. It has two main aspects: firstly, the idea that the universe had a beginning in time and so cannot have made itself; and secondly that the universe is composed of dependent [contingent] beings and so must rely on a necessary, non-contingent being for its sustained existence. Russell argued that we should accept the universe as a brute fact and not inquire as to how it came about or what went before, but this satisfied no one, so questions have continued to be asked on this matter.
Aquinas took the view that the cosmological argument proved the existence of God, but this is incorrect. No statement about anything outside the known universe can be proved to the level that it is certain and therefore constitutes knowledge. However, it is also erroneous to say that we can make no statements about what is beyond and before the universe. We can make tentative suggestions that have the status of inferences, attempts to go beyond the data to an explanation.Some modern atheist scientists attempt to infer beyond the data by positing a multiverse, an infinite series of unverses, which they think enables them to do without God.
There are three possible hypotheses for the origins of the universe: God, chance and necessity. Let us start with the claim that the universe arose by chance. . How would we know that this was so? We would have to examine the state of affairs befiore the universe began.But this is impossible, as we have no scientific method to deal with it and no research apparatus takes us so far. Furthermore, we can only understand chance as the random movement of particles, but there were no particles before the universe came to be, and hence it is meaningless to talk of chance. In truth, chance is just a way of saying that you have not got a clue how things came to be.It is not a satisfactory explanation.
Necessity was postulated by Atkins, who Ward tells us says that the universe arose out a random fluctuation in quantum co-ordinates. However, Ward accuses him of the fallacy of misplaced concreteness, as he is making a reality out of numbers, which do not exist on their own. Russell pointed out in The Problems of Philosophy that numbers do not exist, but as universals they subsist in reality. The co-ordinates would have to exist to randomly fluctuate, which presupposes that there was something before the universe.This merely puts back the problem and solves nothing.
The multiverse suffers the same difficulty. This has become popular with atheists as it manages to stave off God. It is the idea that there is an endless number of universes and series of universes. Our universe has a parent, which had a parent and so on. This could be correct, and it certainly squares with Hindu views on God, but where is the evidence for this? We can make mathematical postulations, but they need substantiating by emprical research, which has so far shown us no other universes.
God comes next. Ward thinks that God is the best hypothesis, as it ties in with the anthropic principle. This is the observation that the universe seems fine-tuned for intelligent life. Had the value of certain key constants been slighly different intelligent life could not have occurred. The possibility that this happened by chance is remote, so God seems a good explanation. However, there are objections. Proponents of the multiverse argue that in an endless series of universes the right constants were bound to happen, though there is no evidence that such an endless series of universes has existed. Furthermore, a more cogent argument is that if the constants had been incorrect for life we would not have been here to observe them. However, this objection does not explain the fact that they are so fiinely tuned.
The objection " who made God" was solved by Aquinas who pointed out that if there is a series of contingent beings there has to be a necessary being, one whose existence does not depend on anything else for these beings to depend on, and so those who still raise this argument need not detain us until they can show that they can answer Aquinas' point. Aquinas argues "This we call God." This is a cogent arument. but there are two caveats. Firstly, we cannot infer to any specific deity on the basis of this argument. It might be the Judaeo-Christian God or it might be Vishnu, or another deity entirely. The second caveat has been solved by no -one "Why is there anything at all." At best we can make inferences and opt for the one that makes sense.
Cardinal Newman argued that we have an illative sense. We gather together al the arguments and make a truth judgment. None is compelling in iotself, but together they lead us to a well-grounded belief.
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