December 10, 2019

The Cosmological Argument

Barry Cooper
The Cosmological Argument

The existence of creation points inevitably to the existence of a Creator. Today, Barry Cooper outlines the cosmological argument for the existence of God, the first cause.


Strange things have been happening in the Cooper household. I walk into a room and find books mysteriously strewn across the floor. Tissue boxes have been emptied and the contents turned into confetti. Brightly colored wooden blocks have been strategically placed in such a way as to make it impossible for me to get up in the night without risking severe bodily injury.

If someone were to ask you, “Why has all this happened?” what you wouldn’t say is: “No reason. It just happened by itself.” You would assume, because of the universal law of cause and effect, that someone or something is responsible, and without wanting to point fingers, you might assume that it had to do with existence of a certain one-year-old baby girl.

This universal assumption of cause and effect is behind what philosophers have called the cosmological argument for the existence of God.

In its simplest form, the argument goes like this: Whatever begins to exist has a cause. The universe began to exist. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

Thomas Aquinas, the thirteenth-century philosopher, presented a version of this cosmological argument called the First Cause argument.

The First Cause argument begins with the simple observation that there is change in the world, and that each change must have had a cause. At one point, I didn’t exist, but then in 1971, I suddenly did. That change in the world obviously had a cause: my parents. But how did they come to exist? Well, they came to exist because of their parents. And so on, and so on, and so on, an unbroken and unavoidable chain of effect and cause that we can trace all the way back up the timeline, each effect dependent upon a cause further up the chain, until we finally reach a First Cause which itself is uncaused. Aquinas argued, of course, that this First Cause is God. He is the One who set the chain in motion in the first place.

Or imagine you’re watching a line of dominoes toppling. Why does each domino fall? Well, because the domino next to it fell and knocked it over. But why did that domino fall? Well, because it, too, was knocked over by another domino further up the line. OK, but why did the very first domino fall? Because there was a first cause: something must have caused it to fall.

So it is with the universe as a whole, according to Aquinas. The fact that the universe exists at all is the ultimate “change”—one moment there was literally nothing, not even a vacuum; the next, there was something. And that change—Aquinas argued—must have had a cause, namely, God.

The Apostle Paul himself seems to have this kind of argument partly in mind when he writes in Romans chapter 1 that “[God’s] invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.”

Paul is saying: The existence of creation points inevitably to the existence of a Creator. A First Cause. As a result of this, he says, we are “without excuse” if we fail to acknowledge God and give glory to Him.

Even if you believe in the idea of a Big Bang, you’ve still got to ask yourself the question, What or who caused it? To quote one recent author, “A Big Bang requires a Big Bang-er”—unless we believe that explosions occur without any cause whatsoever and without any raw material to explode.

Psalm 19 foreshadows the Apostle Paul when it says:

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.
Just as the existence of a painting reveals the existence of a painter, the existence of creation reveals the existence of a Creator. They demonstrate that something must have brought them into existence.

So, where it comes to the existence of God or some First Cause, the existence of the cosmos leaves us without plausible deniability. It would be as implausible as to claim that the strange phenomena in the Cooper household “just happened by itself.”

During an interview, the atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell was asked to imagine what he would say if he found himself being confronted with God on the day of judgment: “Suppose,” said the interviewer, “that there, before your very eyes, beyond a shadow of a doubt, was God. What would you say?” Russell apparently wrinkled his nose and said, “Sir, why did You not give me better evidence?”

Psalm 19 and Romans chapter 1 say that Bertrand Russell had unmistakable evidence: the fact that he was inhabiting a body, with the ground beneath him, and the sky above him. These things do not just “come into being,” without any First Cause.

That, in essence, is the cosmological argument.