The Contingency Argument for God

Argument for God from Contingency

If you have kids or have been around them, you'll find it familiar to hear them ask all sorts of questions. Sometimes they will ask a chain of questions each of which is based on the answer to the previous question. "Why do the trees sway?" This may be followed by "Why does the wind blow?" In fact, the ultimate question at bottom is 'Why is there something rather than nothing?' The question is best answered by the Contingency Argument for God proposed by Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz.


What is the Leibniz’ Contingency Argument for God?

Leibniz’ contingency argument for God is developed by establishing certain facts and at its simplest, it is a syllogism, like so:

P1. Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence.
P2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.
P3. The universe exists.
C. The explanation of the universe’s existence is God.

The logic of the argument is airtight and undeniable. If all the premises are more likely true than false, then the conclusion follows logically.

Premise one (the universe exists) is simply undeniable. The universe does exist.

Premise three (everything that exists has an explanation of its existence) seems to be fairly straightforward too, though some people will concede the difficulty of explaining the universe and retreat to a brute reality approach. Those who posit that the universe is just a brute fact hold that the existence of the universe is unexplainable. As such, we should just posit that it exists without the need to inquire into why and how it exists.

What’s Wrong with the Brute Fact Explanation of the Universe?

The famous atheist, Bertrand Russel (1872-1970), once claimed,

"The universe is just there, and that’s all."

It seems to me that this way of thinking about reality is simply a copout. No rational human being would stumble upon something, anything at all, that did not need to be there where they found it without wondering how it got there. And no reasonable person would simply conclude without trying to find the most reasonable conclusion, that the thing is simply there and that’s all.

Suppose you were at a restaurant and ordered soup, and when you got ready to consume your soup, from the depth of the bowl you uncovered a vibrant red marble. You call over the waitress and show her the marble you found in your soup and ask for an explanation. Suppose the waitress looks at you all puzzled like you’re nuts and says something like this:

'No one is responsible for the marble being in your soup. Nothing and no one caused it to be there. The marble is just there and that’s all. No explanation is needed. Stop wondering.'

Would any reasonable patron be satisfied with the answer? Absolutely not! We cannot be satisfied with that answer because deep down we know premise one is true – everything that exists does have an explanation of its existence. We know that marbles don’t belong in soups. And we also know that there was a marble in the soup. Therefore something caused the marble to enter the bowl of soup. A waitress telling you otherwise seems to be less than genuine.

Since the size of an object is irrelevant to whether it needs an explanation or not (the marble can be swapped with a hairball and nothing changes other than the level of disgust), a similar thing can be said of the universe as a whole.

The only legitimately reasonable explanation for the existence of the universe is God – the extremely powerful, omniscient, eternal, immaterial, uncaused, necessary being.

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It’s actually quite funny that some people who hold to the brute fact of the universe will actually object to God by asking for God’s existence. Well, if we’re applying the brute fact approach to the existence of the universe, could we not equally apply the brute fact of the existence of God without any need for an explanation?

Lastly, the brute fact approach goes against all human intuition of wonder and curiosity, and ironically it’s a science-stopper. Imagine if every question of nature were to be approached this way – ‘Stop wondering about atoms! They’re just there and that’s all.’ This is one of the most insincere and self-debilitating ways to view reality.

Doesn’t God Need an Explanation?

But if the universe needs an explanation, doesn’t God need an explanation too? To address that we need to distinguish between things that exist contingently and things that exist necessarily.

Things that exist necessarily exist by the necessity of their own nature. It would be impossible for these sorts of things not to exist. For example, many mathematicians believe that abstract objects like numbers exist this way – it’s impossible for them not to exist and they’re not caused to exist but exist by the necessity of their own nature.

Things that exist contingently are caused to exist by something else. Since they are not necessary they do not have to exist. There’s nothing about the universe that makes it reasonable to think that the universe had to exist. The universe is not necessary. The universe exists contingently. If the universe did not have to exist, then why does it exist?

The only adequate explanation for the existence of a contingent universe is that its existence rests on a non-contingent (necessary) being – something that cannot not exist.

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

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If the Universe Has an Explanation of Its Existence, that Explanation is God

It seems that premise three cannot have an objection more reasonable that the premise itself. What about premise two? How reasonable is it for us to say that if the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.

The universe is all of space-time reality, all matter and all energy. And if one’s obliged to contest that we live in a multiverse instead of merely the universe, it wouldn’t change things much. The “universe” as described here can encapsulate one universe or a multiverse. Whether an object exists contingently or necessarily, its existence does not depend on its size. The multiverse, if it exists, would exist contingently as well.

If the universe has a cause of its existence, that cause cannot be part of the universe. It must be non-physical and immaterial, beyond space and time. What would be our potential suitors for entities that fit that description? The list is rather short,

1. God
2. Abstract Object

Abstract objects don’t have causal power, they can’t cause anything to happen in the physical world. The number ‘3’ (and all numbers) is causally impotent.

The only legitimately reasonable explanation for the existence of the universe is God – the extremely powerful, omniscient, eternal, immaterial, uncaused, necessary being.

1 thoughts on “The Contingency Argument for God

  1. Pingback: The Contingency Argument for God – Leibniz’ Argument from Contingency | The culture alternative

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