PHIL 230 Handout D4: Cosmological Arguments and Error

I. Descartes' Arguments for God's Existence in Meditation 3 are Cosmological

A. Cosmological Argument defined: The fact that there is a universe at all requires explanation, and the explanation is God.

B. Cosmological Arguments are causal arguments:

1. The main argument of Med 3 is that God must be the cause of my idea of God.

2. The secondary argument of Med 3 is that God must be the cause of my existence from moment to moment.

C. The Classic Cosmological Arguments: St. Thomas Aquinas' Five Ways from his Summa Theologica, pt i, question 2, article 3 (read appendix B in your text, pp. 96-97).

1. Argument from motion: things are in motion, but their motion is caused by the motion of other things. But there cannot be an infinite regress of causes of motion; there must, therefore be a Prime Mover (= God).

2. Argument from efficient causation: everything is produced, and nothing can produce itself. There can't be an infinite regress of productive causes; so there must be a first productive cause which is itself unproduced (again, this is God). Note: Aquinas' view seems to be that God exists outside of time and is responsible for the creation of the universe at each moment. Compare this notion with Descartes secondary argument for the existence of God.

3. Argument from contingency: things in the universe exist contingently (that is they might not have existed), but unless there's a necessarily existing thing, no contingent thing would exist. So, there is necessarily existing thing (God).

4. Argument from degrees of perfection: Some things are better and truer than others. But this wouldn't be possible unless there were a being that possessed perfect goodness and truth. That being is God.

5. Argument from natural order: the universe is orderly, but orderly activity is the result of intelligent direction. The order of the universe is due to the intelligence of God.

** note: 5 is essentially the argument from design, 1 and 2 are most properly called cosmological arguments.

II. Descartes' Cosmological Arguments:

A. The idea of God argument (see handout D3. p. 2):

From the fact that I have an idea of God together with the principles of Sufficient Reason (SR) and Adequate Reality (AR) together with the fact that the only source with enough reality to cause my idea is God, it follows God exists.

** in addition, note that God can't be a deceiver, since the idea of God = a perfect being, and deception is an imperfection.

B. Criticisms of the first argument:

1. Some deny the truth of first premise. God = perfect, infinite, eternal, creator -- but perhaps I have no such conception. Descartes: the fact you deny you have the idea of God shows there is an idea which you deny. Further, doubt is an imperfection; if we understand we are imperfect, then we must have the concept of perfection.

2. Are there counter-examples to AR?

3. Most criticisms focus on premise 4.

a. The idea of God is a subjective reality like any other idea (but Descartes move seems to be to apply the the notion of degrees of reality to the content of our ideas: lowest reality = properties, middle = finite substances, highest reality = infinite substance).

b. Infinity can, contrary to what Descartes says, be a negative concept.

C. The Cartesian Circle: Descartes uses the argument for God to justify reliance on "clear and distinct" ideas. But the argument presupposes he has a clear and distinct idea of God.

D. Continuity of Consciousness argument (see handout D3, p. 2): Only God could be the cause of my continued existence. Question: why couldn't something other than God be the cause of the continuation?

III. Error and the Problem of Evil

A. What is the Source of Error?

1. Not the intellect or understanding; this just allows him to perceive ideas -- as long as judgment is suspended, no error is possible.

2. Not the will; our freedom is unbounded and perfect.

3. But will can extend beyond the understanding causing one to judge as true things that aren't.

4. Error can be avoided by passing judgments only on clear and distinct ideas

B. The Problem of Evil: If God has perfect power, God can eliminate all evil. If God has perfect goodness, God wants to eliminate all evil. But there is evil (imperfections). So, either God is not perfectly powerful or not perfectly good.