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Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology 2: The Leibnizian Cosmological Argument

02/05/2012

This is basically an argument that contingency can only be explained by a necessary being, which is God. Pruss points out four difficulties (in the notes) and points out the need to establish first the Principle of Sufficient Reason, which states that every contingent fact has an explanation for it being true.

Now, I remember that short chapter in Arguing for Atheism by Poidevin, where he argues that a necessary fact cannot, by its very nature, explain a contingent fact. Will this chapter overcome that?

There is a huge swath of writing spent on establishing the PSR. I don’t know how I could evaluate this.

Pruss does in fact confront Poidevin’s argument, and sources it as coming from van Inwagen, who I think is a theist. This is in 2.3.2.1.

Pruss counters this by saying that something can explain both a fact and it’s negation. For example, take a person who gets cancer, and has a 5% chance of terminal cancer, and 95% chance of achieving health again. If the person gets cancer, Pruss claims that the statistical rule would explain both the cancer, and the attaining health again.

Can this really be true? This is a very important point, because a necessary fact would need to explain both the fact of the universe, as well as its absence. Since the necessary fact was always true, if it only explained the existence of the universe, then the effect would have to always be there too. If a necessary fact can’t explain a contingent one, then boom goes the argument. I’m not convinced that the example Pruss uses works. Do statistics really explain anything? It appears to be descriptive. There’s no causal relationship between the statistical rule and the recovery/death. It simply describes past rates of getting better. Moreover, I think Bayesian statistics would have to rule out the ability for something to both explain a fact and its negation. That would be like something coming from nothing.

Kindle Notes:

A cosmological argument takes some cosmic feature of the universe – such as the existence of contingent things or the fact of motion – that calls out for an explanation and argues that this feature is to be explained in terms of the activity of a First Cause, which First Cause is God (909).

A typical cosmological argument faces four different problems (911).

The first problem is that although some features, such as the existence of contingent things, call for an explanation, it can be disputed whether an explanation exists (912).

The second issue that must be faced in defending a cosmological argument is the Regress Problem – the problem of how to deal with an infinite regress of causes or explanations (919).

The third difficulty is the Taxicab Problem, coming from Schopenhauer’s quip that in the cosmological argument, the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR) is like a taxicab that once used is sent away (923).

The final difficulty for cosmological arguments is the Gap Problem. Granted there is a First Cause, but does anything of religious interest follow? (927).

The basic Leibnizian argument has the following steps: 1. Every contingent fact has an explanation. 2. There is a contingent fact that includes all other contingent facts. 3. Therefore, there is an explanation of this fact. 4. This explanation must involve a necessary being. 5. This necessary being is God (950).

The PSR states that every fact, or every contingent fact, has an explanation, and this is the standard tool in Leibnizian arguments for handling the Glendower and Regress problems (960).

What contemporary analytic philosophers have not sufficiently worked on – and what is perhaps the most promising avenue for future research – is the Gap Problem (2971).

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