Cosmological Argument | tutor2u Religious Studies

The word 'cosmos' refers to the universe as an ordered, harmonious and holistic entity. The Cosmological argument therefore argues for the existence of God a posteriori based on the apparent order in the universe.


Central to Thomism – the life work of St. Thomas Aquinas (1225 – March 7, 1274) is the idea that Philosophy can help us come to a better understanding of Theology – the study of God. Aquinas thus asked the question: is it obvious that there is a God? His answer was no – since such a concept is beyond all direct human experience. He then asked the question: can it be made obvious? Aquinas believed that, since the universe is God's creation, evidence of God's existence can be found in his creation using intellect and reason. Aquinas therefore devised his 'Five Ways,' five a posteriori proofs for the existence of God based on our empirical experience of the universe.


The Cosmological argument is based on the first three of Aquinas' Five Ways

1) THE ARGUMENT FROM MOTION (The 'Kalam' argument)

• Everything in the world is moving or changing

• Nothing can move or change by itself

• There cannot be an infinite regress of things changing other things

• Therefore there must be a Prime Mover (or changer)

• This is called God


• Everything in the world has a cause

• Nothing is the cause of itself

• There cannot be an infinite regress of causes

• Therefore there has to be a first cause to start the chain of causes

• This first cause we call God


• Everything in the world is contingent (can either exist or not exist)

• If things can not exist, there must have been a time when they did not exist

• If everything in the world can not exist, there must have been a time when nothing existed

• Things exist now so there must be something on which we all depend which brought us into existence

• This necessary being we call God


Fredrick Copleston reformulated Aquinas' argument by concentrating on contingency. He proposed his argument in a BBC radio debate in 1947:

1) There are things in this world that are contingent – they might not have existed e.g. we would not exist without our parents
2) All things in the world are like this – everything depends on something else for it's existence
3) Therefore there must be a cause of everything in the universe that exists outside of it
4) This cause must be a necessary being – one which contains the reason for it's existence inside itself
5) This necessary being is God


F.C. Copleston proposed his Cosmological argument in a famous BBC radio debate with Bertrand Russell. Russell however refused to accept the notion of a necessary being as one that cannot be thought of not existing, and concluded that the regress of causal events could not be held responsible for the existence of everything in the universe:

“what I am saying is that the concept of cause is not applicable to the total"

Just because each human has a mother does not mean the entire human race has a mother. He reduced the universe to a mere, brute fact, of which it's existence does not demand an explanation.

“I should say that the universe is just there, and that's all."

Russell saw the argument for a cause of the universe as having little meaning or significance. He established it as a “question that has no meaning" and thus proposed: “Shall we pass on to some other issue?" Copleston's response to Russell's refusal to accept the importance of the issue was to claim:

“If one refused to sit at the chess board and make a move, one cannot, of course, be checkmated."


Hume was famous for recognising when a line of argument disobeys the rules of logic and instead of moving from one step to the next makes a great leap. To move from 'everything we observe has a cause' to 'the universe has a cause' is too big a leap in logic. This is the same as saying that because all humans have a mother, the entire human race has a mother.

Hume maintains that the Cosmological argument begins with familiar concepts of the universe and concludes with not-so-familiar concepts beyond human experience. For Hume, God's existence cannot be proven analytically (by definition), since the definition of God's nature is not knowable. Hume concludes that it is not possible to prove the existence of a being who is unknowable and existentially different from all other beings.


Immanuel Kant, in 'Critique of Pure Reason,' opposed the theory that a chain of cause-effect events can be set in motion from outside the realm of the physical universe. The cause-effect relationship is observed within the confines of the spatio-temporal world, and therefore any talk of the causal cycle stretching beyond the empirical world is non-sensical.

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