Last week I began laying out the case for God’s existence. By way of review, here are the bullet points of that first phase of the argument:
- Anything that exists is either contingent (depends on something else for its existence) or necessary (does not depend on something else for its existence).
- Some contingent things exist (like plants, planets, animals, and people).
- The existence of these contingent things cannot ultimately be explained by other contingent things, since they also depend on something else for their existence.
- Therefore the existence of contingent things can only be ultimately explained by something that exists necessarily, something that does not depend on something else for its existence but rather inherently possesses existence.
A necessary being, in other words.
But just exactly what is this unusual being that exists necessarily? The universe? A vast collection of universes (a multiverse)? The laws of physics? In this post I want to advance the case for God’s existence by showing that none of these options will work.
But first, let’s think more carefully about the difference between something contingent and something necessary. Remember, contingent things depend on something else to exist. It isn’t necessary that they exist, or that they continue to exist. I am contingent – I began to exist because my mother and father conceived me, and I continue to exist because of functioning organs, oxygen, and nourishment (and coffee!). And some day, as nature takes its course, I will pass away.
So, contingent things depend on something else to begin to exist and to continue to exist. But what about a necessary being? Since that which is necessary doesn’t rely on something else for its own existence, it doesn’t come to be or pass away. It just is. You might say that it doesn’t simply possess existence; it is existence – it is that from which all contingent things ultimately derive their existence.
In other words, that which is necessary is eternal.
We can go a step further. Whatever this necessary and eternal being is, it cannot be made up of parts. Why not? Let me illustrate. It’s almost time for the holiday shopping season to begin. Maybe you have a child or a little brother/sister for whom you intend to buy a toy. If the box says, “Some assembly required,” what does that mean? It means that the toy has to be put together. In other words, the existence of the toy depends on two things: it depends on the parts in the box, and it depends on someone or something to assemble them. Or, if we described the toy with the jargon from the previous post, we would say that the toy is contingent on its parts and on its assembly.
But a necessary being by definition doesn’t rely on something else for its existence. There was never a time that someone found a box labeled: “Necessary Being (some assembly required)”! If a necessary being was made up of parts, it would depend on those parts to exist, and on someone or something to put them together. But then it wouldn’t really be a necessary being after all, just another contingent being. This means, therefore, that the necessary being can’t be composed of parts.
Consequently, that which is necessary must be immaterial.
Let’s pause and survey what we have deduced so far. The fact that contingent beings exist can only be explained by the existence of some necessary being. And whatever this necessary being is, it must be eternal and immaterial. With this line of reasoning we still haven’t fully made the case for God (as understood by the Abrahamic faiths), but we can start ruling out some of the options we listed earlier.
For instance, since this necessary being must be eternal and immaterial, it cannot be the universe, for the obvious reason that the universe is composed of parts – bits of matter. Since whatever is made up of parts is contingent rather than necessary, the material composition of the universe necessarily implies that the universe itself is contingent. We have arrived at this conclusion by deductive reasoning, but it also happens that the inductive methods of science agree with this logical analysis. Just two weeks ago a study released by a multinational collaboration of particle physicists reported that the peculiar nature of the material structures of our universe testify to the contingent nature of physical reality. As the lead author put it, “The universe should not actually exist.”
But of course, it does. And the question of why any contingent things exist at all has led us, step by step, to conclude that some necessary, eternal, and immaterial being exists. Something that the universe as a whole relies upon – is contingent upon – for its existence.
This also explains why the theory of a multitude of universes (the “multiverse”) doesn’t solve the problem of the existence of contingent things. Multiverse theory suggests that our universe is just one of many universes. But this hardly explains why any of these contingent universes exist. As one of the pioneers of the hypothesis (who is now a critic) acknowledges, multiverse theory doesn’t mean we have solved the problem of contingency; it means “we have just shifted the problem.” If anything, the multiverse hypothesis dramatically exacerbates the problem, since it posits many more material realities that – as such – are also contingent. (There are even more fundamental problems with identifying the universe or the multiverse as that which is necessary, which I will discuss next week.)
Nor does it help to appeal to the “laws of physics” as that which is necessary. Laws of physics are descriptions of how things normally operate given their nature. They are similar to the laws of mathematics (the language of physics). It is the nature of the number “two” and the nature of the operation of addition that 2+2=4. So, if I have $2, and you give me $2, I will have $4. The laws of mathematics can describe this transaction – but they do not cause it. The principles of arithmetic did not put $2 into my wallet, or cause you to give me $2 more. In the same way, the laws of physics can describe physical realities, but these laws do not cause them. The law of gravity, for example, describes the attraction between objects given their mass and the distance between them. But the law of gravity doesn’t explain why such objects exist in the first place. And this is true of physics in general. Physics provides powerful insights into why one contingent state of affairs can lead to another contingent state of affairs, but physics cannot answer the question of why it is that any contingent things exist at all. That is a question beyond the realm of physics.
Retracing our steps, we have demonstrated that the existence of contingent beings inescapably leads to the conclusion that some necessary being exists. And since it is necessary rather than contingent, it must be eternal and immaterial. Can reason and logic take us further? I believe so, but that will be the subject of the next post.