The Argument from Contingency: A Brief Synopsis

Definitions:

Def 1: A contingent being is a being such that if it exists, could have not-existed or could cease to exist.
Def 2: A necessary being (or non-contingent being) is a being such that if it exists, cannot not-exist (and therefore could not not-have-existed and cannot cease to exist).

Note: I use ground-reason essentially to do the work of the German Grund, a word which neither the English “ground” nor “reason” sufficiently captures in meaning, since it unites the sides of being and knowing, the ontological and the epistemological, in one.

The Argument 

1. A contingent being C exists.
2. This contingent being C has a ground-reason for its existence.
3. If C were the ground-reason for C’s existence, C would not be a contingent being, but a necessary one, since C, as self-grounding, could not not-exist—contrary to 1.
4. Therefore, the ground-reason for C’s existence must be something other than C.
5. This ground-reason for C’s existence other than C must either be another contingent being or set of contingent beings alone or it must be or include a non-contingent (necessary) being N.
6. Contingent beings alone cannot provide a completely adequate ground-reason for the existence of any contingent being (neither ontologically as ground nor rationally as reason), so the ground-reason for C’s existence is not any contingent being or set of contingent beings alone.
7. Therefore, the ground-reason for the existence of contingent being C must be or include a non-contingent (necessary) being N.
8. Therefore, a necessary being N exists, because without such a necessary being N, C could not exist, contrary to 1.
9. The universe and every part of the universe is contingent (as is “the multiverse” and every part of it, if this concept is supposed to subsume “universe”).
10. Therefore, a necessary being N which is something other than the universe or one of its parts (or “the multiverse”), must be the ground-reason for its existence.
11. Therefore there exists a necessary being N which is the ground-reason for all contingent beings, including the universe or cosmos or multiverse, as well as all their parts, whatever they may be.
12. Et hoc omnes intelligunt Deum.

Commentary: 

Premise 1: This premise is empirical but evident. As long as anything at all exists which could have not existed or could cease to exist, it is a contingent being. It is obvious that physical beings are contingent.

Premise 2: This is simply a statement of the Satz vom Grund or Principle of Ground (usually expressed in English as the Principle of Sufficient Reason), although perhaps the Principle of Ground-Reason would be better as I use it.  This principle can be expressed negatively as “nothing happens or comes about FOR NO REASON.” It is a core principle about reality, that things cannot happen for no reason at all, just as it is about reality that a thing can’t both be and not be the same at the same time and in the same respect—and because Being is like this, thinking (which follows being) has the Principle of Ground and the Principle of Noncontradiction as basic first principles.

Premise 3: Evident. If C were its own ground-reason it could sustain itself in being and never cease to be, and would thus be a necessary being; but C is already posited in 1 as contingent, so it can’t be the ground-reason of itself.

Premise 4: Also evident. Since C is not its own ground-reason, the ground-reason of C must be something other than C.

Premise 5: By the Principle of the Excluded Middle, this something other than C is either fully contingent or contains a necessary being.

Premise 6: This is the premise that would take the most argumentative work to establish and to get clear about. Since in contingent beings, existence is a property that is “passed on” from another being, if a contingent being got its existence from another contingent being, that being would have to be either contingent or necessary. In this scenario in Premise 6, no necessary beings are in play.  So one would have to hold either that there is an infinite regress of contingent beings each passing on their being to another being and receiving it from the one before—most philosophers think the idea of an actual infinite is  absurd (conceptual or abstract infinites are not).  Or the passing on of existence would have to be circular, where A causes B to be and B causes C to be and C causes A to be.  This becomes more clear, perhaps, when we look at it from the side of explanation, as the reason for C: I want to explain how C got here, so I say C₋₁ explains C, but C₋₁ is explained by C₋₂ and it by C₋₃ and it by C₋₄ … infinitely C₋∞. But this “explanation” never actual explains anything. In simply passes the buck infinitely backwards.  It is as if I wanted to know the origin of a magic book that contains the secrets of the cosmos, and someone tells me he got it from his father, who got it from his father, who got it from his father … who … etc.  No matter how long you make this chain of fathers passing down books to sons, you never answer “Yes, but where did the book originate?”  We need something it terminate the infinite regress, where the “buck” of explanation can no longer be passed.  Similarly, it would be famous for the possessor of the book, Dave, to explain he got it from Mary, who got it from Josh, who, is it happens, got it from Dave. If I said to Dave, “Yes, I know Mary gave it to you, but where did it come from?” it would not do for Dave to say “I always get it from Mary, who always gets it from Josh, and I always give it to Josh. This circuit is itself the origin of the book.”

Premise 7: If it is correct, then, that the ground-reason for a contingent being cannot be nothing but other contingent beings, whether in the mode of an infinite regress (which is a non-explanation) or a circular explanation (which is a non-explanation), then it must be the case that there is a necessary being which terminates the regress.

Premise 8: Since C requires there be a necessary being N in order for C to be, and C is (premise 1) then there is an N.

Premise 9: The argument from 1-8 applies to every being without the universe, all of which are contingent, as well as the whole ensemble of contingent beings called the universe. A whole made entirely of contingent beings cannot itself be necessary, since it is susceptible to change—which a necessary being cannot be.  Someone might say that an inference from the things that make up the universe to the whole universe might be a fallacy of composition, but this cannot be the case, since the universe is an aggregate that contains contingent parts and therefore changes.

Premise 10: The same argument 1-8 reapplied to the universe as contingent. There must be something other than the universe, a necessary being N, which is the ground-reason for the universe.

Premise 11: So there is such a necessary being N which is other than the universe and is its ground-reason.

Premise 12: Bit of a joke. This is a variant of how St. Thomas Aquinas ends each of his Quinque Viae or “Five Ways” of proving the existence of God: “And this everyone understand to be God.”

As a piece of natural theology, the argument from contingency will indeed not get one straight to the Christian God—but then, it isn’t meant to. It will get is to “there is a being other than the universe such that it is the ground-reason for the universe’s existence and is in itself a necessary being, such that it has the ground-reason for its own existence in itself.

From there we can go on to flesh out what other things this entails about such a being: if we work through it will find out it is timeless, spaceless, unchanging, and perfect.

In other words, it is very certainly AT LEAST what Jews, Christians, and Muslims call “God, what Hindus call Brahman, what the Chinese call “The Tao,” what Plato knew as “The Idea of the Good,” Etc.

The argument from contingency isn’t enough to settle the theological question of what God is like, but it is enough to show that atheism is false and agnosticism unwarranted.

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Pascal’s “Memorial”

Upon Pascal’s death in 1662, there was found sewn into the lining of his coat a short piece of writing, which he carried with him in this manner at all times. This text has come to be known as Pascal’s “Memorial.”

A remarkable text by a great and deeply spiritual mind.

Pascal

Blaise Pascal

The year of grace 1654
Monday, November 23, day of Saint Clement, pope and martyr,
and others in the martyrology.
Vigil of Saint Chrysogonus, martyr, and others.
From about ten-thirty in the evening to about half an hour after midnight.
Fire.
God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and savants.
Certitude, certitude; feeling, joy, peace.
God of Jesus Christ. Deum meum et Deum vestrum.
“Thy God shall be my God.”
Forgetting the world and everything, except God.
He is only found by the paths taught in the Gospel.
Grandeur of the human soul.
“Just Father, the world has not known you, but I have known you.”
Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy.
I separated myself from him: Dereliquerunt me lantern aquae vivae.
“My God, will you abandon me?”
May I not be eternally separated from him.
“This is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and him whom you have sent, Jesus Christ.”
Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ.
I separated myself from him; I fled him, renounced him, crucified him.
May I never be separated from him!
He is only kept by the paths taught in the Gospel.
Total and sweet renunciation.
Total submission to Jesus Christ and to my director.
Eternally in joy for a day of trial on earth.
Non obliviscar sermones tuos. Amen.

The Blasphemous Arrogance of John Calvin

If the early Protestant Reformers all have one thing in common—it is questionable that we should take the doctrine of sola scriptura as something in common, since it led each of them to go his own individual way—it is their arrogance, specifically, the arrogance that led each of them to proclaim that he and he alone, since the time of the Apostles, knew what Christianity and the true teachings of Christ and the Apostles are.  Indeed, some seem in practice to subordinate the words of the Apostles to their own ideas, and some even the teachings of Christ Himself.  Needless to say, the thoroughgoing arrogance of the Reformers stands in marked contrast to the Christian humility of the Saints.

Fr. Josiah Trenham has some words about the arrogance of John Calvin in particular.  Traditionalist liturgical Christians should feel this words keenly. I ask my Protestant readers to consider whether they are fair:

Calvin

John Calvin

Calvin read and quoted many Holy Fathers. He admired St. John Chrysostom’s biblical commentaries and once had resolved to translate them into French. He was a devotee of St. Augustine, and quoted Ss. Cyprian and Athanasius and others frequently. However, his attitude towards them was not an Orthodox one. Here are his words,

Certainly, Origen, Tertullian, Basil, Chrysostom and others like them would never have spoken as they do, if they had followed what judgment God had given them. But from desire to please the wise of the world, or at least from fear of annoying them, they mixed the earthly with the heavenly. That was a hateful thing, totally to cast man down, and repugnant to the common judgment of the flesh. These good persons seek a means more in conformity with human understanding: that is to concede I know not what to free will, and allow some natural virtue to man; but meanwhile the purity of the doctrine is profaned.

Here is Calvin in all his arrogance and theological overconfidence. His accusations against the likes of Ss. Chrysostom and Basil the Great are that they were too worldly, too submissive to worldly powers, and not willing enough to defy merely human judgments.

These charges are ironic in that they apply far more to Calvin himself and the Protestant Reformers than to the Holy Fathers he attacks. Chrysostom and Basil were ascetic monks who were other-worldly, and show Calvin as still quite fixed to the earth by comparison. Who was the one who rejected tonsure and married? And that a widow? Who was the one so irascible that he could not bear to be contradicted? Who was the one who determined eucharistic practice by the judgment of civil powers? Who was the one who received a large salary from the state? Who was the one complicit in the execution of heretics? Who was the one who died in the comfort of his own home with the approbation of the wise of Geneva, instead of in harsh exile with the opposition of the emperor? That the Holy Fathers refused to articulate Calvin’s doctrine of predestination is hardly a sign of complicity with worldly men, but rather a refusal to articulate what does not have the support of the Holy Scriptures and the consensus patrum.

On the issue of authority Calvin, as the other Reformers, posited a vacuous doctrine of sola scriptura which provided insufficient hermeneutical authority to insure even the agreement of those who claimed to believe the same things. Calvin fought with the Anabaptists, the Zwinglians, the Lutherans, and the Roman Catholics, while claiming the Scriptures were clear. And, though he read the Holy Fathers extensively, Calvin judged them all by their level of agreement with him, imputing moral depravity where none objectively existed in order to justify their universal disagreement with him. This is self-serving and contradictory theology.

Whatever the excesses of Rome, a “reformation” that subjects the truth of the Christian faith to endless schisms based on the wildly variable opinions of human beings is not a reformation at all, but a deadly poison.  Is it any wonder, given this ruinous and unscriptural principle of sola scriptura, that Protestant Christianity has steadily “reformed” Christianity further and further away from itself and finally out of existence? Once you allow the deposit of faith to be changed to please the world, changed it will be; and once changed, it will no longer be the deposit of faith entrusted by Christ to His Holy Apostles.

As St. Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3-4:

3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths and fables.

Have any words ever described our own times so well?