AQA RS Key Cosmological Argument Essay
(a) Explain Key Criticisms of the Cosmological Argument. (30 marks)
For each strength of the cosmological argument, there is at least on weakness. Due to the fact that many of these counter arguments arose after Thomas Aquinas died, it is only natural that there are many more of them.
One of the key criticisms of Thomas Aquinas' first 3 ways (argument from first cause, unmoved mover and contingent/necessary beings) is that they all commit Bertrand Russell's fallacy of composition - Aquinas stated that since everything he has seen in his life was: created from something else (way 1), moved by something else (way 2) and relied on something else for its existence (way 3) then that means that this is true for the universe as a whole.
Simultaneously, then, Aquinas faces David' Hume's problem of induction (specifically hasty generalisation) since he creates a conclusion about the billions of objects in the universe from the proportionally minute amount of objects he has experienced in his life. It is important to note however, that one could argue the opposite and say that it is the fallacy of 'slothful generalisation' to ignore the observation of every object you have seen in your life, and therefore the argument against the cosmological argument here can be seen as weak. Expanding this argument further however, and you could take David Hume's strong empiricist view that even if you make a conclusion about everything you've seen in your life, you can only make a conclusion about those objects in the present, and cannot draw any conclusions about their origin or state in the past (or future).
Bertrand Russell also makes the argument that there is no more reason to state that 'God' was the necessary being, unmoved mover and first cause than there is to state that the universe itself is a 'brute fact' and created itself, since in both cases there is no explanation for how or why god or the universe came to be so spontaneously and unexplainably. In other words, the universe is what Leibniz was looking for as the 'sufficient reason'.
Science also provides evidence that conflicts with the cosmological argument. For example, spontaneous particles that come into existence with seemingly no cause (as explained in Stephen Hawking's "The Grand Design") suggest that matter can indeed come into existence without something causing it (criticising the idea of a 'necessary being').
The cosmological argument also relies heavily on a posteriori knowledge and thus opens itself up to the usual weaknesses that comes along with such knowledge - our senses can perceive things incorrectly and perhaps we are not observing existence, causation or movement at all.
Alternatively, we could state that we as humans do not have the capability of fully understanding existence and so cannot pass judgement on what does exist or does not (the same goes for movement and contingency) and doing so is fallacious.
It is also important to make the point that although the cosmological argument creates an argument for the existence of a first cause or unmoved mover, it does not create an argument for a personal god, let alone specifically the monotheistic Christian one (as Aquinas argued) and so the 'god' referred to in the cosmological argument could easily be a temporal first cause like the Big Bang.
Lastly, an infinite regress of causation is a plausible explanation of our existence, with counter arguments to this such as Zeno's Paradox (of the Achille's and the Tortoise) being explained and disproved mathematically.
(b) 'The weaknesses of the cosmological argument far outweigh its strengths.' To what extent do you agree with this view?
Although there are indeed many weaknesses of the cosmological argument, there are also many strengths that could convince a person (as billions have shown) to believe in God.
The fact that the argument bases itself around simple and seemingly inarguable a posteriori premises: that everything we see was once something else, or moved by something else, or relies on something else for its existence, is a great strength of the argument (since everyone can appreciate and understand these ideas without too much thought).
The idea that there needs to be, as Leibniz claimed, a 'sufficient reason' for everything in the universe is also an appealing one as there seems to be a clear explanation for most things in our lives (so why wouldn't there be one for our existence?).
Similarly, Ockham's razor favours the most simplest answer, and for those that lead their lives under this rule, the cosmological argument is a convincing one: "God did it" is one of the simplest answers you can give.
Lastly, Zeno's paradox provides a very convincing argument for why infinity doesn't exist and cannot be the explanation of our existence, even though it has been explained mathematically.
Considering the above, then, and the fact that the cosmological argument has been convincing people into religions for centuries, it can be concluded that although the weaknesses of the cosmological argument are for more convincing once you study them, (and therefore far outweigh the strengths), in terms of real world application, the weaknesses of the argument find strength in the fact that they are the simplest and easiest to teach to others.
The answer to the question therefore depends on what characterises the 'outweighing" of the strengths and weaknesses.