The philosophical tradition abounds with attempts to prove the existence of God through both empirical and metaphysical arguments. Theologians and philosophers present five different arguments for the proof of God: the argument from contingency, the argument from design (teleological argument), the ontological argument, the argument for God as a presupposition of value and morals, and the argument for proof by religious experience. The arguments from contingency and design both center on the state of the world and shall be the focus of this paper.
An argument based on empirical evidence must be consistent with that evidence. The physical reality presupposed in the cosmological and teleological arguments defies modern physics' conception of the laws of nature which include quantum mechanics and relativity. These breakthroughs shattered the principal concepts of the Newtonian world view: "the notion of absolute space and time, the elementary solid particles, the strictly causal nature of physical phenomena, and the ideal of an objective description of nature" (Capra 61).
Saint Thomas Aquinas and Richard Taylor present the two formulations of the cosmological argument considered in this paper. This argument claims that "change in the world implies the existence of that which is unchanging, and that the contingency of all things implies something must exist necessarily" (Porter 128). This results from the refusal to accept the possibility of an infinite regress-a chain of causation that in infinite in length. Proponents of this theory assert that this chain must end somewhere and that it ends at God.
Aquinas segments his argument into five separate contingencies. First, he observes that there exist, in the universe, objects in motion. Modern science certainly does not disagree; the problem arises with his second premise: "whatever is in motion is put in motion by another" (Aquinas 143). Aquinas concludes that, since all motion must be caused by the motion of another object, there must be a Being who started all motion to end the infinite regress. This Being he calls God.
However, his assertion that motion requires an object to start that contradicts quantum theory. The law of the conservation of momentum claims that "the total momentum of a system of particles remains constant when the resultant external force acting on the system is zero" (Serway, 224). If the system in question is the universe, there exist no external forces. So the universe must maintain a constant total momentum. If two objects spontaneously appear so that their momenta add to zero, this law is not violated, and motion creates itself. This occurs every day in particle accelerators around the world. Einstein's equation, E=mc2, claims a duality between matter and energy. Thus, given sufficient energies, these particles spontaneously appear and conserve momentum.
Secondly, Aquinas observes the nature of causality, though I will defer this discussion to Taylor's formulation, which deals more thoroughly with the nature of efficient cause. Next, Aquinas notes the contingent relationship of possibility and necessity. This argument discusses the transience of existence. "We find in nature things that are possible to be and not to be. But it is impossible for these things to always exist, for that which is possible not to be at some time is not. Therefore, if everything is possible not to be, then at one time there could have been nothing in existence" (Aquinas 144). He assumes that, if nothing existed, it would be impossible for anything to exist now. Since objects clearly exist now, something must have existed eternally-he defines this Being as God.
The shortcoming with Aquinas' argument lies in his presupposition that everything currently existing can be thought of to not exist. The non-existence of all objects constitutes a vacuum in space, devoid of all particles and energies. Quantum field theory demonstrates that this zero energy can be conceptualized as combinations of positive and negative energies that sum to zero (Schone). Therefore, even in a vacuum, there exist different energies. Atoms, apple trees, planets, solar systems, and all other physical objects from the microscopic to the macroscopic could be thought of not to exist. But, as a result of the laws of physics, field energies exist eternally and transgress the temporal constraints that Aquinas places on existence. Combining Einstein's matter-energy duality with these field energies, particles spontaneously appear and can generate all of the physical objects in our universe.
Aquinas also assumes an infinitely old universe. Even in the absence of field energies, it would take an infinite amount of time for his conception of an empty universe to be actualized. Astrophysicists provide strong evidence for a the big bang model of the universe. By measuring the recession velocities of distant galaxies, astronomers extrapolate backwards in time to a point where the all the matter in the universe existed in an infinitely small volume. Calculations place this event at approximately 15 billion years ago. Theoretical models of the big bang indicate that heat should be left over from the explosion. In the 1960s, physicists experimentally verified this heat in the form of background radiation bombarding the earth from outer space. The formation of stars and planets requires the existence of accretion disks generated by the uneven energy distributions predicted by the big bang. If this evidence correctly proves the big bang model, Aquinas' argument must be rejected as inconsistent with a finite universe.
The fourth of Aquinas' proofs represents Plato's argument of forms and, since not refutable by modern science, lies outside the scope of this paper and shall not be considered. Lastly, Aquinas argues from the motion of natural bodies. Aquinas notes that "things which lack intelligence act for an end, and this is evident in their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way" (Aquinas 144). This view reflects the Aristotelian notion of objects possessing a preferred state of rest. This argument collapsed in the seventeenth century with the development of the science of mechanics. "Newton's laws explain the motion of material bodies perfectly adequately in terms of inertia and forces without the need for divine supervision" (Mind 200). With the advent of the deterministic laws of mechanics, an appeal to God becomes superfluous. We can predict that objects will fall to the earth by the theory of gravitational attraction and have no need to invoke God. This argument also raises the issue as to whether or not objects act towards ends, which shall be discussed more thoroughly in the context of the teleological argument.
Richard Taylor presents a modern formulation of the cosmological argument using the contingency of cause to show that a prime mover must be required by the universe. He bases his argument on the assumption that "there is some sort of explanation, known or unknown, for everything" (Taylor 146) and scientific developments explicitly refute this claim. Causal relationships exist in our everyday experience. Theologians claim that all causal chains cannot go back infinitely and must therefore stop at God. But the concept of a causal chain requires an absolute notion of time-the cause must precede the effect.
Imagine a man who bounces a ball while inside a moving train. He measures the distance the ball travels as twice the distance from which he drops it. An observer watching this event from a reference frame in which the train moves sees the ball travel not only twice the distance it is dropped, but also sees the ball move forward with the train. The two observers establish two different distances that the ball traveled-space is relative. Relativity also establishes that the speed of light is constant in all directions and confirms this experimentally. The relativity of space and invariance of the speed of light combine to reject absolute time: "Since the speed of light is just the distance that it has traveled divided by the time it has taken, [given absolute time] different observers would measure different speeds for the light. In relativity all observers must agree on how fast the light travels. They still, however do not agree on the distance the light traveled, so they must therefore now also disagree over the time it has taken" (Brief 21). Relativistic time shows that different observes disagree as to which event precedes another, making it impossible to determine causality.
Relativity also claims that time slows down in the presence of massive bodies and in reference frames that approach the speed of light.. These observations lead to the conclusion that time cannot be separated from the spatial elements which constitutes the modern concept of the space-time continuum. Suppose a physicist asserts that the big bang happened. A theologian counters "What caused the big bang?" Big trouble now awaits the theologian. "It is meaningless to talk about God creating the universe in the causal sense, if that act involves the creation of time itself" (New Physics 38). This was even recognized by St. Augustine in Roman times when he observed that "time was a property of the universe that God created, and that time did not exist before the beginning of the universe" (Brief 8). If the big bang created the space-time continuum, we cannot rationally discuss the cause of the big bang since there was no time in which this cause could have happened.
Probability represents another argument against causation. When a meteorologist predicts a sixty percent chance of rain, s/he asserts not knowing whether or not it will rain. That asserts uncertainty, not probability. With better computers, more data, or more refined techniques, meteorologists would report that rain as certain or impossible. The everyday experience with probability grounds itself in lack of complete knowledge of a system, not mathematical probability. True probability relates the likelihood of an event given complete knowledge about the system.
Modern physics claims that there exists an improbability inherent in certain events, even given all the information. A quantum process such as the creation of matter has no physical cause. "An individual particle will come into existence abruptly and unpredictably, at no specially designated place or moment" (New Physics 35). The probability of this event can be known to a high degree of accuracy in particle accelerators, but the creation of particles is probabilistic and not governed by any physical laws. Electrons exist not as point charges, but as probability distributions in atoms. Relativity, quantum mechanics, and the big bang all provide evidence against the causal relationships presupposed by Aquinas and Taylor.
Proponents of the first cause argument often find themselves arguing circularly. They assert that everything had a cause and that God was the initial cause. When asked what caused God, they say God has existed eternally. Given the premise that everything has a cause, they have violated their own constraints. By allowing an uncaused God, why is it any more implausible to accept an uncaused universe? Without the requirement of a first cause, their arguments for God or a prime mover encounter serious difficulties.
The teleological argument also seeks to prove the existence of God. Articulated by William Paley in Natural Theology, the argument goes as follows:
"In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there: I might possibly answer, that, for anything I knew to the contrary, it had lain there for ever; nor would it, perhaps be very easy to show the absurdity of this answer. But suppose I found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place. I should hardly think of the answer I had given before-that for anything I knew, the watch might have always been there" (154).The proponent of the design theory argues from nature that the world "exhibits clear evidence of design and, where there is design, there has to be a designer" (Orken).
Should the composition of the earth's atmosphere vary slightly, all life on earth would be destroyed. Should the sun be closer or further from the earth, life would not exist. Life forms possess exactly what they need to thrive in their environments. Paley finds all this too coincidental to have not been planned by a supernatural being.
This argument clearly had more force before Darwin's publication of The Origin of Species. Darwin proposed natural, not supernatural processes can develop the order in the world. Evolution embodies the concept that we adapt to our surroundings in order to preserve ourselves. "To be surprised that animals are well adapted to their environment would be like finding it uncanny that all Olympic winners are good athletes" (Porter 129). Should this not be the case, animals would not exist in the first place. Viruses become immune to antibodies to preserve themselves. Eskimos possess higher body fat than Africans in order to retain the heat they require for survival. Examples abound of living organisms adapting to their environments. They have to.
The anthropic principle states that "in a universe that is large or infinite in space and/or time, the conditions necessary for the development of intelligent life will be met only in the certain regions that are limited in space and time. It is a bit like a rich person living in a wealthy neighborhood and not seeing any poverty" (Brief 124). The reason that the universe demonstrates the characteristics that is does is that, if the circumstances were anything else, we would not be here. The anthropic principle posits that the laws of physics are a necessary condition for human existence. Paley asserts that physical laws are a sufficient condition for life. "It is not that the environment was made suitable to [us], but that [we] grew to be suitable to it" (Russell).
Furthermore, the teleological argument assumes that design exists in the universe. Scientists agree that local systems exhibit order, but disagree that the entire universe contains such order. But the second law of thermodynamics states that "the entropy of an isolated system always increases" (Brief 102). For this law not to be violated, an observed increase of order must correspond to a greater increase in disorder. Building a house constitutes a localized increase or order, but the energy dissipated in its construction still maintains an overall increase in disorder.
Critics claim that we must discard the entropy argument because of evolution. They argue the evolution of Australopithecus afarensis into a Homo sapiens increases order with no corresponding decrease. However, evolution preserves this law by the "damaging mutations weeded out by natural selection. Today's beautifully fashioned creature sit atop a family tree festooned with genetic disasters" (New Physics, 166).
Hume attacks this argument bases on the fact that Paley makes it by analogy. Logic defines a weak analogy as "an informal fallacy that occurs when the conclusion of an argument depends on an analogy that is not strong enough to support the conclusion" (Hurley 655). Two objects sharing some similar characteristics do not necessarily share all characteristics. The strength of the inference makes the analogy, but analogies do not offer proof, merely strong inferential claims. If the universe did have design, its parallels to the watch may end there.
Despite all of the evidence levied against these arguments by science, many people still choose to believe in God. These arguments possess an intrinsic aesthetic beauty, even though developments in science advocate their abandonment. Aquinas' ability to write his treatise in the Middle Ages must be commended. He worked within the current scientific framework, and breakthroughs that he could not have possibly anticipated unfairly diminish the strength of his work. The cultural norms of the period predicated what his argument and conclusion would be; God constituted the entirety of medieval existence. Taylor's conception of causation fits our everyday experience and, aside from the obscurity within which physicists work, seems quite sound. Paley never heard of Darwinism and never had a chance to respond to its claims. All three of these figures remained consistent with their notions of the world.
However, the issue of truth does not concern itself with their ignorance. Whether people actually encounter relativistic time or entropy does not matter; modern science supports these constructs. Objections must be directed towards science itself. Is science entitled to deal with issues of religion and faith? Science represents, not reality, but our conception of reality. It is an abstraction. "A theory is just a model of the universe. It exists only in our minds and has no other reality" (Brief 9). We observe not just nature, but in a postmodernist manner, nature as exposed to our method of investigation. The uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics asserts that an observer cannot gain information of a system without disturbing it. To measure the position of an object, a photon of light from my eye must bounce of the object, thus changing its position and momentum.
Furthermore, science can never be proven. Any physical law makes an inductive claim. Every time that I drop an object, it falls to the earth. I therefore assume that, the next time I drop an object, it will fall to the earth. Scientific knowledge promises no certainty as does the laws of mathematics. One counterexample disproves an entire theory. Or at least requires that it be refined. The nature of scientific discourse raises questions as to why it should be accepted over religious claims.
If faith and reason clash, why should science win? My answer to that is that I can verify it. I reject the arguments for the existence of God because they contradict my understanding of the world. Philosophers have proposed that my senses deceive me, that empirical information cannot be trusted. I see these objections as arbitrary and made to generate something novel to write about or to further a cause they might have that disagrees with just this empirical evidence. Mystical revelations form the basis of many religions and, to many, justify belief in God. But these mystical revelations are no more than sensory perception, either; reject science and one must reject revelations as well.
Galileo built his heliocentric model of the solar system on Jupiter's moons orbit of Jupiter. It showed the earth was not the center of all motion. The members of the Church refused to look through his telescope for fear that their senses would blind them of the truth of the geocentric model. What else do we have but our sensory perceptions and our ability to make observations? Would we perceive poverty as bad without seeing starving people on the streets? Granted the reality of sensory perception, he only real limits of science lie in what has not yet been discovered. To say that God reigns over every natural event could also "never be refuted, in the real sense, by science, for this doctrine can always take refuge in those domains in which scientific knowledge has not yet been able to set foot" (Einstein). But just as I no longer need God to explain the rising and setting sun, I have full confidence I will one day be able to explain consciousness and life through strictly mechanistic terms. As unappealing as it may be, there seems no good reason why it should not be true.
The concept of God seems unnecessary to me. Given the laws of science, why do I have any need for God? A French mathematician named Laplace recorded the motions of all of the celestial bodies using Newtonian mechanics and presented his work to Napolean. When asked why he made no mention of God in his work, he allegedly replied "I have no need for that hypothesis." Logical empiricists condemn the God hypothesis as untestable and therefore meaninglesds. Of course theologians and philosophers could always say "that the laws of science are the expression of the will of God" (Black 137), but what does this accomplish?
Where is God? We learn more and more about nature and don't see him. "No God in math. No God in science. We have not seen or measure Him with microscope or telescope" (Kosko 277). Given the arguments for God, the best I can do is wonder why the laws of science are what they are. "We see the universe the way it is because if it were different, we would not be here to observe it" (Kosko 270). Regardless of the veracity of science, and its bearing on reality, both the cosmological argument and teleological argument rest on scientific presuppositions. Modern science makes the arguments unsound. If science must be rejected altogether, that arguments are still unsound. Though the validity of the arguments seems convincing, an unsound argument always ends up valid. By disproving an argument for the existence of God, I cannot disprove the existence of God. But I can reject the arguments and search for more information.
1. Aquinas, St. Thomas. "Summa Theologica". Porter 143-4.
2. Capra, Fritjof. The Tao of Physics. Boston: Shambhala, 1991.
3. Davies, Paul. God & the New Physics. New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1983.
4. ibid. The Mind of God. New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1992.
5. Einstein, Albert. "Religion and Science". New York Times Magazine 9 November 1930: 1-4.
6. Hawking, Stephen. A Brief History of Time: from the Big Bang to Black Holes. New York: Bantam Books, 1988.
7. ibid. Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays. New York: Bantam, 1993.
8. Hurley, Patrick J. A Concise Introduction to Logic. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1997.
9. Kosko, Bart. Fuzzy Thinking: The New Science of Fuzzy Logic. New York: Hyperion, 1993.
10. Onken, Orrin R. Big Dummies Guide to Theology, Philosophy, and Ethics.
11. Paley, William. "Natural Theology or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity". Porter 154.
12. Porter, Burton F. Religion & Reason: An Anthology. New York: St. Martin?s Press, Inc., 1993.
13. Russell, Bertrand. Why I am Not a Christian. National Secular Society, South London Branch. Battersea Town Hall. 6 March 1927.
14. Schone, H E. Professor of Physics, College of William & Mary. Personal Interview. 21 April 1997.
15. Serway, Raymond A. Physics for Scientists and Engineers with Modern Physics. Philadelphia: Saunders College Publishing, 1986.
16. Taylor, Richard. "A Reformulation of the Argument from Contingency". Porter 146. [an error occurred while processing this directive]