Aquinas' Cosmological argument

Revision cards on the cosmological argument

HideShow resource information
  • Created by: Lucy64
  • Created on: 23-03-13 11:40

The Cosmological Argument

There are 5 ways: unmoved mover, uncaused causer, contingency, gradation and teleology

 3 'ways' form the Cosmological argument.These are:



3)Contingency and Necessary Being

Each way has 'premises' to explain the way. These are basically linked thoughts to form a conclusion for the argument


The Cosmological argument is an a posteriori argument

1 of 12

Way 1: Motion

The unmoved mover:

1) Everything is moved by something else

2) The mover must be moved by something else

3) You cannot have an infinite chain of movers or there would be no reason

4) Therefore there must be an unmoved mover producing movement in everything

5) This unmoved mover is God

Ways 1 and 2:

  • Nothing takes place without a sufficient reason
  • If there's a sufficient reaosn for something, we have to be able to trace back to something that does not depend on anything else. Aquinas says this is God.
  • God is pure act (he is perfect)
2 of 12

Way 2: Causation

The uncaused cause:

1) Everything has a cause

2) Every cause has its own cause

3) You cannot have an infinite number of causes

4) Therefore there must be an uncaused cause which causes everything to happen without itself being caused by anything else

5) Such an uncaused cause is what is understood as God

Aquinas observed that nothing can be the cause of itself as this would mean that it would have to exist before it existed.

3 of 12

Potentiality, Actuality and cause

1) Wood has the potential to become hot. It is not currently hot but it has the potential to be.


2) Fire, an external source is needed to cause the wood's change of state from cold to hot.

Aquinas believed that you couldn't have potentiality and actuality at the same time.
By efficient cause, he means the cause is necessary.

Aquinas is saying that there must be a first efficient cause of everything. 

4 of 12

Weaknesses of ways 1 and 2

  • There is no consideration of infinite regression which can be evident in this world e.g. in maths with numbers and mirrors placed opposite each other
  • What could have caused God? Surely if God has always existed it contradicts Aquinas' argument against infinite regression and in favour of sufficient reason. How can God have always existed if one thing always is the casue of another, Who's to say God is any different to this rule
  • There is no proof that the unmoved mover or uncaused cause is God
  • His argument makes an 'inductive leap of logic' it is logical but then jumps to the conclusion that it must be God without any proof
5 of 12

David Hume's bus criticism of the argument

1) The bus

  • If you're waiting for a bus and stick your hand out, we assume that the cause of the bus stopping (The effect) is putting your hand out.
  • We should not conclude that one effect always has one cause. Can we assume that one cause will always have the same effect?
    Should we assume that everything has a cause that works with an effect?

Anscombe argued against this criticism in favour of Aquinas' argument:

  • Existence must have a cause without believing that a particular effect has a particular cause
  • Just because we don't know the cause doesn't mean to say it doesn't have one
6 of 12

David Hume's other criticism of the argument

2) The Fallacy of Composition:

  • Just because humans have a cause we can't jump to saying that the universe has a cause
  • Is it necessary for the whole universe to have a cause just because everything within the universe has a cause
7 of 12

Way 3: Contingency and Necessary Being

1) Ordinary things exist and later stop existing (these are called contingent or finite things)

2) At some time none of them were in existence

3) Something comes into existence by being caused by something else

4) Therefore there must be a being whose existence is necessary and therefore not limited by time. This Necessary Being is what people understand by God.

Necessary BeingGod, always existed, everything else depends on this
Contingent Being: Has a start and an end, depends on the Necessary Being e.g. humans


8 of 12

Criticisms of Way 3

J.L Mackie questioned Aquinas' argument for Necessary Beings :

    • Aquinas assumes that anything which does not have the essence of existence requires the existence of a Necessary Being
    • Mackie asked why people should accept this assumption?
    • You could equally argue that there is a permanent stock of matter whose essence did not involve existence from anything else
    • Aquinas gives no reason why God should be the Necessay Being

Bertand Russell and Frederick Copleston debated the cosmological argument in 1943.
Copleston looked at way 3 and reformed it. Russell said that Copleston and Aquinas' argument didn't fully explain the universe. 

9 of 12

Copleston vs Russell debate


    • I support the principle of sufficient reason in the full sense- not just the cause of something, but a complete explanation of why we have something rather than nothing
    • It is still important to investigate and look for the cause of existence
    • A Necessary being is needed as an infinite number of contingent events aren't sensible.This is because an infinite number of contingent beings would just stretch back infinitely, and such a chain of causes makes no sense as they are contingent and cannot cause themselves. Therefore a Necessary being is needed
    • No object is the reason for its own existence therefore neither can the universe be the reason for its own existence. There must be a Being outside of the universe that is the sufficient reason for the universe
    • A physicist still sees the sense in investigating the causes of events, even if the cause isn't found. just like a detective presupposes that there is some sense in looking for the cause of a murder
10 of 12

Copleston vs Russell debate continued


    • I don't think that we can understand the whole chain of events or a complete explanation for the universe
    • There isn't a cause for everything- why must the universe have a single cause?
    • The concept of cause we derive from observing things in the universe.I see no reason to suppose that the world as a whole must have a cause
    • In physics there is proof that not everything has a cause, such as quantum transitions in atoms
    • Just because every human has a mother, we shouldn't assume that the human race has a mother
    • I should say that the universe is just there and that's all
11 of 12

Key definitions for the cosmological argument

Cosmological: The study of the universe
A posteriori argument: An argument known from experience
Unmoved mover: The first thing that sets everything in the universe into motion
Uncaused causer: The first cause that is the cause for everything else in the cosmological argument
Potentiality and Actuality: The potential to achieve something and when the potential is achieved
Pure act: Our perfect unchanging ever existing God
Contingent Being: Something who's existence is not necessary and depends on something else for its existence
Necessary Being: Something which always exists and cannot fail to exist, it is often associated with God
Infinite regression:  Something that has no beginning or end
Sufficient reason: Aquinas' and Copleston's idea, sufficient reason could explain the existence of the universe. It is something which is true and to which no further explanation can be added.

12 of 12


No comments have yet been made

Similar Religious Studies resources:

See all Religious Studies resources »See all Philosophy resources »