The poverty of theistic cosmology

Philosophers have postulated the existence of God to explain (I) why any contingent objects exist at all rather than nothing contingent, and (II) why the fundamental laws of nature and basic facts of the world are exactly what they are. Therefore, we ask: (a) Does (I) pose a well-conceived question which calls for an answer? and (b) Can God's presumed will (or intention) provide a cogent explanation of the basic laws and facts of the world, as claimed by (II)? We shall address both (a) and (b). To the extent that they yield an unfavourable verdict, the afore-stated reasons for postulating the existence of God are undermined. As for question (I), in 1714, G. W. Leibniz posed the Primordial Existential Question (hereafter ‘PEQ’): ‘Why is there something contingent at all, rather than just nothing contingent?’ This question has two major presuppositions: (1) A state of affairs in which nothing contingent exists is indeed genuinely possible (‘the Null Possibility’), the notion of nothingness being both intelligible and free from contradiction; and (2) De jure, there should be nothing contingent at all, and indeed there would be nothing contingent in the absence of an overriding external cause (or reason), because that state of affairs is ‘most natural’ or ‘normal’. The putative world containing nothing contingent is the so-called ‘Null World’. As for (1), the logical robustness of the Null Possibility of there being nothing contingent needs to be demonstrated. But even if the Null Possibility is demonstrably genuine, there is an issue: Does that possibility require us to explain why it is not actualized by the Null World, which contains nothing contingent? And, as for (2), it originated as a corollary of the distinctly Christian precept (going back to the second century) that the very existence of any and every contingent entity is utterly dependent on God at any and all times. Like (1), (2) calls for scrutiny. Clearly, if either of these presuppositions of Leibniz's PEQ is ill founded or demonstrably false, then PEQ is aborted as a non-starter, because in that case, it is posing an ill-conceived question. In earlier writings (Grünbaum [2000], p. 5), I have introduced the designation ‘SoN’ for the ontological ‘spontaneity of nothingness’ asserted in presupposition (2) of PEQ. Clearly, in response to PEQ, (2) can be challenged by asking the counter-question, ‘But why should there be nothing contingent, rather than something contingent?’ Leibniz offered an a priori argument for SoN. Yet it will emerge that a priori defences of it fail, and that it has no empirical legitimacy either. Indeed physical cosmology spells an important relevant moral: As against any a priori dictum on what is the ‘natural’ status of the universe, the verdict on that status depends crucially on empirical evidence. Thus PEQ turns out to be a non-starter, because its presupposed SoN is ill founded! Hence PEQ cannot serve as a springboard for creationist theism. Yet Leibniz and the English theist Richard Swinburne offered divine creation ex nihilo as their answer to the ill-conceived PEQ. But being predicated on SoN, their cosmological arguments for the existence of God are fundamentally unsuccessful. The axiomatically topmost laws of nature (the ‘nomology’) in a scientific theory are themselves unexplained explainors, and are thus thought to be true as a matter of brute fact. But theists have offered a theological explanation of the specifics of these laws as having been willed or intended by God in the mode of agent causation to be exactly what they are. A whole array of considerations are offered in Section 2 to show that the proposed theistic explanation of the nomology fails multiply to transform scientific brute facts into specifically explained regularities. Thus, I argue for The Poverty of Theistic Cosmology in two major respects. Why is there something rather than nothing? 1.1 Refined statement of Leibniz's Primordial Existential Question (PEQ) 1.2 Is it imperative to explain why there isn't just nothing contingent? 1.3 Must we explain why any and every de facto unrealized logical possibility is not actualized? 1.4 Is a world not containing anything contingent logically possible? 1.5 Christian doctrine as an inspiration of PEQ 1.6 Henri Bergson 1.7 A priori justifications of PEQ by Leibniz, Parfit, Swinburne and Nozick 1.7.1 Leibniz 1.7.2 Derek Parfit 1.7.3 Richard Swinburne and Thomas Aquinas vis-à-vis SoN 1.7.4 The ‘natural’ status of the world as an empirical question 1.7.5 Robert Nozick 1.8 Hypothesized psychological sources of PEQ 1.9 PEQ as a failed springboard for creationist theism: the collapse of Leibniz's and Swinburne's theistic cosmological arguments Do the most fundamental laws of nature require a theistic explanation? 2.1 The ontological inseparability of the laws of nature from the furniture of the universe 2.2 The probative burden of the theological explanation of the world's nomology 2.3 The theistic explanation of the cosmic nomology 2.4 Further major defects of the theological explanation of the fundamental laws of nature Conclusion * Editorial note: Fifty-one years ago, Professor Grünbaum published his first paper in the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, in the issue for 1953. It was entitled ‘Whitehead's Method of Extensive Abstraction’ (British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 4, pp. 215–26). The Editor wishes to acknowledge Grünbaum's extraordinary achievement in philosophy of science and in particular the debt that this journal owes to so distinguished and productive an author. This essay originated in the first two of my three Leibniz Lectures, delivered at the University of Hanover, Germany, 25–27 June 2003.
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DOI 10.1093/bjps/55.4.561
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