An Iron-Clad Proof of God
by Rabbi Adam Jacobs
A few months back I had the pleasure of watching the film “In Our Own Time,” a surprisingly engaging documentary about the Bee Gees. Toward the end of the film, Barry Gibb mused that even a few years back you wouldn’t be caught dead putting on a Bee Gees record, but now they were slowly making their way back to the public’s embrace. It occurs to me that (in some ways) philosophical argumentation is like pop music — moving in and out of cycles of favorability and that what was once “uncool” can be rediscovered and mined for its wisdom anew. What is known as the Cosmological Argument (Prime Mover) is a case in point. Far from being outdated, obsolete or refuted, it continues to sing its compelling tune of logic and reason for those who are willing to properly understand it — and aren’t too cool to spin the classics.
The argument has enjoyed a diverse and multicultural history and has been expounded by many, including: Aristotle (pagan), Al-Gazali (Muslim) who in turn influenced Aquinas (Christian) and Maimonides (Jewish). The Al-Gazali formulation (though it will be rejected) goes like this:
- Whatever begins to exist has a cause;
- The Universe began to exist;
- Therefore, the Universe had a cause.
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Aquinas further modified the argument to assert that the universe need not have existed and, inasmuch as that’s true, it is entirely contingent — something that is not necessary or intrinsic. He therefore held (unlike Al-Gazali) that even if the universe has always existed, it nonetheless owes its existence to an un-caused cause which he understood to be God.
Perhaps you will now suggest that there may be an infinite series of contingent causes (and therefore no need to evoke a Prime Mover or un-caused Cause). The theological philosopher Edward Feser has done a great job explaining this facet of the argument (and the argument as a whole) in his book The Last Superstition. By way of analogy, he has the reader envision a hand which is holding a stick which is pushing a stone. Would it be accurate to suggest that the stick is pushing the stone? Not really, as the hand is doing the pushing. But what allows the hand to push in the first place? The arm, which in turn is dependent on the muscles which are dependent on cells which are dependent on molecular structure which is dependent on atomic structure which is dependent on the primary forces of gravitation, electro-magnetism and the weak and strong nuclear forces which are dependent on … what? What we’ll see is that even if there were an infinite series of contingent causes such as these, we would still need a final, un-caused cause to get the ball rolling. Without it, nothing could unfold as nothing would have started the process…
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