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Samuel Clarkes Cosmological Argument

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Philosophy
Wordcount: 974 words Published: 27th Aug 2021

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In this essay I will show that while Clarke makes a strong claim that our experience establishes the existence of chains of dependent beings, and that the chain must be (a) caused by an aprioi cause or be an aspect of an infinite continuation of contingent beings which begins with a necessary/independent being; the argument does not justify the possibility of an independent, contingent deity that caused the universe. This conclusion will be supported by a string of critiques and a discussion of the argument’s objections.

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The Argument

Philosopher Samuel Clarke put forth a modern formulation of the cosmological argument taking a slightly different path than Aquinas’s famous cosmological argument. But like Aquinas, Clarke adopts the premise that all beings that we encounter must have causes. Contrary to Aquinas, Clarke differentiates between contingent and necessary beings. The contrast he draws is such that if a being owes it’s existence to a cause then it is dependent; otherwise it is independent. Our experience shows us that there are chains of dependent beings, but, as Clarke points out, they must either (1) be caused by a necessary being or (2) be an aspect of an infinite continuation of contingent beings which, as Clarke explains, either begins with a necessary/independent being or is part of an infinite series which exhausts the possible logical origins for any continuation of beings.

According to the above argument, if all continuations of contingent beings must be infinite or start with a necessary being, then Clarke, simply, is able to falsify infinte continuations and hence demonstrate the existence of an independant being. He calls the concept of infinite continuations “absurd,” as he follows another route to argue for a necessary being.

Clarke points out that the series, as a whole, of dependent beings requires an explanation. Since every individual entity of the series is contingent, the entire series taken as a single entity is contingent. Suppose, Clarke further explains, we take the set of dependent beings as part of a long series where each entity is depends on some previous entity for existence. Then the whole series contingent. But the series cannot be contingent on something outside the set of contingent beings. Thus, Clarke argues, there must exist an independant being to cause the series.

Criticisms and Objections

The existence of an entity can be explained in three ways: (1) It may be explained by another being, (2) it might be explained by itself, or (3) it may be explained by nothing. Now, the first two cases are accounted for in Clarke’s argument. Part (1) is a dependent being. Part (2) is an independent being. But part (3) is not accounted for in Clarke’s argument. This point is not sufficent to prove the soundness of the argument. Because it is possible that every existent entity depends on another in an infinte continuation of contingent beings. If this is true, every member of the series is accounted for and to explain the existence of the series, we must suppose an independent being. This leads to the conclusion that Clarke’s argument is only as good as his premise – every being requires a cause. Whether we accept that premise or not is a controversial topic. One could say that the premise is doubtful and not obvious at all. Also, one may argue that the premise is just an assumption that people make, this cannot be taken as a truth. This leads to the premise being questionable and then, by extension, so is the argument.

If, according to Clarke, there is cause for every existence, then one could object that what is the cause of the independent, contingent deity?

Another objection to the argument could be that, “necessary existence” has no meaning. If there were a necessarily existent being, it could be possible that the universe itself is that necessarily existent, independent, being, removing any need for a contingent deity as cause of the universe. Why is it not possible that the universe exists and always will from an infinite series of expansions, such as the big bang, and contractions?

Even if we suppose that there is an independent, contingent, being, the cosmological argument is lacking of all properties that humans attribute to the first cause of any religion. Clarke’s argument would be stronger if he ascribed the characteristics of our portrayal of God (all-good, all-knowing, all-powerful, etc) to his independent being.

Also, an infinite chain of objects, each caused by the prior object, does not require any explanation; the chain is explained by the conjoined explanation of its parts. Say we observe a continual stream of vehicles on a street and we are capable of explaining why each vehicle in the stream was there. The first vehicle bound towards work; the second vehicle’s destination is the mall, and so forth. It does not make sense to ask why there is a stream of vehicles on the street at all. Explaining each individual part of the stream suffices to explain the whole stream.2

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In sum, Clarke’s modern formulation of the cosmological argument proves to be as strong as his principal premise – all beings must have causes; and the acceptance of such a premise is arguable. The argument fails to stand up against the stream of objections and criticisms. Clarke does not sufficiently justify his claim that a collection of dependent beings is itself independent in his argument. William Rowe tried to strengthen and clarify Clarke’s account by explaining the role of ‘principal of sufficient reason’ in the argument, but concludes that the cosmological argument is only as strong as the principal of sufficient reason. Thus, the status of the argument remains uncertain.


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