An Argument for the Contingency of the Universe


My roommate is not a philosophy major, but is interested in philosophical issues. He proposed an a posteriori argument to me for the contingency of the universe that was inteteresting:

1. Necessary beings cannot fail to exist; contingent beings can fail to exist. (definition)
2. The 2nd law of thermodynamics states that the amount of available energy in closed systems decreases. (from empirical considerations)
3. This implies that the universe as a whole (a closed system) will one day cease to exist.
4. Therefore the universe is a contingent being. (from 1 and 3)

If this argument were valid it would hook in rather nicely with the “vertical” cosmological arguments for God’s existence given by Aquinas and Leibniz. A revized version of the Leibnizian argumetn goes like this:

1. Everything has some reason for its existence either in the necessity of its own nature or in the nature of another. (Assumption, called the principle of some reason; notice it is not the principle of SUFFICIENT reason, which states that everything has a sufficient reason for its existence)
2. If the universe has a reason for its existence in another nature, that nature is God. (Assumption. Actually, it might just be a label. That is to say, we could label whatever is “the reason for the universe’s existence” as “God”)
3. The universe is a thing that does not have a reason for its existence in the necessity of its own nature. (Assumption)
4. Therefore the reason for its existence in the nature of another. (from 1 and 3 by negation of the 1st side of the disjunct in premise 1)
5. Therefore the universe’s explanation is God. (from 4 and 2 by affirming the antecedent of 2)

The most controversial premises seem to be 2 and 3. 2 is actually something most atheists would probably admit. But premise 3 is where the buck stops with atheists. Usually they will say that the universe had to exist. But if my roommate’s argument is right, this premise is true. If the universe could have failed to exist, then it is not a necessary being, and so it does need an explanation.

Well, does the argument my roomate gave succeed? Sadly, the findings of physical cosmology imply that (3) is not a valid inference from (2). According to most, the universe will be expanding forever, not collapsing back in on itself. The particles of matter will not become so drawn to each other that the universe will implode. And thus, there isn’t proof here for the contingency of the universe.

But careful consideration leads me to suspect there is another possible way to argue for the contingency of the world. Quantum mechanics is, of course, a much-debated subject. There are various interpretations of it, and so those who disagree with a certain way of looking at it will not agree with the conclusions that are arrived at.

Let us assume that quantum indeterminacy is ontic. By this I mean that the unpredictable and erratic movements of the particles that make up protons, neutrons, and electrons are in fact indeterministic in their movement and operations. Some people just think that quantum indeterminacy appears true; that there is a gap of some sort in our knowledge of the forces that influence the particles, and that if we knew all the forces that influence the particles, we would realize that the operations of these particles is indeed deterministic.

Now what follows if we assume ontic indeterminacy? It seems that the contingency of the universe is an implication:

1. Quantum indeterminacy is ontic (assumption–a common one at that)
2. At the first few fractions of a second after the big bang, the movement of the initial particles that made up the universe could have been such that the universe collapsed in on itself.
3. Therefore the universe is contingent.

This seems like a good argument. I’m not 100% sure it works because you can always challenge premise 1; but for those scientists who believe in premise 1, it seems that premise 3 follows. Thus it supports the contingency of the world (and by implication the existence of God).


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