Contingency and Necessity

Theists say something created everything out of nothing. But was this something, this God, itself part of the nothing or part of the everything? If part of nothing, it is nothing. If not part of everything, isn’t it also nothing? On the other hand, if it is part of everything it cannot be the creator of everything since that would require creating itself. If something can create itself then everything can create itself, and there remains no way to distinguish something from everything.

Theists counter by maintaining that the something, God, is unlike everything in one very important respect. It differs from everything in that God is a “necessary being” while everything (else) is “contingent”. Contingent here refers to things which interact in a causal chain with other things. A creates B, B creates C, C creates D in this interaction of cause and effect. Thus A, B, C and D are “contingent”. But if A is contingent then something must have created A.

Ah, but if A is God then nothing created A. The causal chain is broken by saying that A is a “necessary” being — which means, simply, uncaused. God’s existence doesn’t require the existence of anything else.

But is this anything other than a word game?

The Two-Way Street

The first problem is that causality is a two-way street. Effects have causes, but those causes have to be the sort of thing which can make those effects happen. Causality, in short, is an interaction. Which means that for God to be capable of interacting with the physical world in a way which enables God to create and move things, God must be contingent or have some contingent component. Declaring God “necessary” makes God incapable of creating contingent things or else renders God an inexplicable being who has both contingent and non-contingent parts which can’t possibly interact.

Theism can’t escape from this dilemma. Either God has no contingent aspect and therefore can’t be the source of the world’s contingency — can’t be the Creator — or else God has both contingent and non-contingent aspects and the problem of the “impossibility” of an infinite series of causes gets shoved into God’s nature. This last leaves a God who begins as an uncaused necessary being but in some unexplainable way transforms into a contingent being capable of engaging in a causal chain.

If something unmoving could be the cause of movement, theists would have a chance. But something which doesn’t move or change can’t move or change other things. Nor can it transform itself into something which moves and changes.

The Logical Necessity of the Series

The only way out for the theist is to claim that with God they are talking about a different kind of causality: logical causality, not contingent or historical causality. For example, the members of a series (e.g.: “the generations of Homo sapiens”) cannot exist unless as a matter of logical necessity the series itself (Homo sapiens) already exists. God must create the series (Homo sapiens) since the series is logically necessary before the individual contingent members of the series (generations of individual Homo sapiens) can exist.

But notice that it makes no difference whether the series contains finite or infinite members: the series as a whole stands in the same logical relationship to its members either way. The series of Homo sapiens could contain contingent Homo sapiens connected in a causal chain for all infinity, and the existence of the “series” would still be logically necessary before it could be assigned any members.

Put another way, if members of a series exist (no matter how many or few) then by logical necessity the series itself must exist.

But this line of argument fails to get us to God. For if everything in the physical universe is part of a contingent series, the series itself which by logical necessity must exist is not “God” but rather “the universe”. The argument only demonstrates that by logical necessity if anything in the universe exists, the universe must necessarily exist.

The Author of the Series

But I imagine theists arguing that I have missed the point here. For their point is that there must be a mental source for this abstract category that constitutes the series itself, and this is so whether the series is “Homo sapiens” or “the universe.” A member of a series cannot be the author of the series itself of which it is a member. (The series is logically precedent to its being populated with members, in other words).

But this crashes for the theist. It crashes because we only have to imagine a series which also includes God. If God is a member of a series then God cannot — by the same reasoning — be the author of the series of which God is a member.

Do such series exist? Absolutely. There is the series of “deities and Gods worshipped by humans.” More to the point, there is the series of “everything that exists.” If God is a member of that series, then God cannot be the author of the series. If God is not a member then God does not exist.

In fact, series are only descriptions of like or related things, and the author of these descriptions and series is not God but us. Logical relationships and “necessities” apply only to our thoughts and not to the actual physical things we think about.

Consider, for example, the series which contains “the generations of Homo sapiens.” If we follow the causal chain of that series backward in time we find H. sapiens imperceptibly changing into H. erectus then H. habilis then Australopithecus. If we look back far enough eventually we find members of the series are no longer discernable even as primates but only as mammals, further back still and they are no longer mammals but vertebrates and so on until eventually we leave even the animal kingdom behind.

Physical reality is not constrained by the logical categories we choose for describing it. And those logical categories owe their existence and logical necessities not to God but to us. They prove our existence, not God’s.

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10 Responses to Contingency and Necessity

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  3. I liked how you argued, but I think you missed something. Contingency is not dependence or relation; it only means that something could or could not exist. We say God is necessary, not because we are playing a stupid word game, but because if God were contingent then he wouldn’t be infinite. He doesn’t need to create himself in order to have created everything else. He doesn’t need to be contingent in order to relate to us, because his essence is to exist. Infinite series does not refer to chronology, but to rather to the importance of the cause. Just think about it. . .if everything were contingent then how could we end up where we are from an infinite series. Contingency broke the necessity chain, not vice versa hahaha. Read some Aquinas. You have your terms totally confused lol.

  4. komal kumar says:

    I completely agree with Matthew Weatherford. You are conceptually wrong about contingency and necessity. i like your arguments though.

  5. extian says:

    @ Matthew Weatherford – All you have to do is replace the word “God” with the word “universe” and your argument falls apart.

    If everything were contingent there would be no problem with ending up “where we are from an infinite series” – just as there is no problem with moving a finite distance within an infinite plane. The universe (in one form or another) may indeed be infinite, meaning it, and not God, is necessary.

  6. Pingback: Contingency and Necessity | Atheology | Skeptic Griggsy

  7. Thus, I now introduce the Dwight- Lamberth argument from logical necessity that either God is a part of the series and thus, cannot be the Creator or else is outside it, and thus cannot exist as ignosticism/igtheism/ theological non-cognitivism argue.
    Aquinas’ superfluity argument refutes his own and others’ ways to God!
    I make explicit what is already is implicit in our literature, naming them and giving names to others’.
    [Hans] Reichenbach’s argument from Existence is that as it is all, then no transcendental creator lies outside it nor matter whence it come
    And in line with what most physicists claim, [Peter Adam] Angeles’ infinite regress argument claims that cause, event and time presuppose previous ones. No need for a Creator.
    Along with the Flew-Lamberth the presumption of naturalism, Lamberth’s the ignostic- Ockham[ These two with Aquinas’ eviscerate Him as needed for any kind of explanation.], the previous four arguments, we naturalists eviscerate theism.
    Please vet these arguments.
    By Googling these arguments, one will find more information about them.

  8. Then there exists the Dwight-Lamberth argument from history or contingency as you describe it.
    And we keel haul the [ Alexander] Smoltczyk argument that God is neither a principle nor a being nor an entity but the ultimate explanation; but as you note, He’d need a contingent aspect, and without being that person or entity, He could not instantiate Himself as that explanation!
    Theists, in trying to overcome some objection, end up making other nonsense, it seems to me.

  9. Dwight, there exists now the Dwight argument from the Unmoved Mover that the Prime Mover cannot be God, because as immovable He could not cause change! You rank high! And that argument refutes the Kalam!
    God cannot be timeless and then be in time to create! You could debate WLC successfully, with this argument, knowing his Gish gallop.
    He is so credulous that he takes as true what uncorroborated writers with uncorroborated stories as corroborating the Resurrection!

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