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§ 2. The Cosmological Argument.

This is founded on the principle of a sufficient cause. Syllogistically stated, the argument stands thus: Every effect must have an adequate cause. The world is an effect. Therefore the world must have had a cause outside of itself and adequate to account for its existence.

A. Causation.

The validity and the meaning of this argument, depend on the sense given to the words effect and cause. If an effect be correctly defined to be an event, or product, not due to anything in itself, but produced by something out of itself; and if by cause be understood, an antecedent to whose efficiency the effect is due; then the conclusion is inevitable, that the existence of the world supposes the existence of a cause adequate to its production, provided it can be proved that the world is an effect, i.e., that it is not self-caused or eternal.

It is well known, however, that since Hume propounded his theory, all efficient causes have been discarded by a large class of philosophers. The senses take cognizance of nothing but the sequence of events. One follows another. That which uniformly precedes, we call cause; that which uniformly follows, we call the effect. As sequence is all the senses detect, that is all we have any right to assume. The idea that there is anything in the antecedent which determines the effect to be as it is and no otherwise, is altogether arbitrary. A cause, therefore, is nothing but an invariable antecedent, and an effect an invariable consequent.

Mr. Stuart Mill139139Logic, p. 203. modified Hume's definition of cause as Dr. Brown of Edinburgh had done before him. The former says, “It is necessary to our using the word cause, that we should believe not only that the antecedent always has been followed by the consequent, but that, as long as the present constitution of things endures, it always will be so.” So Dr. Brown140140Inquiry, p. 17. Edinburgh, 1818. says, “A cause in the fullest definition which it philosophically admits of, may be said to be that which immediately precedes any change, and which, existing at any time in similar circumstances, has been always, and will be always immediately followed by a similar change.” It is obvious that this definition is not only arbitrary, but that it is inconsistent with the fundamental principles of Hume's philosophy, and that of his followers, namely, that all our knowledge is founded on experience. Experience relates to the past. It cannot guarantee 209the future. If we believe that a given consequent always will follow a given antecedent, there must be some other ground for that conviction than that it always has done so. Unless there be something in the nature of the antecedent to secure the sequence of the effect, there is no rational ground for the belief that the future must be like the past.

The Common Doctrine on the Subject.

The common doctrine on this subject includes the following points. (1.) A cause is something. It has a real existence. It is not merely a name for a certain relation. It is a real entity, a substance. This is plain because a nonentity cannot act. If that which does not exist can be a cause, then nothing can produce something, which is a contradiction. (2.) A cause must not only be something real, but it must have power or efficiency. There must be something in its nature to account for the effects which it produces. (3.) This efficiency must be adequate; that is, sufficient and appropriate to the effect. That this is a true view of the nature of a cause is plain. (1.) From our own consciousness. We are causes. We can produce effects. And all three of the particulars above mentioned are included in our consciousness of ourselves as cause. We are real existences; we have power; we have power adequate to the effects which we produce. (2.) We can appeal to the universal consciousness of men. All men attach this meaning to the word cause in their ordinary language. All men assume that every effect has an antecedent to whose efficiency it is due. They never regard mere antecedence, however uniform in the past, or however certain in the future, as constituting a causal relation. The succession of the seasons has been uniform in the past, and we are confident that it will continue uniform in the future; yet no man says that winter is the cause of summer. Every one is conscious that cause expresses an entirely different relation from that of mere antecedence. (3.) This view of the nature of causation is included in the universal and necessary belief, that every effect must have a cause. That belief is not that one thing must always go before another thing; but that nothing can occur, that no change can be produced, without the exercise of power or efficiency somewhere; otherwise something could come out of nothing.

This subject is discussed by all the metaphysicians from Aristotle downwards, and especially since the promulgation of the new doctrine adopted by Hume141141See Reid's Intellectual Powers; Stewart's Philosophical Essays; Brown's Inquiry, and Essay on Cause and Effect; Sir William Hamilton's Works; Dr. McCosh's Intuitions of the Mind. It is one of the great services rendered 210by Dr. McCosh to the cause of truth, that he has defended the authority of those primary beliefs which lie at the foundation of all knowledge.

Intuitive Conviction of the Necessity of a Cause.

But admitting a cause to be not merely an invariable antecedent, but that to whose power the effect is due, “Ens quod in se continet rationem, cur aliud existat,”142142See his Ontologia, II. iii. 2. § 881. as it is defined by Wolf, it remains to be asked, What is the foundation of the universal belief that every effect must have a cause? Hume says it is founded on experience, and therefore is limited by it. We see that every effect within the sphere of our observation is preceded by a cause, and we may reasonably expect that the same is true beyond the sphere of our observation. But of this we know nothing. It would be presumptuous to determine from what takes place on our little globe, what must be the law of the universe. The fact that, as far as we see, every effect has a cause, gives us no right to assume that the universe must have had a cause. Kant says that the law of cause and effect is only in our minds. Men view things in that relation; but they have no assurance that that relation holds in the world outside of themselves.

The common doctrine of the schools is, that it is an intuitive truth, a first, or self-evident principle. That is, that it is something which all men do believe, and which all men must believe. There are no self-evident, intuitive truths, if the fact that they have been denied by one or more speculative philosophers be considered proof that they are not matters of universal and necessary belief. Personal identity, the real existence of the external world, the essential distinction between right and wrong, have all been denied. Nevertheless, all men do, and all men must believe these truths. The denial of them is forced and temporary. Whenever the mind reverts to its normal state, the belief returns. So the principle of causation has been denied; yet every man is forced by the constitution of his nature to admit it, and constantly to act upon it. A man may believe that the universe is eternal; but that it began to be without a cause — that it sprang out of nothing — it is impossible to believe.

We are reduced, therefore, to this alternative. The universe is. It therefore either has been from all eternity, or it owes its existence to a cause out of itself, adequate to account for its being what it is The theistical argument is, that the world is an effect; that 211it has not the cause of existence in itself, that it is not eternal, and therefore we are necessitated to assume the existence of a great First Cause to whose efficiency the existence of the universe is to be referred.

B. The World is an Effect.

1. The first argument to prove that the world as a whole is not self-existent and eternal, is, that all its parts, everything that enters into its composition, is dependent and mutable. A whole cannot be essentially different from its constituent parts. An infinite number of effects cannot be self-existent. If a chain of three links cannot support itself, much less can a chain of a million of links. Nothing multiplied by infinity is nothing still. If we do not find the cause of our existence in ourselves, nor our parents in themselves, nor their progenitors in themselves, going back ad infinitum is only adding nothing to nothing. What the mind demands is a sufficient cause, and no approach to it is made by going back indefinitely from one effect to another. We are forced, therefore, by the laws of our rational nature, to assume the existence of a self-existent cause, i.e., a Being endued with power adequate to produce this ever-changing phenomenal world. In all ages thinking men have been forced to this conclusion. Plato and Aristotle argued from the existence of motion, that there must be an ἀεικὶνητον ἑαυτὸ κινοῦν, an eternal self-moving power, or primum movens, as it was called by the Schoolmen. The validity of this argument is acknowledged by almost all classes of philosophers, at least so far as to admit that we are forced to assume the existence of an eternal and necessary Being. The theistical argument is, that if everything in the world be contingent, this eternal and necessary Being must be an extramundane First Cause.

B. Historical Argument.

2. The second argument is the historical one. That is, we have historical evidence that the race of man, for example, has existed only a few thousand years. That mankind has existed from eternity is absolutely incredible. Even if we adopt the development theory, it affords no relief. It only substitutes millions for thousands of years. Both are equally insignificant when compared to eternity. Darwin's germ-cell as necessarily demands a self-existing cause out of itself, as a fully developed man, or the whole race of man, or the universe itself. We are shut up to the conclusion that the universe sprang out of nothing, or that there is a self-existing, eternal extramundane Being.


Geological Argument.

3. The geological argument is to the same effect. Geologists as a class agree as to the following facts: (1.) That the extant genera of plants and animals inhabiting our earth, began to be within a comparatively short period in the history of our globe. (2.) That neither experience nor science, neither fact nor reason, justify the assumption of spontaneous generation. That is, there is no evidence that any living organism is ever produced by mere physical causes. Every such organism is either immediately created, or is derived from some other organism having life, already existing. (3.) Genera and species are permanent. One never passes into another. A fish never becomes a bird, nor a bird a quadruped. Modern theorists have indeed questioned these facts; but they still are admitted by the great body of scientific men, and the evidence in their favour is overwhelming to the ordinary mind. If these principles be conceded, it follows that all the extant plants and animals on the earth began to be. And if they began to be, they were created, and therefore there must be a Creator. These considerations are merely collateral. The main argument is the one first mentioned, namely, the absolute impossibility of conceiving either of an infinite succession of contingent events, or of the origin of the universe out of nothing.

C. Objections. Hume's Doctrine.

There are only two objections to this cosmological argument which need be noticed. The one is directed to the principle on which it is founded, and the other to the conclusion drawn from it. Hume begins his “Treatise on Human Nature,” by laying down the principle that the perceptions of the human mind resolve themselves into impressions and ideas. By impressions he means “all our sensations, passions, and emotions, as they make their first appearance in the soul.” By ideas is meant “the faint images of these in thinking and reasoning.”143143Treatise of Human Nature, Part i. § 1; Works, vol. i. Edinburgh, 1826. There can, therefore, be no idea which is not derived from some previous impression. This is the fundamental principle of his whole system. From this it follows that all our knowledge is founded on experience. We have certain impressions made by external things, and certain passions and emotions; these are the only sources of our ideas, and therefore of our knowledge. When144144 In Part iii. § 14. he comes to apply this principle 213to the nature and origin of our idea of causation, he says, all we can know on the subject is that one object or event is contiguous and antecedent to another. This is all we perceive; all of which we can have an “impression.” We have no impression of power, efficacy, energy, force, or whatever equivalent term we may choose to use. Therefore, there is no such thing. There is no such thing as efficacy or power either in mind or matter. When we use such words we have, he says, “really no distinct meaning.”145145Treatise of Human Nature, vol. i. p. 216. When we see events or changes in uniform sequence, we get the habit, or, as he says, “we feel the determination,”146146Page 219. to expect the consequent when we see its accustomed antecedent. Necessity, force, power, efficacy, therefore, are nothing but “a determination to carry our thoughts from one object to another.”147147Page 219. “The necessity of power, which unites causes and effects, lies in the determination of the mind to pass from the one to the other. The efficacy or energy of causes is neither placed in the causes themselves, nor in the Deity, nor in the concurrence of these two principles; but belongs entirely to the soul, which considers the union of two or more objects in all past instances.”148148Page 220. Hume was fully aware of the paradoxical character of his view of causation and of its far-reaching consequences, although he insisted that his argument in its support was unanswerable. In immediate connection with the preceding quotation, he says: “I am sensible, that of all the paradoxes which I have had, or shall hereafter have, occasion to advance in the course of this treatise, the present one is the most violent, and that 'tis merely by dint of solid proof and reasoning I can ever hope it will have admission, and overcome the inveterate prejudices of mankind”149149Page 220. What he calls inveterate prejudices, are really laws of belief which God has impressed on our nature, and which all the sophistry of philosophers can never subvert.

The conclusions which Hume draws from his doctrine show his appreciation of its importance. (1.) It follows, he says, from his principle that there is no difference between causes as efficient, formal, material, exemplary, or final; nor between cause and occasion. (2.) “That the common distinction betwixt moral and physical necessity is without any foundation in nature.” “The distinction which we often make betwixt power and the exercise of it, is equally without foundation.” (3.) “That the necessity of a cause to every beginning of existence is not founded on any arguments either demonstrative or intuitive.” (4.) “We can never 214have reason to believe that any object exists, of which we cannot form an idea.”150150Treatise of Human Nature, vol. i. pp. 226-228. By this fourth corollary, he has reference to such things as substance, from which we receive no impression, and consequently of which we can have no idea, and therefore cannot rationally believe to exist. The same may be said of God.

In the beginning of the following section,151151§ 15. Hume with a boldness almost unparalleled says: “According to the precedent doctrine, there are no objects which, by the mere survey, without consulting experience, we can determine to be the causes of any other; and no objects which we can certainly determine in the same manner not to be causes. Anything may produce anything. Creation, annihilation, motion, reason, volition, all these may arise from one another, or from any other object we can imagine. Nor will this appear strange if we compare two principles explained above, that the constant conjunction of objects determines their causation; and that, properly speaking, no objects are contrary to each other but existence and non-existence. Where objects are not contrary, nothing hinders them from having that constant conjunction on which the relation of cause and effect totally depends.”

If there be any such argument as the reductio ad absurdum, surely this theory of Hume refutes itself. (1.) He admits the trustworthiness of consciousness so far as “impressions" are concerned; then how can he reject the intuitions of sense, reason, and conscience? (2.) If we have no knowledge which is not derived from impressions, and no right to believe in the existence of anything of which we have not an idea derived from an impression, then we cannot believe in substance, soul, or God. (3.) For the same reason we cannot believe that there is any such thing as power or efficiency, or any difference between efficient and final causes, i.e., between the expansive force of steam and the intention of the mechanist who makes a steam-engine. (4.) In like manner, we must believe that something can come out of nothing, that there is no reason that what begins to be should have a cause, even an antecedent; and, therefore, that “anything can produce anything,” e.g., a human volition, the universe. (5.) He cannot even state his theory without contradicting himself. He speaks of one thing “producing" another. But according to his doctrine there is no such thing as production, because he denies that there is any such thing as power or efficiency.

It is universally admitted that we have no foundation for knowledge or faith, but the veracity of consciousness. This principle 215must be kept constantly in view, and must be often reiterated. Any doctrine, therefore, which contradicts the facts of consciousness, or the laws of belief which God has impressed on our nature, must be false. If, therefore, it can be shown that there are certain truths which men are constrained by the constitution of their nature to believe, those truths are to be retained in despite of all the arts of sophistry. If, therefore, it be a fact of consciousness that we ourselves are something, an ens, a substance, and that we have power, that we can produce effects, then it is certain that there is such a thing as power, and efficient cause. If, moreover, it be an intuitive and necessary truth that every effect must have a cause, that ex nihilo nihil fit, then it is absolutely certain that if the world began to be, it had an adequate cause of its existence out of itself. And, therefore, if the arguments to prove that the world is not self-existing and eternal be sound, the cosmological argument is valid and conclusive.

The Second Objection.

The other form of objection is directed not against the premises on which the cosmological argument is founded, but against the conclusion which Theists draw from them. It is admitted that something now exists; that nonentity cannot be the cause of real existence; therefore, something must have existed from eternity. It is also admitted that a regressus ad infinitum, or an eternal series of effects, is impossible. There must, therefore, be an eternal, self-existing Being. This is all the cosmological argument fairly proves. It does not prove that this necessary Being is extramundane, much less that it is a personal God. It may be an eternal substance of which things mutable are the phenomena.152152See Strauss' Dogmatik, vol. i. p. 382.

The cosmological argument is not intended to prove all that Theists hold to be true concerning God. It is enough that it proves that we must admit the existence of an eternal and necessary Being. Other arguments prove that that Being is self-conscious and intelligent. The argument, moreover, fairly proves that this Being is extramundane; for the principle of causation is that everything contingent must have the cause of its existence out of itself.

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