Proceedings of the XXII World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 45, 2008

Philosophy of Religion

Stanley Tweyman
Pages 357-364

A Humean Criticism of the Cosmological-Ontological Proof

In Part 9 of David Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, a series of five criticisms is presented against the Cosmological-Ontological Proof of God’s necessary existence. In essence, the Cosmological-Ontological Proof seeks to establish that that the chain of causes and effects that constitutes the world, despite being eternal, requires a cause, in virtue of the contingency of the chain and its members. The argument attempts to defend the position that, of the four possible causal explanations for the chain of causes and effects -a contingent being that exists outside the chain; chance; nothing (in the Aristotelian sense of this term); or a necessarily existent being-only the latter can be successfully defended, leading to the conclusion that the cause of the world is a necessarily existent being. Of the five criticisms directed against this argument in Part 9 of the Dialogues, the fourth of these is the one that is most neglected in the literature: it is this criticism that I have selected for discussion in my paper. This criticism holds that since the causal chain is held to be eternal, it cannot have a cause, given that causal relations require temporal priority in the cause in relation to the effect, and that the effect be a new existent. However, since the Cosmological-Ontological Proof insists on the contingency of the causal chain as a whole and of each of its members, the fourth criticism is not regarded as a relevant criticism, inasmuch as all contingent beings require a cause in order for them to exist, and this includes the eternal causal chain that constitutes the world. In my paper, I attempt to support the fourth criticism of the Cosmological-Ontological Proof, by establishing that, in the context of this argument, the contingency of the causal chain and its members is not sufficient to establish that the chain must have a cause.