Leibniz’s argument for God’s existence

250th day of death of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibni...
Image of Wilhelm Gottfried Leibniz on a stamp (Image via Wikipedia)

My sermon last Sabbath was about what the Bible teaches about the purpose of man (we have a great booklet on that: Your Ultimate Destiny), and in it I spoke a bit against the abuse of logic and philosophy. But that does not mean I’m anti-logic or anti-philosophy in general. Actually, I’m very pro-logic, and even pro-philosophy as it’s most simply defined (courtesy of Dictionary.com: “the rational investigation of the truths and principles of being, knowledge, or conduct”). I’m currently working on a Tomorrow’s World telecast tentatively titled “Why Believe in God?” (offering The Real God: Proofs and Promises) and the logic behind concluding that there is a God is very much on my mind these days.

Recently I’ve enjoyed some podcasts from William Lane Craig’s website ReasonableFaith.org, and I think his book On Guard is pretty good. Being a debater and popularizer of philosophy, Craig has crafted his book with a focus on the practical side of logical argumentation, with some convenient charts explaining his arguments’ flow and illustrating how some objections are handled. For someone new to logical argumentation, the book is a good starter I think, and I might add it to my kiddos’ reading list (at least the older boys). While Dr. Craig and I would passionately disagree on a number of items concerning biblical doctrine, I appreciate the thinking he’s done on matters of proving the truth of God’s existence, the nature of time and knowledge, and defending the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

On the matter of arguing that God exists, I appreciate that he includes in his books an argument from Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz — not because the argument is special to me or anything like that. Rather, being the former Calculus teacher that I am, Leibniz is one of my old heroes and it’s nice to see his work on something even more important than Calculus (believe it or not) given some credit. (The crucial, uncredited role that Leibniz played in bringing about the end times Beast Power of Revelation is something I enjoy explaining on occasion–with tongue firmly planted in cheek, of course–and I may add that tale here to the blog one day.)

Here’s the essence (as I understand and summarize it) of Lane’s presentation of Leibniz’s argument for the existence of God, for your viewing pleasure…

  1. Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence.
  2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.
  3. The universe exists.
  4. The universe has an explanation of its existence.
  5. Therefore, the explanation of the universe’s existence is God.

The premises 1 & 3 lead to the conclusion 4, and 4 combined with premise 2 leads to the conclusion 5.

It’s a valid argument, in the sense that it is structurally solid and its conclusion would follow from its premises, but is it a sound argument–that is, is it also true?  Clearly, that depends on the truth of its premises.  No one would question premise 3–if they would, you could simply call it a day and take them out for some non-existent coffee. Consequently, the truth of the conclusion boils down to whether or not premises 1 and 2 are true.

The obvious objection one could bring up (and Craig mentions this) is that if one says that everything that exists has an explanation and if you are claiming God exists, then God, too, must have an explanation. (If you already thought of that, treat yourself to a cookie!)

However, this glosses over a subtlety in Leibniz’s argument that goes unstated in the formulation above–namely, that there are things that exist due to external causes and things that exist of necessity. God is not “caused” by anything–by nature, He exists necessarily.  This leads Craig to refine his statement of Leibniz’s argument making these claims explicit:

  1. Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause.
  2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.
  3. The universe exists.
  4. The universe has an explanation of its existence.
  5. Therefore, the explanation of the universe’s existence is God.

This narrows possible disagreements to arguing against premise 1–say, by claiming, say, that nothing can exist necessarily (essentially assuming God does not exist from the start), disagreeing that everything has an explanation of its existence (specifically, disagreeing that universe has an explanation for its existence)–or arguing against premise 2–say, by claiming that the universe exists necessarily.

Again, I’m fond of Leibniz (and look forward to meeting him one day), and it was nice to see him featured in this way. I prefer Dr. Craig’s Kalam argument, which I might mention in another post sometime, but here I thought I would give Leibniz some props. After the whole Newton/Calculus affair, it’s nice to give him some credit where he’s earned it. 🙂

6 thoughts on “Leibniz’s argument for God’s existence

  1. John Wheeler (Johanan Rakkav)

    I ran into the Kalam argument in Dr. Norman Geisler’s I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be An Atheist (a book I recommend overall, not least because it has the best layman’s summary of Trinitarianism I’ve seen yet, nice to have if you want to argue against Trinitarianism) and I look forward to what you post on that.

    Somehow the expansion of Leibniz’s argument seems incomplete to me still but today is not the day when I can figure out what questions I need to ask of it.

  2. Mr. Wheeler: Yes, I have Geisler’s book, too, and it really is pretty good. I actually made some handouts for a recent Bible Study on the reliability of the Bible from the material in his book on that topic. Good stuff. His refuting in that book of Hume’s argument against belief in miracles is, if I recall, very good.

    NotAScientist: Howdy and thanks for the question. While I didn’t necessarily present Leibniz’s argument here (or, rather, Craig’s presentation of it) for the sake of defending it, I’m happy to answer the question.

    The statement that God exists necessarily is valid by the accepted understanding of who God is (or, if needed by some, what “God” should represent). This is generally agreed to by both theists and atheists as it concedes nothing — rather it is simply a matter of establishing the definitions of the words to be used. For instance, an atheist can state, “If God exists then he or it or whatever must exist of necessity and not as something caused by something else.” In fact, an atheist might even use that definition to (attempt to) launch into a proof that such an entity cannot exist.

    So it isn’t necessary to take anyone’s word about anything — it’s just a matter of agreeing about what the word under discussion is supposed to mean. If you like, feel free to modify the sentence to say “If God exists, He is not ’caused’ by anything–by the nature of what ‘God’ is supposed to mean, He must exist (if He exists) necessarily.” After all, if you can prove that nothing exists necessarily (that is, if you can prove that all things must have contingent existence), then you have proven that God does not exist, because uncaused existence is part and parcel of the definition of God.

    Let me (over)explain one more way: Imagine I had said, “Unicorns never have two horns–by nature, they have only one.” I would not be asserting that unicorns exist, simply asserting that if one did it would not have two horns, else it would not be a unicorn.

    So, calm down… take a breath… and relax a bit. Have a soda. (Dr Peppers preferred on principle.)

  3. Thomas

    If you are going to challenge the premise that God is the First Cause of the Universe, then you have to be able to demonstrate that some other explanation is possible. Then it has to be shown that it is actually better than the God explanation.

    So far, no one has been able to settle on an alternate explanation that stands the test of time, so no one has seriously gotten to the second challenge.

    🙂

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