Evaluating the argument

Read the two opening paragraphs, written by students in answer to the following question: “Science has replaced the need for God as the explanation for why there is a universe.” To what extent do you agree?

Discuss their successes and failures. Which one is best? Why? Discuss your ideas before reading the commentary

The cosmological argument – Page 5

Student A

student A

Student B

student B

Student A

The Cosmological Argument is associated with the great Catholic scholar St Thomas Aquinas, who lived in the Middle Ages, which was a time of great religious unrest. Aquinas wrote the ‘Summa Theologica’, in which he explained his famous Five Ways to prove the existence of God. The first three ways are forms of the cosmological argument. However, science has replaced the need for God as the explanation. The Big Bang explains everything about how the universe came into being. Quantum theory has also shown us that atoms can come into existence without a cause, so the universe also needs no explanation. Indeed, Hume was correct when he argued that infinite regress was possible and we cannot know anything about causes as they are empirically unverifiable. The universe requires a necessary being to account for contingent beings but it doesn’t have to be God. So therefore science is the explanation and there is no need for God. Russell was right –“It’s just there and requires no explanation.”

Apart from the irrelevant start to the answer and lack of any paragraphs, the answer consists of just a series of isolated statements. None are wrong in themselves but they do not form a coherent reasoned argument. There is no evaluating the strengths or weaknesses of the views. It is not clear that the student actually understands the arguments since some appear contradictory.

Student B

There are a number of arguments that draw the conclusion that God is the only explanation possible to account for the existence of the universe. The arguments have been varied including, Aquinas who appealed to the features of motion, cause and contingency as explainable either in terms of infinite regression or God. Since infinite regressions were impossible, he concluded that the explanation must be God. Similar arguments that derive from the view that the universe had a beginning equally conclude that God is the only viable answer. However, the idea of a God is, for many people, no answer at all, since it leaves begging the question as to what caused God. In addition the cosmological arguments have been challenged by a variety of criticisms such as the universe is just a brute fact or that infinite regression is possible.

For many there is a much simpler answer that science offers. Recent scientific theories have given support to idea that atoms can appear out of nothing and that the ‘Big Bang’ may have happened spontaneously, like atomic particles in a vacuum. ....

….However the scientific view is not without its difficulties. Hume had earlier pointed out the weaknesses of the empirical approach….....

Indeed, the case for God as an explanation may be more persuasive. For instance the argument that God requires a cause may be mistaken. God is not one more in a series but something outside of sequence….

Although by no means a perfect answer it has the structure that will lead the student to develop a reasoned argument. There is also clear evaluating taking place where the student is reflecting on the persuasiveness of the arguments.