Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Origin of the Universe -- A Historical View

Whereas cosmology is the study of the universe, cosmogony answers the question as to how the universe first came to be, and that word is derived from the Greek cosmos (universe) and gonia (come about). Historically, theories based on reason and observation, but leading to the conclusion that the universe was made by a Creator, have included the cosmological argument, the teleological argument, and the anthropic principle.

The cosmological argument is a metaphysical argument for the existence of God as a first cause or first mover of the universe. The teleological argument, or argument from design, is an argument for the existence of God or a creator based on order or perceived purpose. The more modern anthropic principle is a variation of the teleological argument, and it examines the extreme complexity of the human organism and the highly delicate balance of conditions necessary for human life, and posits that it is infinitely unlikely that such conditions could have happened randomly.

Variations of the cosmological argument were advanced by the Greeks Plato and Aristotle. Plato argued that motion in the world and in the cosmos was "imparted motion" that would have required some kind of "self-originated motion" to set it in motion and to maintain the motion. Aristotle also put forth the idea of a first cause, often referred to as the "Prime Mover" or "Unmoved Mover" in his work Metaphysics. Meanwhile, variations of the teleological argument were advanced by the Roman Cicero, who utilized the familiar "clock in the wilderness" scenario. "When you see a sundial or a water-clock, you see that it tells the time by design and not by chance. How then can you imagine that the universe as a whole is devoid of purpose and intelligence, when it embraces everything, including these artifacts themselves and their artificers?" (Cicero, De Natura Deorum, ii. 34)

St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that, with respect to the universe and its origin, the existence of God can be proved in five ways. The first and more manifest way is the argument from motion -- whatever is in motion is put in motion by another. The second way is from the nature of the efficient cause. There is no case known (neither is it, indeed, possible) in which a thing is found to be the efficient cause of itself; for so it would be prior to itself, which is impossible. The third way is taken from possibility and necessity. The fourth way is taken from the gradation of perfection to be found in things. The fifth way is taken from the governance and design of the world. (Summa Theologica, I, q. 2, art. 3)

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