Taylor's Cosmological Argument for God's Existence


1.      There is some explanation (either known or not known) for everything

         a.      This is the principle of sufficient reason (=PSR)

         b.      It says “for every positive fact there is some reason, explanation, or cause for why it is so and not otherwise”

2.      Existence requires explanation (non-existence does not, though ceasing to exist does)

3.      The world's (i.e., the universe's) existence requires explanation (as much as would the existence of a huge translucent ball)

         a.      Even though one is not surprised by the world’s existence, it still requires an explanation

Two points Taylor makes to respond to possible objections:

(1) Postulating a beginningless world does not explain the world's existence

         --Even if the world has always existed, this fact requires explanation, since telling us how old something is--even infinitely old--isn't to explain its existence

         --Taylor is not denying the possibility of a beginningless world, but arguing that even such a world requires explanation

                  --Other versions of the cosmological argument (Kalam versions) deny the possibility of a beginningless world and use this to argue for God’s existence

                  --Kalam cosmological argument formulation (more details here)

                           --Premise One: Whatever begins to exist has a cause

                           --Premise Two: The universe began to exist

                           --Conclusion: Universe has a cause

                           --Note: This is not Taylor’s version

(2) God can be the creator of the world even if the world has always existed

         --Need to distinguish between two sense of creation/causation:

                  --Creation/causation as involving a preceding cause bringing something into existence for the first time

                           --If the universe has always existed, it has no such cause

         --Creation/causation as ontological dependence (e.g., the way a beam of light depends on a candle or a thought depends on a mind) and such dependence can exist even if the dependent being has always existed


4.      The reason for the world must either be within it or outside it; if it is within it, the world is a necessary (=independent) being, if it is outside it, the world is a contingent (=dependent) being

         a.      Examples of necessary truths (couldn’t fail to be true) versus contingent truths (are true, but might not have been)

         b.      4 types of beings

                  i.      Necessary beings: Couldn't have failed to exist; exist by their own nature; have their own reason for existence within themselves; have to be eternal (they can't come into being or perish)

                  ii.     Contingent beings: May or may not exist; depend on something else for their existence; perishable

                  iii.    Impossible beings: Cannot exist in virtue of their own nature

                  iv.    Eternal beings: Those that have always existed and will always exist (could be contingent or necessary)

5.      The world is a contingent being (it didn't have to exist), and so the cause/reason for its existence is outside it

         a.      Each particular thing in the world did not have to exist (they are all contingent)

         b.      It is possible that the totality of all things in the world might not have existed; this means the world is a contingent being

                  i.      This second claim (b.)–though plausible–does not follow from the first (a.); claiming it did would be the fallacy of composition (the false idea that because something is true of the parts/members, it must be true of the whole/group)

6.      That on which the world depends is itself either necessary or contingent (it either exists by its own nature or not)

7.      Postulating an infinite series of contingent beings as an explanation of the cause of the contingent world doesn't explain the existence of contingent beings (why things which might not have existed, do in fact exist)

         a.      And the PSR requires such an explanation

8.      Therefore, there must be a necessary being (which exists by its own nature and is not dependent on anything else) on which the world (the totality of contingent beings) depends

9.      This necessary being is God

         a.      To say God is a necessary being is not to say God is self-caused in the sense of is a preceding cause who brought him/herself into existence, for this is impossible (can you explain why?)

         b.      Instead, saying God is a necessary being is to say he is self-caused in the sense that God has his own reason for existing and does not depend on anything else

Study Questions on Taylor’s Cosmological Argument

1.       State Taylor’s cosmological argument in detail and as persuasively as you can. Do you think it is a successful argument? Why or why not?

2.      What is the principle of sufficient reason?

3.      Do existence, non-existence, and ceasing to exist all equally require explanation according to Taylor?

4.      Do you think it is possible the world could have always existed?

5.      If the world has always existed, does Taylor believe that means it does not need an explanation? That is, does his argument for God’s existence require that the world did not always exist?

6.      Why doesn't the possibility that the universe has always existed undermine the possibility of arguing that God must exist to explain the existence of the world?

7.      Why can't the world have come into existence without a cause or have always existed without any cause?

8.      What is the difference between creation as a preceding cause bringing something into existence and creation as ontological dependence? Give an example of each.

9.      What is a necessary being? A contingent being? An impossible being? An eternal being? Give examples. Is a necessary being an eternal being? Might a contingent being be eternal? Is the idea of a necessary being intelligible?

10.    According to Taylor, can God exist without a cause? Does Taylor think God is an exception to the principle of sufficient reason?

11.    What is problematic about the notion of God as a self-caused being in the sense of a being who brought him/herself into existence? In what sense does Taylor think God is self-caused?