The Argument from Poultry


We’ve all heard it.  “What came first, the chicken or the egg?”  At first, it seems like it must be the chicken.  It’s the adult and lays eggs.  Therefore, it’s causally prior and came first.  “But wait!” cries the proponents of eggism, “chickens come from eggs; hence the chicken is dependent on the egg for its existence.  The egg is first.”  I’m sure the chicken-first theorists would then retort akin to eggs are contingent objects and require a reason for their existence, presumably chickens, as the birds mate to create  eggs…  *Sigh.

It speaks for itself.

The proverbial riddle is obviously a quintessential instance of circular reasoning.  However, there is a way to get out of this dilemma.  What the eggist and chickenist fail to distinguish is that both chickens and eggs are contingent, meaning they don’t exist out of necessity like mathematical statements or other abstract objects.  It is conceivable to think chickens and eggs could’ve not existed.  In other words, in some possible world, there could have been no chicken and eggs.  Simply, one can’t be posited over the other as causally primal, especially in an Aristotelian sense as eggs and chickens are both the efficient and material causes of each other.

Then, for the sake or argument, let us say the actual world is filled with just chickens and eggs.  As both are tokens of a type, call it contingent beings, another ontological category logically is needed to explain the existence of poultry, lest we fall into vicious circularity.  There must be a necessary being or First Cause.  Such a conclusion is what theists have been contending all along.

Moreover, this necessary being cannot either be a necessary chicken or egg.  Both notions are logical absurdities.  Something can’t simultaneously be contingent and necessary.  Secondly, as necessary and non-contingent upon anything, the necessary being must have agency or freedom of the will.  Eggs certainly don’t, and necessary abstract objects don’t either.  Chickens are a little more difficult to determine, but it’s equally hard to argue that they do.  So at the very worst, it’s a stalemate, and as contingent, chickens still need a cause.

The Cosmological Argument from Poultry

Here’s my best attempt at a formal formulation of the quaint argument:

1) In any world W, iff chickens exist, then they are the cause of eggs.

2) In W, iff eggs exist, then they are the cause of chickens.

3) Chickens and eggs both exist in W.

4) Therefore, they are the causes of each other.

5) Given 4, to say the chicken or the egg came first is logically circular.

6) Therefore, there must be an external cause of poultry in W.

7) Poultry only exists in W.

C) There must be a causeless cause outside of W for poultry to exist.

*It should be noted this could formulated as an argument from contingency.  I do above argue using contingency and necessity although not formally like I do with causal efficacy.

Cluck, cluck,

Modus Pownens

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Gottfried Leibniz’s Argument From Contingency


Hi folks,

I’ve realized all my substantive posts are responses prompted from a video on YouTube or something going on in the Internet.  It’s easy to draw inspiration from these things, and it’s always been fun for me to analyze and attempt to tear down someone else’s arguments.  I know that sounds terrible, but in my defense, I like the intellectual challenge of such an endeavor, not so much the poo-pooing on someone’s beliefs for self-vindication.  I do confess I must perpetually look in to ensure that is not my motivation to write this blog.  I want to be on here for the right reasons, and flexing the intellectual abdominals for the sake of my gratification ought not be among them.

That is why I want to offer something available for criticism to get the dialogue, well, dialoguing.  It’s fair and it’s a more representative way to showcase all our mettle, I think.  Hence, I’m going to present one of the arguments I find compelling for my theism, especially when I haven’t explicitly expressed which ones I do feel are provocative.

Leibniz, in all his hairy glory, pondering why there "is something rather than nothing."

I’m a proponent of cosmological arguments, and in my humble experience, the ones from contingency are the strongest.  As the title above reveals, I’ll be discussing German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz’s contribution to this storied argument.  I will use YouTuber Theologica37’s videos to help, which I admit, were of great inspiration for this post.  But let it be noted, I have studied the argument for my own in philosophy courses.

The Pre-game Show

For starters, I need to explain some terminology central to Leibniz’s argument.  First up are contingent and necessary beings.  Contingent beings are ones that require an external explanation for their existence.  In other words, they are finite, can change and have not always existed.  Contrarily, a necessary being does not have an external explanation, but exist due to the necessity found within its essence.  Its justification is inward, not outward.  Moreover, a necessary being is not dependent on anything for its existence, is immutable, and if it exists, it must have always existed.

Already embedded within these terms is Leibniz’s Principle of Sufficient Reason, which is as follows: everything that exists has reason for doing so, either in an external explanation or within the necessity of its own nature.  Leibniz puts it this way,

And that of sufficient reason, by virtue of which we consider that we can find no true or existent fact, no true assertion, without there being a sufficient reason why it is thus and not otherwise,[1]

YouTuber Theologica37’s video (below) goes into more detail.  Caution: he is heavy in the philosophical jargon, so it may not be for everyone.

The Main Event

Voila, here it is!

1)  At least one contingent being exists.

2)  This contingent being has a sufficient reason for its existence.

3)  A contingent being can’t be its own sufficient reason.

4)  Either another contingent being or a necessary being is the sufficient reason.

5)  There can’t be an infinite chain of contingent beings because a quantitative infinite is impossible.

6)  A necessary being must be the ultimate sufficient reason for the contingent being.

Therefore, a necessary being exists.

Possible Objections

It’s valid with the conclusion following from the premises, and premise 1 is uncontroversial and intuitively obvious.  If anything, Rene Descartes’ Cogito—I think, therefore I am— is solid justification for it.  It also should be evident that I haven’t always existed, and hence I am a contingent being.  Also, the definitions of necessary and contingent beings are well established.

Where I anticipate attacks upon this argument is against the Principle of Sufficient Reason, the possibility of quantitative infinities and what actually is the necessary being.

With the Principle of Sufficient Reason, I suppose you could reject it, but this isn’t without a heavy cost.  It’s denial undermines all of deductive science as the enterprise presupposes sufficient reasons and efficient causes for why the physical universe operates as it does.  I don’t think that’s a route that seems too appealing to many atheists who base their positive beliefs in science.

Quantitative infinities are also problematic.  They simply don’t exist.  It’s logically impossible  to traverse one.

for the state which is, in a sense, copied from the preceding, though in accordance with certain laws of change.  And so, however far back we might go into previous states, we will never find in those states a complete explanation for why, indeed, there is any world at all, and why it is the way it is.[2]

Thanks, Gottfried.  Not good enough?  Well, lets read a little admittance from one of the argument’s biggest detractors, Scottish philosopher David Hume, shall we?

If I ask, why you believe any particular matter of fact, which you relate, you must tell me some reason; and this reason will be some other fact, connected with it.  But as you cannot proceed after this manner, in infinitum, you must at last terminate in some fact, which is present to your memory or sense; or must allow that your belief is entirely without foundation.[3]

Still don’t believe me?  Then count to infinity, and when you get there, then we’ll talk, ye of little faith.

Now, I suppose you could say the universe is the necessary being, but this has a number of issues both philosophical and scientific.  First of all, the universe doesn’t exhibit any attributes of a necessary being.  It’s easy to consider how things could have been different.  For instance, you didn’t have to exist or cosmically speaking, the universe could have different physical laws governing it than it does.  Neither of which are entailed of a necessary being.  Moreover, our current empirical knowledge shows the universe to be finite: cosmic background radiation levels, the doppler effect with the red shift of galaxies and the universe would have already experienced heat death if it had been eternal just to list a few.  In conclusion, the universe isn’t metaphysically necessary.

So, there you guys have it.  I look forward to any critiques or issues you see with this.  Feel free to point them out, and we’ll go from there.  I’ll leave you guys with another video from Theologica37 which provides more argumentation than I did as a little bonus.

Toodles,

Modus Pownens


[1] Gottfried Leibniz, The Monadology, trans. Daniel Garber and Roger Ariew (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company), 1991, §32.

[2] Gottfried Leibniz, On the Ultimate Origination of Things, trans. Daniel Garber and Roger Ariew (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company), 1991, 42.

[3] David Hume, “Sceptical Solution of These Doubts,” in Eric Steinberg, ed., An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company), 1977, 30.