A Beginner’s Guide to the Argument from Contingency

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Every day we’re used to asking about where things come from.  There’s an answer to a child’s questions like: “where do babies come from?” (and it doesn’t involve cabbage patches or storks) … or “where do Christmas presents come from” (and they don’t come from workshops at the North Pole).  In today’s ethically minded society, we are encouraged to think about the origins of the things we buy.  They didn’t just appear out of thin air on the shelves in our local shops.  In fact, some companies make a big deal in their advertising telling a story about the journey taken by our food or clothing products.
The argument from contingency is not so much interested in questions like “where do your eggs come from” – but in questions like: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” and “Where has the universe come from?”
In ancient times, one of the prevailing beliefs was that the universe had always existed – matter and energy were eternal.  However an altogether different perspective took the world by storm when the prophet Moses declared these astonishing words in the 15th century BC: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).  Moses would also pen this meditation: “Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Psalm 90:2).  Suddenly the existence of the wonderful and beautiful world around us was explained by the intelligent mind, creative imagination, and powerful will of the Eternal God of the Bible.  No longer was it a conundrum to ask which came first: the chick or the egg – instead God had created the chicken with the egg already inside ready to be laid.  Later, the New Testament would identify Jesus Christ as this same eternal God: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:1-3).
Fast forward to the 21st century AD, it is widely accepted among scientists that the universe had a beginning in the distant past.  Also it is a widely accepted point of logic that anything that begins to exist must have a cause.   Therefore, the argument from contingency draws from these two principles that the universe exists because God exists and decided to create it.  He is the one self-existent or necessary Being that explains everything else.
Maybe that sounds too simple?  Not everyone is convinced by it.
For example, in 2010 Dr Stephen Hawking, released a new book (The Grand Design) which was widely reported in the press because he asserted that there was no longer any need to believe in God who created the universe.  Instead he asserted that the origins of the universe can be explained by its own compelling laws of physics. But this overlooks something so important: laws require a law-giver.  Physical laws are just a mechanism by which the universe works, but they did not make themselves – and we all know that mechanisms require a maker!
Again, in 2006 Dr Richard Dawkins wrote a best selling book (The God Delusion) which cross-examined the argument from contingency by essentially asking: “And who made God?”  The short answer would counter that because God is eternal, without a beginning, He has no cause and there is no need for any further explanation for His existence.
If that does not satisfy you, then consider this: there must be an ultimate reality which we accept as a brute fact.  Sometimes the only way to exhaust a child’s endless “why” questions is the brute answer “It’s just because things are that way”.  In the same way, there must be some self-existent, necessary, ultimate reality.  But is it an eternal God or an eternal universe?  Is it everlasting mindless matter or the everlasting mind of God?  Both of these are belief systems – each involves an element of faith.  As a friend once posted on Twitter “Christians believe in the virgin birth of Jesus. Materialists believe in the virgin birth of the cosmos. Choose your miracle”.
So the remaining question in the argument from contingency is: which of these explanations makes best sense of reality?
I would suggest that the universe of time and matter makes best sense if it was created by Someone who was eternal and immaterial, who was spirit rather than matter.  The order and design we discover in the world around us suggests that They are intelligent and purposeful.  The fact that humans are personal and rational testifies to the fact that we are made in the image of a Being with personality and mind.  The cherished values of love and justice in our society reveal more about the character of the Creator.  This is not just some nameless and faceless deity – rather He steps into time and history in the person of Jesus Christ to introduce Himself to us.
Why is God a self-existent or necessary being?
He existed before creation and He caused creation to exist

David Nixon lives in Edinburgh, where he is a pastor of a city centre church and engaged in apologetics and public theology ministry.  He is married to Kirsty, a doctor, and they have two little boys: Joel and Daniel (who ask the hardest questions ever!)

Further reading:
Lee Strobel: The Case For A Creator (Introductory)
John Lennox: God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God (Intermediate)

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