“Incomplete cosmology” is one of my favorite oblique philosophical terms to throw around in conversations with my wife. She’s usually the only person that immediately knows what on earth I’m talking about. So what is incomplete cosmology? That’s a wee bit of a longish explanation. It’s when a philosophical or theological opinion does not include an adequate cosmological explanation. In other words, it doesn’t answer the cosmological argument.
The cosmological argument, first advanced by Saint Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Contra Gentiles and Summa Theologiae, basically says that everything around us is dependent on some cause. Everything around us depends on something else to explain it. Everything is an effect that has a cause. In order to adequately explain all these causes, there must be something that does not depend on another cause to explain itself. There must be something that necessarily exists, that explains its own existence. This is the uncaused cause, which the Angelic Doctor identifies with God. He then employs many other arguments to describe the nature of God.
About a year ago, YouTube personality Hank Green posted a video for his “Philosophy CrashCourse” looking at Aquinas’s cosmological argument. It gives a very cursory explanation of what the argument is, then proceeds to “debunk” it. Hank Green does not have a formal philosophy background, and it really shows. He considers the Aquinas argument by taking it out of the context of the Summa Theologiae.. He also only considers Aquinas, ignoring the 800 years of philosophy since then that have thoroughly answered all of Green’s arguments. The details of the cosmological argument as discussed in the last century are often formulated quite differently than they were during the age of Medieval Scholasticism. Green is interesting in arguing with 13th century philosophy, rather than 21st century philosophy. Perhaps he realizes he would lose a fair fight.
This month, Matt Fradd posted a detailed explanation rebutting Green’s arguments. I encourage you to go listen to it. It’s the reason that I don’t feel obligated to answer all of Green’s bad rhetoric. I don’t 100% love Fradd’s explanation either, but I like about 95% of it, and my disagreements aren’t of paramount significance. So please go listen to him, and see why Hank Green’s video is silly.
I think Green’s poor arguments are indicative of a wider philosophical undertone that ignores one of the most important questions posed by man. I call it the cosmological question: Why is there something rather than nothing? It’s called cosmological because cosmological means something relating to the origin or the development of the universe. The question asks WHY is there anything at all rather than nothing ever existing.
Hank Green identifies as an atheist, and many atheists seem to ignore the cosmological question. Often atheists respond to the question with a half-baked answer involving the multi-verse theory, saying that we live in only one of the infinity universes, containing every possibility. Thus, it is not that our universe is special, since every potential combination that could exist does. Putting aside the fact that this is a completely unprovable theory and also putting aside the seeming absurdity of infinite parallel universes, this still doesn’t answer the basis question. Instead, it multiplies the question. The question then becomes, why do infinite universes exist, rather than nothing existing? This theory explains nothing. Instead, it makes the question more pressing.
There are even theists who do not answer the cosmological questions. Mormons, for instance, have a very different view of God than Christianity does. Mormons do not make an ontological distinction between God and man. In other words, the Mormon “Heavenly Father” and human beings are essentially the same type of entity, just at different points of personal development. Mormons believe that earth is a planet created/populated by a god, and that human beings can develop into gods too and create/populate their own planets. Mormons posit an “Eternal Progression,” implying that the god they believe in was once merely a man like us, on a planet created by a different god. Mormonism has an “incomplete cosmology” because it does not explain why there are any human-to-god entities to begin with. Rather, each god in Mormonism is a dependent entity whose existence is explained by the planet or god that brought it into being, rather than explaining itself.
Hinduism also is an incomplete cosmology. The gods of Hinduism rise and fall in an infinite cycle of death and rebirth, just as Hindus believe that human beings are reincarnated on earth. Hinduism does not explain why there is any such cycle, or why any of the Hindu gods must exist. Hinduism does not explain why the world is, rather than there being no world at all.
So in considering any philosophical or theological system, ask yourself whether the system is cosmologically complete. It may not have the right answer to why there is something rather than nothing. But if it has no answer to the cosmological question, then it will necessarily leave unanswered many of the burning questions of the human heart.