In 1947, two great philosophers took to the airwaves to debate the existence of God. The debate that took place has become one of the most famous moments in radio history. The two philosophers were Fr. Frederick Copleston S. J. , a Jesuit priest and later principal of Heythrop College and Bertrand Russell, veteran CND campaigner and one of the most important philosophers of all time. The specification expects you to show knowledge of how Copleston and Russell debated the value of the Cosmological argument for the existence of God. Copleston was trying to defend the argument, Russell was trying to criticise it.
This handout explores how each philosopher builds their argument. Frederick Copleston’s argument. Before Copleston gets going with the Cosmological Argument, he uses two other arguments to suggest the existence of God in his introduction. These are: • God provides the universe with a purpose to work towards (the Teleological Argument). • God provides absolute moral values. Without God, we would only have moral relativism. Copleston then gets going with the Cosmological Argument. He uses the first three of Aquinas’ Five Ways, but changes them slightly to make the argument better: 1.
There are contingent beings in the universe (things that need to look outside themselves to explain why they exist). 2. The world is the totality (all) of these contingent beings. 3. There is no world apart from the contingent beings and things that make it up. (e. g. there is no human race separate from the human beings that make it up. 4. The totality of objects (the world) must look outside itself for an explanation of why it exists, because nothing in the world can explain its own existence (is uncaused). 5. There must be a being that contains within itself the reason for its own existence. This being cannot not exist. . There can be no infinite chain of causes. After an initial disagreement from Russell (below), Copleston then uses Liebniz’ Principle of Sufficient Reason, which is: • there must be a complete and total explanation for everything • an infinite chain of causes is not a complete and total explanation
• there must be a necessary being (one that cannot not exist). Copleston’s argument hinges on the idea that there must be a necessary being to explain and have started the existence of contingent beings: “An infinite series of contingent beings will be, to my way of thinking, as unable to cause itself as one contingent being. He also says that every series of phenomenal causes must have a transcendent cause. But this is a priori (from reason). Copleston does try to come up with an a posteriori argument (one from experience), in that we come to a knowledge of God through our experience of the world, but he doesn’t develop it. Bertrand Russell’s argument. After sitting patiently through Copleston’s explanation of the Cosmological Argument, Russell Provides this criticism: • “The word ‘necessary,’ I should maintain, can only be applied significantly to propositions.
And, in fact, only to such as are analytic–that is to say–such as it is self-contradictory to deny. ” This criticism is based upon Immanuel Kant’s argument that the word ‘necessary’ can only apply to analytic statements (ones that are based upon logic and reason, not experience). Russell then goes on to say that the word ‘necessary’ is useless when applied to real things. After a discussion about cause, Russell makes the following point: • We get the idea of causes from experience and from seeing things being caused in the world.
That does not mean that the whole (world/universe) is itself caused. He is therefore criticising Copleston for trying to prove an analytic statement about existence from a synthetic statement about cause. He then says: “I should say that the universe is just there, and that’s all. ” He criticises Copleston by using the following illustration: • “Every man who exists has a mother, and it seems to me your argument is that therefore the human race must have a mother, but obviously the human race hasn’t a mother. ”
Russell basically rejected the idea that there must be a necessary being, he also rejected the idea that we have to question the origin of the universe. Predictably, the two reached stalemate. Russell ended the debate with “Yes, it is very difficult. What do you say, shall we pass on to some other issue? ” The problem was that Copleston was willing to ask the question “where does the universe come from,” whereas Russell was not. Copleston later said that it’s rather like trying to play chess with someone who won’t move any pieces. Full text of the debate available at: www. ditext. com/russell/debate. html