The Leibnizian (Or Contingency) Argument

Over the last month or two I’ve been teaching a Sunday school class on Christian apologetics, going over different arguments that have been put forward through the decades and centuries. I decided I would go ahead and put them onto my blog and give a barebones sketch of the arguments. The core of the classes I’m teaching come from the book “On Guard” by William Lane Craig.

The Leibnizian Argument, or, The Argument from Contingency

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz was a German mathematician who lived from 1646 to 1716. One of his important insights was to recognize the importance of the question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” Leibniz himself came to the conclusion that the answer is to be found, not in the universe of created things, but in God, and that this God exists necessarily and is the explanation for why anything else exists.

His argument took the following form.

  1. Everything’s that exists has an explanation of its existence.
  2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.
  3. The universe exists.

We can then draw two conclusions from these three premises:

4. The universe has an explanation of its existence, from (1) and (3).


5. Therefore, the explanation of the universe is God, from (2) and (4).

This conclusion follows from the previous premises. So for the conclusion to be rejected, one of the first three premises must be rejected or proven to be false. Premise (3), the universe exists, is undeniable, so the first two premises are the ones that will need to be defended.

Premise 1: Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence.

Perhaps it might be objected that God Himself needs an explanation. This might be a call back to objections to other arguments, like how the design argument might invoke responses of “who designed the designer?” This response is made without carefully considering what the first premise is saying. God is not excluded. In Leibniz’s mind there were two basic explanations for all existence. Things that exist necessarily (the falsehood of, or the non existence of is impossible), or things that exist contingently (their existence is owed to some external cause). So the theist responds to this objection by saying that the explanation for God, if He exists, is that He exists necessarily.

Furthermore, the truth of premise 1 is confirmed by everyday experience. No matter what we come across in life we recognize that everything has an explanation for how it came to be there or how it came into existence.

So then, premise 1 seems to be more plausibly true than false.

Premise 2: If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.

This  premise may seem like an over reach on the part of the theist, but it is in fact logically equivalent to the typical response made by atheist to premise 1. That is, that the universe does not have an explanation. To better illustrate, the statement

”If atheism is true, the universe does not have an explanation.”

is logically equivalent to

”If God exists, He is the explanation of the universe.”

So then, rather than making an over reach, the theist is affirming the consequences of the Athiest’s denials.

It must also be considered that if the explanation of the universe must be something beyond the universe, then wether that explanation is either an abstract object or an unembodied mind. Since abstract objects cannot cause anything, then the explanation of the universe must be a mind that is immaterial, timeless, and all powerful.

An alternative for those who wish to deny premise 2, is to affirm premise 1, but this time say that the explanation for the universe is that it exists necessarily. Advances in science have shown that the smallest parts of the universe are fundamental particles like quarks, bosons, and leptons. To make the claim that the universe exists necessarily, the atheist must affirm that the exact arrangement and quantity of these particles could never have been different. It seems intuitive to think that it is at least possible that these numbers could have been different. So then this alternative seems to fail.


Given that the three premises seem to be more plausibly true than false, the conclusion then follows logically, that God is the explanation for the existence of the universe.

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