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Cosmological Argument for God as Response to African Atheism: A Synthesis of Western Analytic and African Thought

a.      Introduction

The main thesis of this piece is to provide a proof for the existence of God based on a cosmological argument that synthesizes Western analytic and African thought, to prove that atheism in Africa has no thorough basis for its worldview. In the historical discourse on the existence of God, several arguments and counter-arguments have been posited by Philosophers, Theologians, Scientists and other scholars. Whereas John Mbiti’s statement that Africans are religious has almost become an altruism, the rate of the youth disinterested with religion and specifically theism poses a problem. However, the writer posits that Atheists in Africa have no thorough basis for their worldview because sufficient evidence exists for God’s existence both from the work of Western Analytic Philosophers as well as Africanist scholars in the discipline of Cosmology. The writer presumes that due to the lack of a familiarity with the African conception of God as well as lack of critical interaction with arguments on the existence of God from a Western Analytic perspective, these African youth have embraced atheism. The writer in his discussion will articulate both perspectives to posit that atheism is unfounded.

b.      Defining Cosmology

            The African Philosopher Amaechi Udechi offers a concise definition of Cosmology in the following manner: Since the term is rooted in the Greek kosmos for world and Logos for discourse, “then it can be defined as the study of the origin, structure and development of the world or universe in its totality.”[1] Since the world consists of being, Udechi sees a link between cosmology and ontology. This means that as much as we are attempting an objective study of the universe, we cannot fail to be subjective in the least sense of the word. This means that since everyone has their own worldview, then people will have the right to agree and disagree with cosmological arguments for God. Writing from a Philosophy of Religion perspective, Stephen Evans and Zachary Manis similarly observe that these arguments “attempt to infer the existence of God from the existence of the cosmos or universe.”[2]

c.       Western Analytic Perspective

i.                    Introduction to Western Analytic Cosmology

            Cosmological arguments in Western perspective have their roots in Greek thinking, especially in the works of Plato and Aristotle with Thomas Aquinas in Medieval history developing the argument in its current distinctive in Christian discourse.[3] Thomas Aquinas shows his interaction with Aristotle’s idea of the prime mover, in his own words:
Everything that is in motion is put and kept in motion by some other thing. It is evident to sense that there are beings in motion. A thing is in motion because something else puts and keeps it in motion. That mover therefore either is itself in motion or not.[4]
            At this point, Aristotle observes that two premises can be made: Either the mover is in motion or not. For the latter, Aquinas claims that this “prime mover” is God, since he is the one who is “the uncaused cause.” However, if it is the former “then we have to go on to infinity, or we must come to some mover which is motionless; but it is impossible to go on to infinity, therefore we must posit some motionless prime mover.”[5] In this section we shall look at William Craig’s kalam cosmological argument which utilizes scientific theory and philosophical inquiry to prove the existence of God. This attribution to God is given based on the idea of the contingency of the universe: in other words from natural observations of the world, there is “no explanation why there is something rather than nothing”[6] hence everything that exists seems to have its existence dependent on something other than the object itself.

ii.                  William Craig’s Kalam Cosmological Argument

This section takes a dialogical format based on a conversation that may be typical concerning the nature of the universe with an atheist:

Interviewee: How do you think it came into existence? As I said earlier I simply don’t know, my concept of time is the usual and on a more theoretical level time as we know it is simply a way for man to make sense of his existence and senses, the universe I think doesn’t express itself in this way I think there is nothing like before or after; just now whether our minds can grasp it or not, and physics sort of tends to agree though I think I have put it crudely . . . as Stephen Hawking argued asking what came before the big bang is akin to asking show me a point south of the south pole . . .

Responses: From the responses, the writer deduces his presuppositions as follows: 1) He holds that the universe had a beginning, 2) He attributes this beginning to empirical science, and 3) He does not believe the beginning of the universe is personal.

The writer’s responses to his presuppositions are as follows: 1) The interviewee believes that the big bang is the beginning of the universe. In his Kalam Cosmological argument, William Lane Craig draws evidence from the astronomer Hubble’s observation that “the universe is expanding but also that it is expanding the same in all directions.”[7] The implication being that if at some point in the past if the entire known universe was contracted down to a single point, Craig postulates, “one finally reaches a point of infinite density from which the universe began to expand.”[8] This initial event is what has been called the big bang. To explain this, scientists propose the steady state model and oscillation models, both of which “fail to fit the facts of observational cosmology” Craig goes at length to prove. The second scientific argument he uses is that “the second law of thermodynamics implies that the universe had a beginning”[9] that is, the idea that energy cannot be destroyed but is converted from one form or the other. These arguments prove that the universe had a beginning, and here we are in agreement with the interviewee.
2) The interviewee clearly sides with the big bang theory. The last statement in his response shows the inadequacies of empiricism (verifiable proofs) that is most pronounced in the naturalism of Science. Empiricism, which can be defined as reality being based on sense experience, fails because it cannot prove everything. For instance, if I have a wife and I told my friend that I have a wife, and he says I cannot prove it because he doesn’t see her, does this prove that she doesn’t exist? Can we measure 3 kilograms of love? Does this nullify or support the existence of love? Here the weakness of empirical science is evident: It is insufficient on its own, to understand the nature of reality because there are other fields that are necessary for the acquisition of knowledge such as philosophy and theology. Hence empirical science is single-handedly insufficient to articulate the nature of the universe.
3) It is possible to give a proof that the beginning of the universe is personal and knowable. The interviewee’s last statement in the response shows he does not want to discover further what the cause of the big bang might be – he begs the question. Here we see the inadequacy of scientism as discussed earlier. So far we agree with the interviewee that the universe had a beginning. So the question is: is this beginning caused or uncaused? Craig counters the second option based on the accounts of the famous sceptic David Hume and the English philosopher C. D. Broad that suggest that the universe could not have come into being without an uncaused cause and this cause was in existence before and up to the moment when the thing in question began to exist. This is ample philosophical and empirical reasoning to point to the beginning of the universe. Here, scientists and Atheists have an indifferent view to the implications, one of them acknowledging that ‘the big bang model only describes the initial conditions of the universe, but it cannot explain them’[10] Science stops here, whereas further philosophical inquiry leads to a remarkable conclusion: “It means that the universe was caused to exist by something beyond it and greater than it. This ought to fill us with awe, for it is no secret that the Bible begins with these words: ‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.’”[11] Finally, Craig disproves the idea of an eternity as the cause of the universe because the implication would be that the universe is eternal. “Thus we reach our conclusion: A personal creator of the universe exists, changeless and timeless prior to creation and in time subsequent to creation. This is the central idea of what theists mean by God.”[12] This affirms classical apologetics argument in line with the Thomistic cosmological argument.

d.         Contours of African Cosmology

            African scholars Advice Viriri and Pascah Mungwini observe that in speaking of African cosmology, the assumption is that Africa has a diversity of cultures and that Africa is not completely homogenous “but reference is only being made to dominant themes, in the sense of common generative themes in African cultures.”[13] Whereas their article articulates an africanization and reconstruction perspective, the points made are of benefit to this thesis: The idea that Africans have their own worldview.[14]
            An African worldview assumed the existence of God and hence the claim that atheism is a foreign concept. In addition to this, a hierarchy of beings constituted an African metaphysical and epistemological foundation. In Igbo traditional society for example, the cosmos is seen in a dual perspective: it is made of the sea and the earth; the former comprising supernatural spirits and the latter, human beings, animals, fish and vegetation – Yet these two concepts have an interaction that maintains social balance.[15] Here in Kenya for example, traditional Agikuyu society was cognizant of Mwene Nyaga/Ngai, that is God, and their cosmological view is that He was the creator of the world. The fact that even those who have converted to Christianity still have this name for God, and see him as the all-powerful in their spiritual power displays show that this African worldview is still alive. Similarly in West Africa, Udechi observes that “the Igbo, for instance, can narrate how the world and man were created, through the platform of Akiko-ifo, (folktales) by saying that Chukwu-okike, Chineke (God the creator) created Uwa (world) and Mmadu (human being).”[16]
            Metaphysically, man finds meaning as he interacts in the material world and views the sacredness of the cosmos[17] hence corroborating Mbiti’s altruism. As such, the African man performs his duty in light of the presence of God: This holistic view sees the cosmos as the habitation of God and hence man takes him everywhere in traditional society, to his work, family and shamba. Some at this point critique this as mainly myth and folklore. The rebuttal of the author is that the protagonists of this view forget the place of both critical and narrative methods of philosophizing.[18] Myths are not a figment of the imagination of Africans but an interpretation of reality.[19] As such, these stories and myths are part of an African understanding of cosmology and by extension, God.
Those neo-African Atheists that see tradition as backward have lost touch with African reality and worldview. Their cosmology is influenced by a Western hegemony, individualism and imperialism which is heavily biased towards African thought and also theism. African cosmology, centered on the African indigenous philosophy of Ubuntu, view society holistically “distinguishing features of this philosophy are its welfarism, altruism, universalism and basically its utilitarian outlook”[20] which are centred on the concept of God and cosmology. The renowned African Theologian Mercy Amba Oduyoye interprets the Psalm “The fool says in his heart 'There is no God'” by concluding that in traditional Africa there are no such "fools" for “In traditional Africa, that is, Africa when people are being themselves, discounting Christianity, Islam, and Western norms, God is experienced as an all-pervading reality. God is a constant participant in the affairs of human beings.”[21] Elsewhere, A. B. T. Byaruhanga-Akiiki observes that it is foolhardy to assume the non-existence of God, on the grounds that research on African peoples in different languages and with different names the existence of God is the norm.[22] An opposition to this is an opposition to what being African is: Severing the roots of a tree, leads to a withering of the leaves.

e.       A Synthesis of African and Western Analytic Cosmology

            Both Western Analytic and African cosmologies argue for the existence of God. Much can be said about these arguments but since we are limited here to a general discussion, the above arguments are sufficient to affirm the thesis that African atheists have an unfounded basis for not believing in God. The conclusion is as a result of the following syllogism:
(1)   The critical African supports the Cosmological Argument.
(2)   The Cosmological argument supports the existence of God.
(3)   Therefore, the critical African supports the existence of God.
The first premise is founded on the idea that logical reasoning based on scientific inquiry and philosophical reasoning supports the cosmological argument as has been seen in the discussion of kalam’s cosmological argument as well as the arguments in African cosmologies. The conclusion affirms the second premise that the cosmological argument supports the existence of God. This thesis has further gone to show that this God can be known, and here I add, can be known from other epistemic justifications and arguments. Hence as a conclusion, a critical African supports the existence of God both from an analytic approach and from an African worldview. Therefore, African atheists have an unfounded basis.

f.       Biblical Reflection as Conclusion

What are we to make of the fact that the existence of God can be supported by a cosmological argument? The conclusion the writer seeks to make is that this God can be known from a Biblical worldview. In summary, the Biblical Worldview offers the most coherent understanding of the universe. Following the arguments presented above, we appreciate the fact that the universe had a beginning and this beginning is God. Genesis gives an account of creation and attributes it to the power of God – It is easy to see how powerful God is, because if he is the cause of the universe, then he must transcend it but not only that, he also is immanent in it. And that is what makes him knowable. Generally, from observations of the universe, we can infer the existence of God. Psalm 19:1-4. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world” and Romans 1:19-20 “since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” are a clear indication of this.
How then shall we know this God? Romans 1:18 reveals to us that man has suppressed this truth because of his wickedness. It is possible to suppress something but not to altogether get rid of it. And so through accepting this, we see that in order to know God this wickedness has to be taken care of. Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians says that “In him (Christ) we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace”[23] and elsewhere “But because of his great love for us, God who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.”[24]
Therefore, we see that God has already accomplished this for us, while we could not help ourselves. It is good to note that this also is in the past, but with eternal consequences and efficacy. Here we see that knowing God is not a higher knowledge, or gnosis, but it is made available for all through Jesus Christ. John 14:6-7 attests to this: “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” We know God through believing in Jesus Christ, “Yet to all those who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become the children of God . . . No-one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side has made him known.”[25] Therefore, the cause of the beginning of the universe is God and we can know him through believing in Jesus Christ who has made Him known.

[1] Amaechi Udefi, “Philosophy, Mythology and an African Cosmological System,” in Global Journal of Human Social Science, Geography & Environmental GeoSciences Volume 12, No. 20 (2012): 59
[2] C. Stephen Evans and R. Zachary Manis, Philosophy of Religion 2nd Ed.: Thinking about Faith (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009), 67
[3] Ibid., 68
[4] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles tr. Joseph Rickaby, S.J. (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library), Accessed July 2014, 24
[5] Ibid.
[6] Stephen Evans and Zachary Manis, 69
[7] William Lane Craig, The Existence of God and the Beginning of the Universe (San Bernardino, CA: Here’s Life Publishers, 1979)., 58
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid., 66
[10] Ibid., 85
[11] Ibid.
[12] Ibid., 89
[13] Advice Viriri and Pascah Mungwini “African Cosmology and the Duality of Western Hegemony: The Search for an African Identity,” in The Journal of Pan African Studies, vol.3, no.6 (March, 2010), 29
[14] The authors define cosmology as worldview.
[15] Amaechi Udechi, 62
[16] Ibid.
[17] Ibid.
[18] Ibid. Udechi notes that Socratic philosophy similarly has this critical and narrative dialogue. Hence, the argument of the backwardness of African tradition based on western analytic approaches is misinformed.
[19] Jones M. Jaja, “Myths in African concept of reality,” in International Journal of Educational Administration and Policy Studies, Vol. 6 2 (2014), 10
[20] Advice Viriri and Pascah Mungwini, 39
[21] Mercy Amba Oduyoye, “The African Experience of God through the Eyes of an Akan Woman,” in Cross Currents, Vol 47 No. 4 (Winter 1997-1998), Accessed from on November 2014.
[22] A. B. T. Byaruhanga-Akikii, “The African World Religion and Other Religions,” in J.N.K. Mugambi and Mary N. Getui eds., Religions in Eastern Africa Under Globalization (Nairobi: Acton Publishers, 2004), 31
[23] Eph. 1:7
[24] Eph. 2:4-5
[25] John 1:12, 18


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