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Feedback archiveFeedback 2016

Could God cause the beginning of the universe?

Published: 9 April 2016 (GMT+10)
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The beginning of the universe is a common fact used to argue for God in an argument called the Kalām Cosmological Argument. The argument runs like this: everything that has a beginning has a cause, the universe had a beginning, therefore the universe has a cause. But is God a suitable cause for the universe?

Daniel C from the United States writes:

When my acquaintance asked who created God, I replied, God is defined as eternal and uncreated, and therefore it is invalid to ask “who created God.”
But then he asked, “Can you prove or reason that God is eternal? What if he isn’t?”
I don’t know what to say. Help?

CMI’s  responds:

Your acquaintance has become doubly distracted. Your response to his first distraction was correct, but the purpose of such a response is to push people back to dealing with the claim ‘everything that has a beginning has a cause’ as given. Your acquaintance is refusing to do this, and instead is focusing on being distracted by ‘God’ in doing what all untrained agnostics/atheists do—demanding evidence for anything about God that can be named. One way to disarm the objection is to say: ‘God? I haven’t brought God up yet! The claim isn’t about God (at least, not directly); let’s just deal with that first without getting distracted. God isn’t going anywhere.’

Moreover, the claim implicitly gives us the eternality of the universe’s cause (or, more technically, the ultimate cause). Since the claim runs like this:

  • Everything that has a beginning has a cause,

to affirm it is also to affirm this:

  • Everything that has no cause has no beginning.

We can see why if we turn the claim into an if-then statement:

  • If something has a beginning, then it has a cause.

If we negate both parts of the statement and flip them around, we get what’s known as a contrapositive:

  • If something has no cause, then it has no beginning.

And the thing about contrapositives is that they always have the same truth value as the original statement. In other words, if everything that has a beginning has a cause, then all uncaused beings have no beginning.

This means that if the claim is true, there are only two possible options for ending the causal chain of beings with a beginning—an uncaused cause (which must be eternal if the first premise is true) or an infinite regress of causes with beginnings. Although calling the latter option a ‘possible’ option is a bit of a stretch! The uncaused cause is clearly the better option—it’s simpler, explains all the data, and avoids an infinite regress.

The important thing to note here is that we have said nothing about God yet. We haven’t even provided any warrant for accepting the claim! (After all, your acquaintance is too busy being distracted by a red herring of their own making.) We have only shown that the only plausible implication of the claim is an eternal, uncaused, first cause. Is God eternal and uncaused? Irrelevant at this point.

Nonetheless, here is another counter thought for your acquaintance: ‘Why call a being with a beginning “God”’? By demanding evidence for God’s eternality, they’re implying that we should believe God has a beginning before we have any warrant to reject such a notion. But why think any being with a beginning and a cause worthy of the title ‘God’? Your acquaintance has their intuition precisely backwards; the onus is on those who think the greatest conceivable being (i.e. the being we call ‘God’) must have a beginning to prove their case, not those who think such a being is eternal. After all, it’s pretty obvious to just about anyone who thinks about it for longer than a second that an eternal being is greater than a being with a beginning. And since ‘God’ is simply a moniker we use for the greatest conceivable being, ‘God’ so defined clearly can’t be anything other than eternal!

And most importantly, the Bible abundantly testifies to God’s eternity (e.g. Genesis 1:1, Psalm 90:2, 1 Timothy 6:16, and Revelation 4:8) and self-sufficiency (1 Chronicles 29:11–14, Acts 17:24–28). Bible believers have a reason to believe God is eternal even before we look at these arguments, and the Bible is certainly consistent with God as the eternal uncaused cause.

For more information, please see Who created God?

T.O. from the United States comments:

I read the following argument, which portrays itself as a rebuttal to the Kalām argument.
(P1) Everything that is sentient has a cause.
(P2) God is sentient.
(C) Therefore the God has a cause
Would you accept this as a sound argument?

CMI’s Shaun Doyle responds:

First, we need to be clear about what such an argument is trying to rebut about the Kalam argument. The Kalam argument usually takes this sort of form:

  • Everything that has a beginning has a cause
  • The universe had a beginning
  • Therefore, the universe had a cause

Subsequently, the nature of the effect (the universe) is analyzed to determine what type(s) of cause(s) could’ve produced it. Note that the form of the argument you presented doesn’t refute anything in the Kalām argument as presented above—even if God has a cause, the universe still needs a cause in view of it having a beginning. Rather, the argument you mention tries to show that no sentient being can be an uncaused cause, so that if we think that the cause of the universe itself has to be uncaused, it can’t be God because “Everything that is sentient has a cause”.

Nonetheless, we would consider the argument unsound because the first premise is false. Why think that all sentient beings have causes? There is no evidence for the first premise. Worse, there are powerful positive reasons to reject the first premise. To avoid an infinite regress of contingent causes, we would need a first, uncaused, necessary being to ground the causal chain in reality. But how else could a necessary being cause a contingent effect, other than by being able to choose to create, which is of course something only sentient beings can do? Rather than it being problematic that the uncaused cause would be sentient, it’s highly likely that it would need to be sentient to be able to produce a contingent effect like the universe.

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Readers’ comments
David B., United States, 15 April 2016

The problem I see in discussing such issues is having a common understanding of Creation. Since we are mortals....we tend to define events in terms of a beginning and an end. Most consider there was no Cosmos before Genesis 1. For the writer of Genesis....the earth and the sky was pretty much "the Cosmos." They had no ability to comprehend the Cosmos as we do today.

The Bible is clear that God existed before the Earth was formed...this means God is eternal beginning and no end. I submit that this means "existence always existed and always will." I suspect that this means the Cosmos always existed and always will and that the current Cosmological Theories suggests that the "Big Bang Inflation of space/time/matter and energy is NOT a single event but is just ONE of an infinite number of "inflations." (Bubble Theory)

In addition the Law of Biogenesis, verified by French Chemist Louis Pasteur 145 years ago in his simple "S" shaped flask experiment, also supports the "eternal" nature of existence because "ALL Life MUST come from pre-existing Life."

Theoretical Physicist Stephen Hawking in his most recent book claims the Laws of Physics are so constituted that there is no "need" for a God for Creation. Ironically Hawking has inadvertently DEFINED who God is. God is PERFECT...His Laws are PERFECT. The ancient "inspired" writings compiled into the "library" called the Bible reveals that God is the "WORD" (John 1) The WORD is communication and thought. and the mathematics of the Laws of Physics is the highest "level" of communication and thought......GOD IS HIS LAWS. This real God incarnated in the "flesh" 2000 years ago as Yeshua ben Joseph not only restores mankind to the Cosmic Kingdom of God, He also reveals the ETERNAL God in the "WORD."

Shaun Doyle responds

There are many debates about what big bang theory entails about whether or not the cosmos has a beginning, but most big bangers think their theory most likely implies an absolute beginning for the physical universe. See Physicists: The universe had a beginning for more information. It’s one of the few things we agree with most big bang advocates on (please see Did God use a big bang? for more information).

The Law of Biogenesis says only that life only comes from pre-existing life naturalistically, i.e. life cannot spontaneously generate from abiotic materials. This doesn’t imply that life has existed for an eternity (genetic entropy argues against this); rather it implies that life originated through design a finite time ago.

On Hawking’s ideas, please see Hawking atheopathy.

Brent w D., Australia, 14 April 2016

The Lamb Himself implies that He had a beginning when He says in Revelation 1:8 that He is the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last. This implies that He had a beginning because He was the first. In my opinion His beginning was the moment that He became self aware. He didn't have physical form because He is Spirit. In Isaiah 44:6 "Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god." God calls Himself a god which nullifies some of your arguments about the nature of God and whether or not He should be called a god. When Adam and Eve ate the fruit from the tree of knowledge God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever ...." The pure existence of the tree of life implies that if they didn't eat from it the host of heaven would not be eternal. The tree of life being in the garden of Eden on earth and therefore it was created. Maybe God became self aware and then created the tree of life so that He would become eternal.

Shaun Doyle responds

Who in the history of reading these texts has ever understood these phrases to imply their subject (which is only ever God or Jesus in the Bible) had a beginning? The idiomatic expression 'the first and the last' and others like it is clearly intended to be an emphatic affirmation of the subject's eternality! It's picking out the beginning and ending expressions of a known series (first and last, alpha and omega, beginning and end, etc.) to emphasize the comprehensive span of the subject's life. In other words, it's a metaphorical way of saying God (and Jesus) is eternal!

As to the biblical usage of the term 'god', I'm not even addressing that question. I'm saying that when we in our culture and time usually use the term 'God' (with a capital 'G'), we're talking about the deity of classical monotheism.

Ken K., United States, 13 April 2016

One of the difficulties of circular logic is circular. I am a fairly new believer and if I had been presented with this "explanation" it would have not been useful. To be useful, it must be understandable. To be understandable it should not be overly complex and answer questions with questions. Personally I found the explanation to be quite empty. Sorry.

Shaun Doyle responds

I didn't suggest that the commenter should use everything I said to him as a response to the skeptic—I only offered short recommended responses for the commenter to use with the skeptic. Most of my response was aimed at the commenter, not the skeptic he was in dialogue with. I was explaining to the commenter what was going on in their dialogue, not simply offering advice on how to proceed.

At any rate, my response was far from circular. I provided a number of reasons to think God is eternal—the avoidance of an infinite regress of causes with temporal beginnings, intuitions about the greatest conceivable being, and biblical evidence. That is far from saying 'God is eternal, therefore God is eternal'!

If you don't like people answering questions with questions, I wonder what you think of Jesus doing this (e.g. Mark 10:17–18). In doing this, we can help people think through the implications of their own questions, and help them reach the right answers for themselves, rather than just glibly giving it to them, which they can simply reject. In this case, the skeptic's demand for proof that God is eternal was inane, and they needed to see it as such. The skeptic needed to see that his demand for evidence cuts both ways, and in this particular case actually puts the onus on him to show that considering God to be eternal is implausible, not on the theist to prove what most people find conceptually obvious—that if God exists, He must be eternal.

B. M., United States, 12 April 2016

While I favor an Eternal God as the one true cause of everything, isn't infinite regress an equally damaging conclusion to atheistic/evolutionary thinking? After all if there is an infinite chain of caused causes stretching backward in "time" doesn't that mean that the chain itself has no beginning? Which leads the atheist to the inescapable conclusion that only something which has no beginning can give everything else a beginning. The atheist who questions about the cause of God is only arguing for different deity. Why isn't it suitable to show him this?

Shaun Doyle responds

An infinite temporal regress is damaging to any ideology; that's precisely the point. Atheists today will typically get around that by denying the first premise of the Kalām argument; i.e. that everything that has a beginning has a cause. They typically say that the universe had a beginning, but had no cause.

Hans G., Australia, 12 April 2016

Can somebody come up with a cause why God exists?

Shaun Doyle responds

I'm not sure the objector would need to come up with a cause for God to posit that God has a cause, since there are many things which we know have a cause even though we don't know what the cause is. But the real problems are that anything we might call "God" that has a cause not only would be unworthy of the title, but also the biblical depiction of God is as a completely self-sufficient being (Acts 17:25).

Adrian C., United States, 11 April 2016

Good point, Why call a being with a beginning “God”? By definition, God is uncaused. Asking for a proof of that makes no sense. The question if such a being exists is a different matter than the def.(and is what should be asked) but muddled definition => muddled conclusion.

Syllogism: 1. Let's assume that past time is infinite. 2. Time, in order to have passed, must have been future at some point. I.e., past day of yesterday must have been tomorrow at some point in order to pass through present. Conclusion: There is no point in time in relation to which all this past time, considered infinite, could have been future. I.e., there's more time that it could have actually passed.

Thinking that past time can be infinite just like future confuses unidirectional w/bidirectional processes. A unidirectional one must be bound on one end and can be unbound on the other. A bidirectional one that can be unbound on both ends. The passing of time is unidirectional. Infinity, by definition, exhausts a process => if past is in finite, time couldn't pass anymore. Similarly, cause-effect is also unidirectional = it must be bound on one end. Besides THE First Cause, Ultimate Originator, there are many examples of "originating entities," that within a limited scope, have underived existence. The origin of time is one. You can't derive it. You can explain/derive other times based on it but can't explain/derive why the origin was "when" it was. One more, you can't define all words in a dictionary but eventually run into circular definitions (is=exist=is…). There must be some terms w/meaning underived from definition/other terms. Asking who created God is like asking what was the last event before the origin of time or what terms define the undefinable terms. All these "firsts" are necessary

Reuben F., United States, 9 April 2016

A second way to refute the supposed counter-argument is to realize that even if God does have a cause, that does not necessarily mean He has a beginning. The conditional statement relating having a cause and having a beginning states that "if x has a beginning, then x has a cause". The statement that the counter-argument is attempting to use is "if x has a cause, then x has a beginning". This is known as the converse of the original statement, and it is not a valid statement. The classic example for why the converse of a true statement isn't necessarily true is that every square is a rectangle, but not every rectangle is a square. Similarly, everything that has a beginning has a cause, but not everything that has a cause has a beginning.

Joseph M., United Kingdom, 9 April 2016

“Can you prove or reason that God is eternal? What if he isn’t?”

Can the words 'prove', 'reason' or the 'question itself' be justified without a God? Answer is no. God is absolute. The only alternative to an objection to God is evolution, but evolution rejects absolutes. An 'eternal' God is the only cause (or justification) of absolutes. Absolutes are rooted in reason or else every question would be relative and an affirmative answer would be proof enough! To 'prove' anything you need 'reason' (logic - an absolute, reliable senses, cause and effect - Kalam argument, etc.). So the 'reason and proof' in the question relies on eternal characteristics such as absolutes i.e. God. The only conclusion to the question "What if he isn't?" can only have the answer that God exists and is who God says He is! Or else the question is irrational.

Don D., Canada, 9 April 2016

As an illustration of the fact that God is eternal we have God meeting Moses at the burning bush where God calls himself "I am". The Bible does use many, many other names to describe God; everything from Lord of Hosts to The Good Shepherd to The Root of David! But it is quite astounding to see God name himself to Moses with perhaps the simplest of terms, the verb "is"...which is one of the most profound statements at one and the same time! In French, one translation literally interprets this as "L'Eternel" or, in English, "The Eternal One". When Jesus told his accusers in John 8 "Before Abraham was, I am" he was succinctly claiming divinity, that is: I am (God). Nobody who is created can make that claim! Only one who exists and has always existed can say "I am" in this way.

I am very thrilled with this clarification of the Kalam Argument. Brilliantly done! Thank you.

B. B., Canada, 9 April 2016

I have read many of your arguments and they are very true, but what I do not understand is why you must use such abstract and high-sounding words to describe your arguments. Couldn't you describe them in more concrete terms that are easier to understand? Thank you.

Shaun Doyle responds

This is actually part of the reason why the term "Kalām Cosmological Argument" doesn't appear in the title of the article. But this is the usual name for this particular argument. The word "Kalām" refers to the origins of this argument among a particular school of Islamic thought in the middle ages (this is an argument Jews, Muslims, and Christians can all make use of). The word "cosmological" refers to the subject matter of the argument: it cites some feature of the whole cosmos as evidence for God's existence. Now, since there are several different arguments that cite various features of the whole cosmos as evidence for God, the term "Kalām" distinguishes this type of cosmological argument from others. But to put it simply, this is 'the argument for God from the beginning of the universe'.

gabriel S., South Africa, 9 April 2016

Gen 18:14 "Is anything too hard or too wonderful for the Lord?..." [AMP]

R. M., Brazil, 9 April 2016

In fact, everything that is in our Universe has a beginning (and because this, a cause). If God is our Creator, obviously He is eternal. He isn't just another part of this world.

Philippus S., Australia, 8 April 2016

Thanks for a brilliant explanation about a very complex matter.

My simple conclusion for one is; Without God not even Atheist would exist.

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