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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.

Helpful Resources

Christianity for Skeptics
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