By Matt Lefebvre

This post is a continuation of the cosmological argument. Please see Part 1, Part 2 if you have not read them yet.

To read along with audio for this article, click here Cosmo-Part3

3. Therefore the universe had a cause


As I mentioned in the introduction and as I hope you have seen through the examination of the premises, there is a lot at stake philosophically in the notion that the universe had a cause.  Some scientists did not want it to be true, but eventually had to yield to the evidence.  Others acknowledged that it seemed to confirm religious beliefs, even if they did not have those beliefs themselves.  So what is it about this cause that has theological implications, because I am sure the skeptic would be quick to point out that just because the universe has a cause it does not mean that cause must be God?

Well, what have we discovered so far?  If the universe has a cause, that cause is not part of the universe, because the cause, in order to cause the universe to begin, must itself exist prior to the universe.  So the cause is beyond the universe or transcendent.  Furthermore, when this cause brought about the beginning of the universe, this was also the beginning of time, space, and matter, so the cause is timeless, nonspatial, and immaterial.  In addition, this cause is supremely powerful, since the entire universe was created out of nothing.  Considering how it was made, this cause must also be supremely intelligent, because the way in which the Big Bang happened was executed with pin-point precision, allowing the universe to form the way it has, adequate for sustaining life (a part of the teleological argument, which I plan to write about in the next article).  So thus far, we can actually indicate quite a bit about this cause: it is a transcendent, timeless, nonspatial, immaterial, supremely powerful, supremely intelligent cause.  These are attributes that theists traditionally ascribe to God.  However, there is even more that could be discovered with a little thought.  It should be understood that this cause is also personal, meaning that it is not some impersonal force.  An example of an impersonal force would be gravity: it does not choose to draw satellites into orbit around the earth or to keep humans on the ground, but rather this impersonal force causes an effect naturally.  In the case of the Big Bang, though, it was a one-time effect brought about by the cause, so the cause “chose” to do it.  If it was not by choice, but by the impersonal, automatic causation, we might expect Big Bang after Big Bang from all eternity.  However, the evidence suggests one Big Bang, which would then be the choice of a personal cause.  So to sum up, we have a transcendent, timeless, nonspatial, immaterial, supremely powerful, supremely intelligent, personal cause.  Mark Mittelberg shares an experience that Chad Meister, who has a doctorate in philosophy, had at a dinner conversation in which he shared some of the evidence of the cosmological argument.  A pilot he was eating with responded “’Yes, but how do you know it is God who created the universe?  Maybe an alien did the creating!’ Chad replied, ‘Maybe so!  But let’s keep in mind that our alien, whom we can call Bob, is timeless (that is, outside of time), nonspatial (outside of spatial dimension), immaterial (not made up of any matter), and does not consist of physical energy, yet was powerful enough to create the entire universe-all the billions and billions of galaxies, each of which has billions and billions of stars.  In light of that information, you can call him Bob, but I call him Yahweh!  This is the transcendent God beyond space and time in whom Christians have believed for two thousand years.’” (The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask, p.9).  Now, it is important to point out that the cosmological argument does not alone establish all the attributes of the Christian God (that He is good, loving, involved in history, etc.).  However, all the attributes of the cause that we have pointed out thus far are consistent with the Christian God and utterly inexplicable on a purely naturalistic framework.

Another question that is often asked when God is invoked as the cause goes something like this, “If God made the universe, who made God?”  The atheist might get a little smirk on his face after making this inquiry, thinking that it is just devastating to the cosmological argument.  This, however, is to totally misunderstand everything that has been stated so far in this argument.

First of all, even if I did not have an answer to the question of who made God, it would not refute the evidence we have presented for God actually being the best explanation for the existence of the universe.  Highlighting our own ignorance as to the origins of God does not bring us back to an eternal universe or to a universe that could pop into existence, uncaused, out of nothing.

Second, the law of causality, as powerful and as well-demonstrated as it is, only applies to those things that had a beginning, so the question of whether God needs a cause is relative to whether he had a beginning or not.

Third, if God is indeed timeless, as the evidence for the Big Bang and the philosophical argument would require that He must be, how meaningful is it to inquire about His beginning?  According to Stephen Hawking, “One may say that time had a beginning at the big bang, in the sense that earlier times simply would not be defined.” (A Brief History of Time, p.9).  If God created time at the Big Bang, when He created matter and space along with it, why would we demand that there be some explanation for what caused God to come into existence?  It is difficult for us to wrap our minds around, because in our experience, a person is born, lives, and later dies, but if we consider the fundamental differences that can be seen between us and God, I think it makes a lot more sense.  In this way, we understand God to be self-existent, or in other words, not dependent on anyone or anything else for His existence, and thereby draw a much needed line between contingent beings in the created universe and the self-existent transcendent God.

Fourth, though it may for some reason be tempting for the atheist to try to claim the same self-existent status for the universe as a theist establishes for God, this is unacceptable.  For example, J.L. Mackie writes, “There is a priori no good reason why a sheer origination of things, not determined by anything, should be unacceptable, whereas the existence of a god with the power to create something out of nothing is acceptable.” (The Miracle of Theism, p.94).  Fair enough, but what is the idea of a sheer origination of things and how does it compare with a creator God?  Can this origination of time, space, and matter be self-existent or powerful enough to bring itself into existence?  The arguments above strongly suggest that this is not the case.  Could this origination conceivably be personal and intelligent, because the origination has only happened once and the expansion at the Big Bang was a precise action?  Again, I think not.  I think I understand Mackie’s plea.  I hope he just wants to avoid the invoking of necessary beings, and not try to give to a sheer indeterminate origination the creative powers and attributes of a creator.  Whatever the case, the transcendent God is simply not on the same playing field as alternate explanations, and not because theologians have put Him there, but because the universe demands explanation and God is the only adequate one.  There must be an ultimate explanation and to choose between God and the universe is really not a difficult choice, because I find that God is really the only choice that makes any sense.

Conclusion

Why is there something rather than nothing?  Some might say the universe has always existed, or that the universe brought itself into existence, or maybe even that there could be a god somewhere, but we have no idea what he would be like.  Well, I believe I have challenged such remarks by saying that everything that had a beginning had a cause, the universe had a beginning, and therefore, the universe had a cause.  As far as what this cause is like, it is a self-existent, transcendent, timeless, nonspatial, immaterial, supremely powerful, supremely intelligent, personal cause.  I leave you with the words of agnostic astronomer Robert Jastrow:

“For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream.  He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.” (God and the Astronomers, p.116)

The Teleological Argument

The Moral Argument

The Argument from Jesus’ Resurrection

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Comments
  1. jonnydropout says:

    in truth, i must admit an antagonistic bent towards those who would point to invisible hands when discussing unknowns, but only because so many of those same voices protest the removal of god from now filled gaps in knowledge with extreme vigor. you don’t strike me as that type…

    but your argument continues in the same rutted cycle as the rest of us. if a god is self-existent, why not self-evident? the implication you make with causal deduction is that cause implies a motive, and thus a persona to embody this motive, but persona is not now nor was ever a prerequisite for the causation of any circumstance here in our universe.

    it seems flimsy to suggest that an omnipotent and omniscient avatar is necessary at some vague, pre-universe, beginning of time moment…but is then no longer self-evident in said universe, except to a ‘chosen’ few on an insignificant speck in the splendor of a trillion stars? the rational involved requires suspension of proportion and balance which i simply can not subscribe to.

    nature is full of examples of apparent design at first glance, where further investigation can trace back the mutation and adaptation of randomly spread traits to result in the function all appendages and organs. even humans have a useless organ from our ancestors, so the function of a structure does not imply or require a motivating factor of creation, only continuation and opportunity.

    but the beginning of our universe, i will admit it is an unknown process, a gap which i will allow a god theory to sit in for now … but i won’t accept the reasoning that beginning and cause imply a creative motivator without evidential proof further then your convictions…

    but on the whole, i found your post compelling… so i hope my criticism does not come off as crass or self-righteous, i am merely pointing to the weakness, it is up to you to defend it…

    regards,
    -jon

    • Hey Jon,
      Sorry I haven’t responded until now. I have been teaching morning, afternoon, and night the last 3 days, so my time has been at a minimum. Thanks for your comment, though, and I just want to say that I do appreciate your criticism. I did not see it as crass or self-righteous at all, but I thought you respectively presented your reservations about the argument. I think it is great that we can discuss these kinds of issues and it is my opinion that a general respect goes a long way in making for a good discussion. I hope that I can show the same respect in offering my response.

      If I understand correctly, you have raised a few questions:
      1. “if a god is self-existent, why not self-evident?”
      2. “persona is not now nor was ever a prerequisite for the causation of any circumstance here in our universe”
      3. God of the gaps

      1. I am not sure if I totally understand this point, so feel free to clarify if I am responding on a different track. I do not see a necessary connection between being self-existent and being self-evident. I see God as self-existent in that He does not rely on anything or anyone else for His existence, but is independent of causation and terminates the chain of causes, acting as the first cause.

      As far as being self-evident, this is not what the argument is dealing with. In the introduction to arguments for the existence of God, of which the current article is the first in the series, it is mentioned that we are presenting a cumulative case for God’s existence and no one argument is intended to give all the attributes Christian theism traditionally ascribes to God on its own. Thus, the cosmological argument is not claiming that the Christian God must exist based solely on the evidence for the beginning of the universe, but that what can be found out about the beginning of the universe through the cosmological argument is consistent with the concept of God.

      That being said, though God may not be self-evident in the sense that everyone in the universe can do nothing but believe He exists, I believe that this argument and the others that we are planning to present explain the evidence better than any other opposing hypothesis. To me, these arguments represent evidence for those seeking answers, while not forcing anyone to believe that God exists if they really do not want to. This is, however, beside the point being made in this particular argument for God’s existence, because even though I have identified that the attributes presented are consistent with Christian theism, this argument does not tell us whether this God would be interested in revealing Himself to what He had created.

      2. I totally agree that persona is not a prerequisite for causation of any circumstance in our universe. The issue is precisely that, though: we are talking about something outside of our universe, and thus, it is not just any cause, but the first cause.

      It is fine to point out, for example, that wind blowing in a sail is the cause of a sailboat moving in the same direction that the wind is blowing. It would also be correct, in this regard, to state that it is not a personal cause, but an impersonal operation of natural law. However, when trying to explain what caused something so fundamental as the natural laws of our universe, things become difficult. My assertion that the cause of the universe is personal was presented in contrast to impersonal forces. An eternal string of impersonal causes might fit an eternal universe, but based on the evidence that the universe had a beginning, I need more than automatic or natural causes to explain why there is something rather than nothing. If we could find evidence for a natural process that would automatically make big bangs, somehow without ever having to be set in motion itself, that might be something, but what we are talking about is only one Big Bang and I am basing the personal aspect of the cause on this idea. In our universe, having already been set in motion at the Big Bang, we have both personal and impersonal causes, but if we look prior to our universe, I do not see how the candidate for a first cause could be an impersonal force, while not having been set in motion itself.

      I am not aware of how I implied that cause implies motive in a general sense, if that is what you thought I was doing. If you are referring to the word “chose” that I used, I was merely differentiating between the concept of an impersonal force without the ability to say whether it wants to cause or not, and a personal cause, which is not bound to cause and cause and cause according to natural law, but can cause if it so chooses. This definitely implies motive, but specifically in the case of the beginning, which then led to all sorts of different causes, both personal and impersonal.

      3. Regarding the two points above, I would welcome explanation of how the cause of the beginning of the universe should be self-evident and could be impersonal. However, the way you have ended your comment suggests to me that this might not have been your intention. You admit that the beginning of our universe is an unknown process, allowing a god theory for the time being, but would like more proof than just my convictions.

      Well, first of all, I would like to mention that we all have convictions, and while they can be right or wrong, I still see that they are inevitably there. I gather that you would not deny this, since your admission of antagonism was the first thing you commented in response to the article. The fact that I believe in God, while another person denies His existence, really does not take us anywhere in terms of what to believe. If he charges me with God of the gaps, while he does not have an alternative explanation, I could just as easily accuse him of “atheism of the gaps”. So how do we know what to believe? Well, I believe we can look at the evidence, of which I think the article has some to offer; an article you found compelling on the whole, though you obviously have reservations.

      I appreciate your observation that I do not strike you as one to protest the removal of God from now filled gaps in knowledge, and I would add that God did not need to be put in those gaps in the first place, even if knowledge was lacking for a time. Whenever I hear “God of the gaps” I usually think of pagan deities that supposedly controlled different aspects of the world, and I recognize that this was not based on knowledge, but lack of it. I live in Sweden, so it can be funny to picture Thor, god of thunder, getting angry during a thunder storm, but I would not take this kind of thinking seriously. So why do I say God created the universe and not that someday there will be a different cause found? Well, I see God of the gaps being based on what we do not know, whereas I see that the cosmological argument for God’s existence is based on what we do know. In fact, many theists were instrumental in starting modern science, based on the belief that the universe was created by a rational God and would therefore be governed by rationality. For example, Isaac Newton did not say that God’s hand was holding everything on the earth, but that the force of gravity was. He still believed that God was responsible for natural law, and this discovery, far from reducing his belief in God, revealed more of the wonder of God through the created order. Newton actually wrote more on theology than science, but he is best known for the science.

      In regard to your description of evolution as a mechanism that gives the appearance of design, but is only natural force, I would agree that variation can be explained by evolution. However, evolution has been unsuccessful in explaining origins, focusing instead on changes. This is a key point, though, because the question of what happens with material already here is quite a different question from asking where the material came from. This is what the cosmological argument endeavors to explain. As far as the apparent design being explained away, different people will disagree on what is designed and what is not. I think a hindrance to some people accepting the concept of a creator has been the invoking of a designer for inadequate reasoning. I, however, have presented an argument to claim that there is a self-existent, transcendent, timeless, nonspatial, immaterial, supremely powerful, supremely intelligent, personal cause, so I do not believe this is filling a “gap” in knowledge, but is in fact based on the knowledge we have.

      Lastly, I would just like to point out that it is not as if personal convictions are the only thing that would make a person consider God on the basis of this argument. I have mentioned this in the article, but to give a quick list of the people who were philosophically disinclined to the beginning of the universe and the implications: Arthur Eddington, Arno Penzias, Robert Wilson, and of course, Albert Einstein. Yet it was the contribution of these men, along with others, that led to the eventual acceptance of a beginning to the universe. If it were a matter of convictions, science might still think that the universe is eternal, but because these men were humble enough to admit that their convictions were not absolute, science was thus not hindered in this respect. Einstein recognized that his “fudge factor” as the greatest mistake of his life, but imagine if he had somehow maintained his concept of the eternal universe, even after the confirmation of his theory and the observation of the expanding universe. If I had to put a name on that, I might call it “eternal universe of the gaps” and I would question how scientific that would be. When it comes down to it, we all have convictions, and the question is whether we can get out of own way long enough to see where the evidence actually leads. All I can ask is that we would be honest with ourselves and pursue the truth, at all costs.

      You may or may not find this response to be an adequate defense of the questions you raised, but in any case, I would like to challenge you to think about your own convictions and how firm the basis for them is. You seem to be someone who really likes to think and ask questions, and I think we should continually ask ourselves what we believe and why we believe it.

      Thank you again for your comment and I hope you will find our upcoming arguments at least interesting, if not convincing.

      Matt

  2. jonnydropout says:

    oh, matt… you’ve made me so happy your response was more then i could have hoped for…

    i find the discussion very compelling and will read further posts with extreme zeal.

    while i sometimes respond in a clumsy and inelegant way, i always attempt to arrange the argument into basic components. sometimes this serves me well, but most of the time, the baseness of the theorem leaves gaps which cannot cover the immensity of reality. i actually agree with many of the points you argue… although the conclusion you’ve arrived at seems to ellude me…

    i will clarify my argument slightly, but only for my own peace of mind… you may continue to disagree (as if you needed my permission)…

    when i laid down the ‘self-evident’ argument, i was thinking more along the lines of physical self-evidence as a baseline for the deduction of a force. to claim the existence of god, in a general omnipotent being sort of sense, i still believe the onus is on the theists to show how the initial force of creation is being continued in it’s current incarnation. if this force was the proponant from which all creation springs, and thus considered the cause, shouldn’t the reaction, or the continuation of creation, show tell-tale signs of the initial conditions? the wind blows, but we know from where and why the wind blows by the reaction to it’s force. if this reaction (like a sailboat moving) was not present, would we say that the wind was blowing? see, self-evidence…

    while i admit that a god with unlimited powers would not be limited by the constraints of human understanding, but if the reaction to his action is not measurable, did it exist? and if it did, what good is it if this god is actively or passively trying to keep us in the dark about the nature of this action? the reasoning cuts off any chance of understanding the unknowable (a concept i a may never find acceptable).

    While einstein’s theory of realitivity does imply a finite beginning, the theory has proven itself incomplete to describe the weakness of gravity and current quantum particle theory. but here i am arguing theory vs. theory… you know the math, and so i won’t force my conclusions on you…

    but maybe it is not the evidence, but the lack thereof, that we are truly contending. i suppose we are both working just as hard convincing ourselves, as we are convincing each other.

    while i am not convinced, i am encouraged by the tone of our discussion, and will continue to seek answers. please don’t stop challenging me and others to defend our godless existence…

    regards and respect,
    -jon

    • I think it’s great that you are thinking through these things. That’s really all I could ask, that we question our foundations and see what is solid and what is not. There will certainly always be unanswered questions, but I don’t find this intimidating. On the contrary, I find it rather exciting that we can search the depths of our universe, including ourselves, to discover more and more about reality.

      I am pleased to hear that you will continue to read further posts. We usually do about 1 article per month, so you could expect another one some time in October.

      Matt

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