This is a WordPress repost of an excellent article originally authored by Amy Wang.
Does Everything Demand a Cause?
When my niece was only a few years old, she asked a question philosophers love to ask: If God created the world, then who created God Himself? The famous atheist Bertrand Russell was himself heavily influenced by this same argument in John Stuart Mill’s Autobiography (Russell, Why I am not a Christian).
The argument might be formulated as follows: If everything demands a cause, then that would also be true of any proposed “first cause,” but then it would no longer be the “first cause.” Hence, there can be no first cause.
However, Thomas Aquinas, who formulated the Argument for God’s Existence from First Cause, also known as the Cosmological Argument, would disagree with the premise that everything demands a cause. In his mind, the first cause itself needs no cause because it is necessary and eternal. According to Aquinas, only contingent things demand causes, such as things that did not always exist (See Peter Kreeft’s lectures on Thomas Aquinas). One of those contingent things is the universe, as we will demonstrate next.
If God is Necessary and Eternal, Why Couldn’t the Universe also be Necessary and Eternal?
Russell argues that if we allow that God may be uncaused, there is no reason we cannot also allow that the universe may also be uncaused. In theory, the universe, like God, could be necessary and eternal, in which case it would not be a contingent thing but a necessary thing. However, empirical evidence now supports the theory that the universe began to exist in the Big Bang (see evidence below), which would mean the universe has not always existed. Thus, the universe is actually contingent and therefore demands a cause.
Why Do We Need a Necessary Being To Explain the Universe’s Beginning?
Common sense tells us that anything that begins to exist must have an external reason for coming into existence. Otherwise, we could not explain why something exists at all rather than nothing, because nothing only begets nothing. Aquinas explains further in his discourse on “five ways” that we need something whose existence is necessary to explain something whose existence is contingent. He says,
“…that which does not exist cannot begin to exist except by means of something already existing. Therefore, if at one time nothing was in existence, it would have been impossible for anything to have begun to exist, and thus even now nothing would be in existence—which is absurd. Therefore not all beings are merely possible but there must exist something whose existence is necessary.” Taken from Kreeft, The Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas, p.18.
In summary, because God always existed, He does not begin to exist, and therefore no causal explanation is required. But the Universe didn’t always exist, and in fact began to exist; hence, a causal explanation is required. Furthermore, at some point in the causal chain must be a necessary being.
For more information, read William Lane Craig’s work on the Kalam Cosmological Argument.
Why Can’t There Be an Infinite Regression of Causes Rather Than a First Cause?
Some philosophers say we need a first cause because an infinite regression of causes is just not possible. However, Russell responds, isn’t it just a failure of imagination to assume there can’t be an infinite regression of causes (Russell, Why I am Not a Christian)? Although some philosophers come up with complicated answers on why infinite regression of causes is impossible in actuality, I would rather simply respond with empirical evidence that suggests the universe has not existed forever. Based on the Big Bang theory, scientists say that the universe’s space and time itself have a beginning. If time has a beginning, then there cannot be an infinite regression of causes in the universe. Furthermore, philosophers say according to the Second Law of Thermodynamics (Law of Entropy), if the universe were eternal, then we would be out of usable energy by now (Geisler and Turek, p.92,76). Additionally, if certain radioactive elements were existing for eternity, they would have long ago decayed and changed into other elements (Geisler and Turek, 90).
Why Insist on a Cause at all?
If we remove causality, then we might as well throw out science, which is largely based on causality. Even the philosopher Hume agreed, “I never asserted so absurd a proposition as that something could arise without a cause.”
What Evidence Do We Have for the Big Bang?
Previously, philosophers like Kant and many scientists didn’t believe in the beginning of the universe. Why do modern scientists, including nonbelievers like Stephen Hawking, believe in the Big Bang and a beginning of the universe, including space and time itself?
One of the competing theories was the theory that the universe could be undergoing infinite cycles of expansion and contraction, popularized by Carl Sagan (Ross, Creator and the Cosmos, 78-80,87-90). However, we now know the universe will not contract. The universe’s density is below that which is needed to contract. Amazingly, Hawking observes that the rate of expansion is finely tuned so as to expand forever. If it had been slightly different, the universe would have recollapsed before it could get to the present size:
“Why did the universe start out with so nearly the critical rate of expansion that separates models that recollapse from those that go on expanding forever, that even now, 10 thousand million years later, it is still expanding at nearly the critical rate? If the expansion one second after the Big Bang had been smaller by even one part in 100 thousand million million, the universe would have recollapsed before it ever reached its present size.” “On the other hand, if the rate of expansion had been greater by even one part in a million, stars and planets could not have been able to form” (Collins, 72-73).
Another competing theory was the steady state universe, in which new matter was continually created to fill in voids resulting from the expansion of the universe. However, there are at least 10 independent refutations of this theory (Ross, Creator and the Cosmos, 78-80,87-90).
Evidence that supports the Big Bang includes the following:
- The Universe Will Expand Forever: As discussed above, the universe will expand forever and will not collapse. Calculations based on the General Theory of Relativity imply the universe is expanding, which was confirmed by the Hubble telescope’s observed redshifts (Boa, 53; Baker, 57). Studies even show the universe expansion is accelerating, not decelerating (See Strobel, 113-115, Geisler and Turek, 86).
- Cosmic background radiation is expected to result from a big bang and has been verified empirically.
- The currently found relative proportion of light elements like Hydrogen and Helium is expected to result only from rapid cooling from extremely hot temperatures like what would happen in a Big Bang (Ross, Creator and the Cosmos, 32-33).
- The laws of thermodynamics are also used to reason that an infinitely old universe would have run out of usable energy (article). Thus, it is argued the universe is not infinitely old.
- Einstein’s theory of general relativity also indicates an absolute beginning for time, space, and matter (Geisler and Turek, 83-84).
- Hugh Ross also says the stability of stars and orbits are only possible in a big bang universe (Creator and the Cosmos, 43).
Amazingly, what scientists have recently discovered ultimately points back to what theologians have held all along:
“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.” —Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers
Has New Research in Quantum Physics Disproven the Big Bang?
Although physicists later devised theories using quantum physics to argue against the Big Bang, Hugh Ross says they are speculative and may not even be verifiable, since they relate to the first 10-43 seconds of the universe’s history, a timespan much shorter than 1 second (Hugh Ross). Furthermore, William Lane Craig says the quantum vacuum is not actually the same as “nothing” but a “sea of fluctuating energy” (Strobel, Case for a Creator, 101). Hence, quantum mechanics does not imply we can get something from nothing.
There are also other difficulties for using quantum mechanics to explain the popping into existence of the universe. Hugh Ross says that in quantum tunneling, particles appear and disappear before a human observer can detect them. If quantum mechanics could be applied to the universe, Hugh Ross says it would have already disappeared in less than 10-103 seconds, which is much shorter than 1 second (Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos, 127-129). For further information on quantum mechanics, see Hugh Ross’s books, The Creator and the Cosmos and The Fingerprint of God.
What does the Bible Say Related to the Big Bang, Time, and Creation?
Beginning of the Universe: The Bible supports the beginning of the universe in Genesis, as opposed to other religions which may include infinite cycles of reincarnation.
Outside of Time: If time has a beginning, the creator of time has to be outside of even time itself. The Bible supports a God who made plans for us even before the universe began (2Timothy 1:9, 1Corinthians 2:7, Titus 1:2).
Expansion of the Universe: The Bible refers to God as the one who stretches and spreads out the heavens as a curtain or tent (Isaiah 40:22, Isaiah 51:13). This may refer to the expansion of the universe.
Necessary and Everlasting Being Before the Universe’s Time Began: The Bible supports a God who existed in the beginning (John 1:1). He refers to himself as the “I AM” (John 8:58/Exodus 3:14), the first and the last. He is before all things and in Him all things consist (Colossians 1:17). He is eternal (Genesis 21:33, Psalm 90:2).
In short, the God of the Bible can fit in well with the necessary being who exists outside of time which is required to explain a contingent universe that began to exist.