When I made my exit from evangelical Christian faith, my friends’ most common objection was, “If there’s no God, then where did all this come from?” I heard this again recently, so I thought I’d write about it.
- Everything that begins to exist must have a cause. (Also put as “Something cannot come from nothing.”)
- The universe began to exist.
- Therefore, the universe has a cause.
How could anyone object to that?
As it turns out, we can and should object to each of those steps.
1. Everything that begins to exist must have a cause. I
Not true. “Something” comes from “nothing” all the time. In A Universe from Nothing, physicist Lawrence Krauss explains why “nothing” is actually an unstable state (chapter 10). In fact, taking the admittedly non-intuitive, but experimentally proven principles of quantum mechanics to their logical conclusion, it is entirely possible that our entire universe arose from nothing.
2. The universe began to exist.
That five-word sentence hides two assumptions that can slip right by us.
First, scientists are increasingly convinced that it is incorrect to speak of “the” universe. Our universe may well be just one in an infinite set of universes — the multiverse. Universes may give birth to one another in a chain that extends to the infinite past — a chain that did not “begin to exist.”
Second, even if our universe is the only one, it does not make sense to speak of its beginning, as if there was a time before it existed. From the Big Bang arose not only space, but time. As Stephen Hawking says, to speak of anything before the Big Bang is like speaking of a point that is more south than the South Pole.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.
This conclusion of the syllogism is already in doubt because its premises are suspect. However, let’s grant the conclusion anyway: the universe has a cause. Would that lead us to the traditional God of Western culture? Not necessarily, for the following conclusions are equally valid.
- The god who created the universe died in the process, like a woman who dies in childbirth. God used to exist, but no longer does.
- A committee of gods created the universe.
- God created the universe, and then let it run based on Laws of Nature. God does not care about what rules you live by, does not answer prayers, and does not offer salvation to humankind.
- God created the universe not for us, but for black holes. After all, there are many more black holes than people. We are just an accidental byproduct.
- A natural process that we have not yet discovered created the universe.
When trying to prove the existence of God, the Argument from First Cause has a lot of emotional appeal. Upon closer examination, it does not get the job done.