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.
The first-cause argument for God has a long history, dating at least from Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover. It seems persuasive:
- 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.
Not some simple construct of the human imagination called GOD!
Let’s not forget that the first premise depends on what we observe every day… Things that start to exist from other things. A tree grows from a seed, a house is built from rocks, etc.etc. – all of that happens INSIDE the universe and is bound to time. So trying to conclude from that to something that is NOT INSIDE the universe (but the universe itself) and NOT bound by time (as time is a property of the universe) might be an invalid generalization.
A simple example: Let’s take a set of numbers, for example all numbers that are even (2,4,6,8,etc.etc.). We can see the rule, that all numbers (in this set) are even: “Everything that exists (in the set) is even.”. BUT that does not allow us to conclude “Thus, everything is even, thus the set itself is even.”, simply because our rule only applies to things inside the set.
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