The Universe Has a Cause for Its Existence
Apologetics Research & Writing MD1
Dr. Clay Jones
Is this universe all that exists? Does something or someone exist outside of all space and time that we know? This has been a question of science, philosophy, and theology for millennia. Christianity believes that the universe began to exist. Conversely, naturalists argue that the universe’s existence can be explained strictly by the laws of nature. Naturalists argue theists have not been able to show that the universe needs a cause apart from itself to exist. However, philosophical arguments and scientific evidence suggest that the universe began to exist and has a cause.
The kalam cosmological argument is a deductive argument which says the universe has a cause for its existence. Dr. William Lane Craig, Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, is a proponent of the kalam argument. The argument states:
- Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
- The universe began to exist.
- Therefore, the universe has a cause.1
Since this argument is logically valid, the conclusion follows from its premises. We must therefore examine whether the first two premises are true, or at least more likely than their denials.
Whatever Begins to Exist Has a Cause
The premise that whatever begins to exist has a cause seems intuitive. Could physical objects actually come into existence without causes? Craig writes that if things could come into being uncaused this would be “to quit doing serious metaphysics and to resort to magic.”2 Were this premise false we should expect anything to appear around us for no apparent reason. Since we do not have this experience, the premise certainly seems more likely than its denial.
Some skeptics claim that we have clear scientific evidence of things popping into existence from nothing. Dr. Lawrence Krauss, a distinguished Professor of Physics and Director of the Origins Initiative at Arizona State University, is one such skeptic. He believes he can scientifically show how the universe popped into being from nothing. Not only does he believe quantum mechanics provides us with a framework for creating something from nothing, but also that we have observable instances of uncaused physical creation from nothing. During an interview, Krauss says, “Nothing is unstable. Nothing can create something all the time due to the laws of quantum mechanics…empty space is a boiling, bubbling brew of virtual particles that pop in and out of existence.”3
There are several problems with Krauss’ view. First, the view of quantum particles coming into and out of being without cause is uncertain. Craig states, “A great many physicists today are quite dissatisfied with this view.”4 Second and more seriously, Krauss attempts to pass off something as nothing. Krauss believes that “nothing” carries properties such as instability and gravity. However, Krauss is committing the logical fallacy of equivocation by using “empty space” and “nothing” interchangeably. Francis Schaeffer, a 20th century Christian theologian and philosopher, gives a description of the difference between nothing (called nothing nothing by Schaeffer) and empty space:
My description of nothing nothing runs like this. Suppose we had a very black blackboard which had never been used. On this blackboard we drew a circle, and inside that circle there was everything that was – and there was nothing within the circle. Then we erase the circle. This is nothing nothing. You must not let anybody say he is giving an answer beginning with nothing and then really begin with something: energy, mass, motion, or personality. That would be something, and something is not nothing.5
Later, Krauss states, “Gravity allows positive energy and negative energy, and out of nothing you can create positive energy particles, and as long as a gravitational attraction produces enough negative energy, the sum of their energy can be zero.”6 Again, Krauss attempts to pass off two things that are not the same as though they were. Zero energy is not the same as no energy. If we have positive energy particles and negative energy particles such that they sum out exactly, we cannot say there is no energy and no particles in the first place. Craig explains, “The vacuum is not nothing but is a sea of fluctuating energy endowed with a rich structure and subject to physical laws.”7 Furthermore, positive and negative energy being acted upon by gravity is not nothing!
Krauss responds, “Some people would say…empty space isn’t nothing…But the amazing thing is, once you apply in fact quantum mechanics to gravity…then it’s possible, in fact it’s implied, that space itself can be created where there was nothing before…whole universes can pop out of nothing by the laws of quantum mechanics.”8 According to Krauss, if people wish to say that empty space is not nothing and therefore needs an explanation for its existence, then we can apply quantum mechanics to gravity, and this creates empty space where none existed. I will not argue his physics, but his logic seems flawed. Douglas Groothuis, Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary, writes, “The notion of a causeless event is counterintuitive if not nonsensical…‘Nothing’ lacks all causal power, because it has no properties at all. It is a linguistic device to indicate the utter lack of any essence, properties, qualities or attributes.” 9First, quantum mechanics and gravity are (still) something, and need explanations for their existence. Second, how can something create itself? The notion that the universe could create itself from nothing is metaphysically absurd. The best explanation here is the simplest. If it began, it has a cause.
The Universe Began to Exist
Premise one is therefore at least more likely to be true than its denial. What begins to exist has a cause for its existence. Further, when naturalists such as Krauss speak of the universe beginning out of nothing, they are actually talking about it beginning from something else. But if time did not exist prior to the universe’s birth, then what allowed “something”, such as gravity and quantum mechanics, to act and create the universe? Or, if time did exist, then why was the universe created at that moment? To avoid the question of how time began, many naturalists would argue that time is actually infinite, stretching eternally into the past.
However, the view that the past is actually infinite faces major conceptual and scientific problems. First, the existence of an infinite number of physical objects leads to absurdities. Some argue that actually infinite sets of physical objects have been proven by Cantorian Set Theory.10 However, Craig writes, “One may consistently hold that while the actual infinite is a fruitful and consistent concept within the postulated universe of discourse, it cannot be transposed into the real world, for this would involve counter-intuitive absurdities.”11 Note that he is not arguing against the mathematical and conceptual possibility of an actual infinite, but only against the physical possibility. For example, , known as an imaginary number since its result cannot be calculated, is conceptually and mathematically useful. But few would argue that there can be of a physical object, as opposed to say three of the object. In the same way, Craig is saying that actually infinite sets can exist, for example, in the realm of mathematics, but it would be absurd to translate it into the physical world.
Finally, it may be argued that since it is impossible to reach infinity by adding numbers, it is impossible for there to be an infinite past. If the series of events in time is formed by adding one member after another, and a series formed that way cannot be infinite, then the past cannot be infinite.12 It would be just as absurd to say that we can start at negative infinity and start adding to arrive at today. This argument does not prove, in the logical sense, that the past can not be infinite, but it does paint a picture showing how absurd such a reality would be. However, philosophical arguments do not need to be made in opposition to scientific data. We also have strong scientific reasons to believe that the universe began to exist.
Over the last century there have been several discoveries that point to the beginning of the universe. This has led to the Standard – also known as “Big Bang” – Model of the universe. Craig explains the Standard Model, writing, “As the universe expands, it becomes less and less dense. This has the astonishing implication that as one reverses the expansion and extrapolates back in time, the universe becomes progressively denser…The origin it posits is an absolute origin out of nothing. For not only all matter and energy, but space and time themselves come into being at the initial cosmological singularity.”13 The origin of our universe, with all of its attributes, physical laws, matter, and energy can be traced back to this one moment when everything we know of was created. Neil deGrasse Tyson, an agnostic Ph.D. in Astrophysics and host of the popular revival of the TV show Cosmos, says, “Regardless of what you may have read or heard, the big bang is supported by a preponderance of evidence and has become the most successful theory ever put forth for the origin and evolution of the universe.”14
The evidence that the universe is not infinitely old receives more support by reflecting on the second law of thermodynamics, which shows that “unless energy is constantly being fed into a system, the processes in the system will tend to run down and quit.”15 Applied to the universe as a closed system, this means that in the future our universe will effectively die as it continues to expand. Eventually, all of the energy is so spread out that nothing can change. Were the universe past eternal, the universe should have reached its death infinitely long ago!
There are several popular attempts to create a model of an eternal universe with the scientific data we have. The Steady State Model is a model of the universe in which energy is continually fed into the universe ex nihilo (from nothing).16 However, the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMB) and existence of light elements in the universe are not accounted for on the Steady State Model.17 The unique conditions of the big bang give ample reason for light elements to exist as they do, while Steady-State Model does not. Furthermore, the CMB exists in such a way that reflects the extreme conditions present at the beginning of the big bang, a steady-state universe gives no such results.
Alternatively, the Oscillating Model could avoid the second law of thermodynamics by allowing the universe to reverse expansion at some point in the future and collapse back into a singularity. It would then re-expand into a universe like we know today and repeat, forever. Dr. John Byl, Professor of Mathematics at Trinity Western University and a theist who nonetheless opposes the kalam, says, “It seems natural that a contracting universe would, once it reached the state of maximum compression, bounce back into an expanding phase rather than remaining at the singularity or vanishing into nothing.”18 Such a theory is however, is mere speculation, and even Byl admits that “no local exceptions to the expansion of the universe have yet been found, it seems plausible that it should hold also for other regions in the universe and, hence, for the universe as a whole.”19 Craig notes, “There are no known physics which would cause a collapsing universe to bounce back to a new expansion. …The red-shift data…indicate that, far from decelerating, the cosmic expansion is actually accelerating!”20 This makes the prevailing theory the most likely one: this universe is not infinitely oscillating between expansion and contraction. To make this point clear, Groothuis states, “The steady state and oscillating universe cosmologies are left in shambles, and there is no sure-fire successor in the works for big bang cosmology.”21
Philosophical and scientific evidence points in one direction: our universe has a cause for its existence. The challenges to the premises of the kalam cosmological argument appear less likely than the arguments in favor. The premises are more likely than their denials. But why is this argument important for theists? This argument is important because of the next question to be asked: If the universe has a cause for its existence, what is the cause? Naturalism claims that the universe has no explanation outside of itself, that nature has no cause. Theism claims that the universe has a cause, and that cause is God. Extrapolating from the kalam’s conclusion, the cause for the universe’s existence must be outside of itself. This cause must therefore be eternal, timeless, and non-physical, all attributes of the theistic concept of God. Theists would argue that this cause is the God of their respective religion, while the naturalist must search for a new theory to explain this evidence. Groothuis puts it this way, “Several worldviews are in intellectual jeopardy if our cosmological conclusions thus far are sound. Obviously, atheism is refuted if the universe is neither eternal nor sprung into existence out of nothing, since the only other alternative is divine creation.”22
William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, 3rd ed. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 111 ↩
Dr. Lawrence Krauss, interview by Ira Flatow, NPR Talk of the Nation, January 13, 2012, accessed September 13, 2015, http://www.npr.org/2012/01/13/145175263/lawrence-krauss-on-a-universe-from-nothing. ↩
Craig, Reasonable Faith, 114 ↩
Francis Schaeffer, The Francis A. Schaeffer Trilogy: The Three Essential Books in One Volume, He Is There and He Is Not Silent (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1990), 282 ↩
Krauss, interview by Flatow, NPR. ↩
Craig, Reasonable Faith, 115 ↩
Krauss, interview by Flatow, NPR. ↩
Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011), 215 ↩
Dr. John Byl, “On the Kalam Cosmological Argument.” Common Sense Atheism, accessed September 8, 2015, http://commonsenseatheism.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/byl-on-the-kalam-cosmological-argument.pdf, 3 ↩
Craig, Reasonable Faith, 117 ↩
Ibid., 120 ↩
Ibid., 126-127 ↩
Neil deGrasse Tyson, “In Defense of the Big Bang,” Hayden Planetarium: Neil deGrasse Tyson, December 1, 1996, accessed October 29, 2015, http://www.haydenplanetarium.org/tyson/read/1996/12/01/in-defense-of-the-big-bang ↩
Craig, Reasonable Faith, 141 ↩
Ibid., 128 ↩
Ibid., 129 ↩
Byl, “On the Kalam Cosmological Argument”, 10 ↩
Ibid., 12 ↩
Craig, Reasonable Faith, 130 ↩
Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 232 ↩
Ibid., 238 ↩