The first argument to be discussed in our series on the existence of God is the cosmological argument, one version being called the first cause argument. This argument takes the existence of the universe to entail the existence of a being that created it. It does so based on the fact that the universe had a beginning. There must, this argument says, be something that caused that beginning, a first cause of the universe. The universe consists of a series of events stretched across time in a long causal chain. Each event is the cause of the event that comes after it, and simultaneously the effect of the event that comes before it. The world as it is came from the world as it was, which came from the world as it was before. If we trace this series of events back in time, then what do we find? There seems, at first glance, to be two possibilities: either we eventually reach the first event in the series, the cause at the beginning of the universe that set everything going, or there is no first event in the series and the past stretches back into infinity. The first cause argument posits that the second of these is not possible, that the past cannot stretch back into infinity but rather must have a beginning. The argument then suggests that if the universe has a beginning then there must be something outside it that brought it into existence. This being outside the universe, this creator, the first cause argument tells us, is God.
If I said that I had just counted down from infinity to zero, and claimed that I had started with “infinity minus zero” and counted down until I reached “infinity minus infinity” (zero), then you would know that claim to be false. Just as it is impossible to count up from zero to infinity, so it is impossible to count down from infinity to zero. If I could have really started counting down from infinity and kept going, then I would still be counting to this day; I could not have finished. This is because it is impossible to traverse an infinite series. The idea that the universe has an infinite past is just as problematic as the idea that I have just counted down from infinity. If the universe had an infinite past, then time would have had to “count down” from infinity to reach “zero” – the present – and thus would not have reached it. The fact that we have reached the present seems to show that the past is not infinite but finite. The claim that the universe had a beginning has been confirmed by modern science; Even the majority of atheistic scientists will not deny that the universe had a beginning, which they trace back to a point of origin in the ‘big bang’.
So the past cannot go back forever; the universe must have a beginning. The next question is whether something caused this beginning, or whether the universe just popped into existence out of nothing. However, it is common knowledge (in the intellectual realm at least) that nothing that begins to exist does so without a cause; nothing comes from nothing. For any thing to come into existence there must be something else that already exists that can bring it into existence. The fact that the universe began to exist implies that something brought it into existence, that the universe has an ultimate “causer.”
If this creator were a being like the universe, a being that exists in time (and therefore came into existence), then it too would have to have been created by something. Nothing comes from nothing, not even God. This tells us that the ultimate cause of the universe must have never come into existence; the ultimate creator must be a being that exists outside of time, an eternal being with neither beginning nor end.
Next time, we’ll examine a couple of objections to this argument…