Why think there’s a God? (1): Something from Nothing

Let us start with the universe, the whole thing, the big picture. Why is there a universe? Why is there something rather than nothing? And how did all come about? These are big questions. Philosophers discuss these questions when looking at what is known as “the cosmological argument”.
There are many different ways of approaching the cosmological argument and many ways of stating it, but here is one common formulation:

1. Everything that has a beginning has a cause
2. The universe had a beginning
3. Therefore the universe had a cause

This is a deductive argument so if the premises (1 and 2) are true then the conclusion (3) is true. Intuitively, I think most people would accept the first premise and nowadays almost all philosophers and scientists accept the second premise, so it seems probable that the conclusion is true.

English: WMAP observes the first light of the ...

WMAP observes the first light of the universe- the afterglow of the Big Bang. This light emerged 380,000 years after the Big Bang. Patterns imprinted on this light encode the events that happened only a tiny fraction of a second after the Big Bang. In turn, the patterns are the seeds of the development of the structures of galaxies we now see billions of years after the Big Bang. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A good way to think about this is to try to imagine the alternatives. If the universe did not have a cause then either it didn’t have a beginning or popped into existence from nothing. But the universe did have a beginning. Around 14 billion years ago the universe began with the Big Bang. But the other alternative doesn’t seem particularly likely either. If you can get something from nothing, why do scientists spend so much time an effort looking for causes and explanations? If universes can just pop into existence uncaused then what is there to stop a brand new universe popping into existence in my shoe, say, or in my tea. If you find it just a little bit too unbelievable that the universe just winked into existence without rhyme or reason, then it must have had a cause.

The obvious follow-up question is what sort of cause are we looking for? The universe is space and time; what came into existence at the Big Bang was space and time. So whatever caused the universe to exist, whatever caused space and time to exist, must not exist in space (non-spatial) and must not exist in time (non-temporal) but – and this is the important bit – must also have cause power sufficient to kick off the Big Bang. And if you think about it, there aren’t that many options. If you are the sort of person who believes in abstract objects (i.e. that things like the number 3 aren’t just concepts but have independent existence) then you might identify abstract objects as potential candidates. After all, they are non-spatial and non-temporal. Unfortunately abstract objects don’t have causal power (the number 3 can’t cause anything). The only other available alternative seems to be an eternal and immaterial mind, and that sounds a lot like God.

“Aha!”, the atheist cries, “if the universe requires a cause surely God requires a cause too”. But this would be to misunderstand the argument. The universe requires a cause because it had a beginning (i.e. it is not eternal). But, God does not have a beginning (he is eternal) and so does not require a cause.

So if you can’t get something from nothing (and you can’t) and if the universe had a beginning (and it did) then it seems you need (some kind of) God.

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To be continued

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Additional literature

  1. Where did God come from?
  2. Attributes to God
  3. No good thing will he withhold
  4. Onsterfelijkheid – Immortaliteit
  5. Cosmos creator and human destiny
  6. Why is the age of the universe so different to the age of the Earth?
  7. Bible and Science (2): In the Beginning
  8. Bible and Science (3): Something From Nothing
  9. Bible and Science (4): How Did the Beginning Begin?
  10. Why did God take 6 days to create the universe? Why not do it in 1?
  11. Creator and Blogger God 3 Lesson and solution
  12. Trusting, Faith, calling and Ascribing to Jehovah #3 Voice of God #1 Creator and His Prophets

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From other denominations:

  • The First Cause (christianreasons.com)
    The Cosmological Argument takes the reality of the cosmos to entail the existence of a something that created it.
  • Why the Kalam Cosmological Argument fails, and why it doesn’t matter anyway (freethinkingjew.com)
    There’s no way this amazing world could have come into existence by itself.  There must have been some sort of “uncaused cause” that created the universe.Philosophers have been aware of these sorts of arguments for many centuries, and yet philosophers have, by and large, rejected these arguments.  It’s easy to see why, when even just an average freethinker like me can see where these arguments fall short.
  • The 7 Most Intriguing Philosophical Arguments for the Existence of God (io9.com)
    Nietzsche is famous for saying that God is dead, but news of The Almighty’s demise may have been greatly exaggerated. Here are some of the most fascinating and provocative philosophical arguments for the existence of God.
  • Allan Gotthelf on Ayn Rand on the Existence of God (maverickphilosopher.typepad.com)
    According to the axiom of existence, “Existence exists.”  Gotthelf takes this to mean that Something exists. (37)  If that is what it means, then it is indeed a self-evident truth.  For example, it is self-evident (to me) that I exist, which of course entails that something exists.  But it is equally self-evident (to me) that I am conscious.  For if I were not conscious then I would not be able to know that I exist and that something exists.  “That one exists possessing consciousness is the axiom of consciousness, the second philosophic axiom.” (38)The first axiom is logically prior to the second.  This is called the primacy of existence and it too is axiomatic though not a separate axiom. “The thesis that existence comes first — that things exist independent of consciousness and that consciousness is a faculty not for the creation of its objects but for the discovery of them — Ayn Rand call the primacy of existence.” (39)
  • The Cosmological Argument: Arguments Put Forward By Copleston In His Radio Debate With Russell (olaleyedesola.wordpress.com)
    The radio debate between Copleston and Russell occurred in 1948. Copleston was arguing as a Jesuit priest with the firm belief that the cosmological argument is a logical proposition that God must exist. Bertrand Russell, on the other hand, was arguing as an agnostic with the belief that not everything has a cause because the whole concept of causes derived from man’s observation of particular things. Therefore, according to Russell, to say that God is the cause of the universe is rather illogical. The debate as a whole was split into two parts: the arguments from contingency and the moral argument.
  • The Cosmological Argument Defined (herose4grace.wordpress.com)
    The cosmological argument is in disguise.  In its premise, it calls on experience to prove the existence of God but in its untainted bounds, it is an argument of reason.  The main point of this argument is the simple premise that something can not come from nothing. It is our experience that dictates this absolute.St. Aquinas proposes the cosmological argument which begins by recognizing certain facts of experience and acknowledges the existence of God to explain these facts.  This argument, therefore claims to be a posteriori, i.e., based on observation and experience as opposed to a priori which is based on reason.
  • Essential Doctrines (Part 1): The Doctrine of God’s Existence (pastorbrianchilton.wordpress.com)
    The doctrine of God that needs to hold true for the Christian faith is that of theism. Norman Geisler explains theism as, …the worldview that an infinite, personal God created the universe and miraculously intervenes in it from time to time (see Miracle). God is both transcendent over the universe and immanent in it” (Geisler BECA 1999, 722). Geisler mentions that theism holds that God is both transcendent and immanent. These elements of belief in God are essential to the Christian doctrine. One could prove God’s existence without proving Christianity, but one cannot prove Christianity without proving the existence of a theistic God. Transcendence means that God exists as a separate entity from the universe. In contrast to pantheistic religions, God exists apart from the universe. Therefore, the universe is a creation of God. Immanence describes God’s working within the universe. Deists, like Thomas Jefferson, believe in God’s existence, but do not hold that God works within creation. Creation is like a wound-up clock and is ticking apart from God on its’ own. However, theists understand that God works in creation. God reveals God’s self to human beings (e.g. revelation).
  • William Lane Craig lectures on naturalistic alternatives to the Big Bang (winteryknight.wordpress.com)
    This lecture might be a little advanced for beginners, but if you stretch your mind first, you shouldn’t tear anything.
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    The Big Bang cosmology that Dr. Craig presents is the standard model for how the universe came into being. It is a theory based on six lines of experimental evidence.
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    here’s a re-cap of the three main evidences for the Big Bang cosmology from Caltech.
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    The whole text of the article is posted online here.
  • Storkersen: God and The Big Bang Theory (iegrapevine.com)
    The man who theorized the big bang theory, George Lemaître, was an astronomer and professor of physics at a university in Belgium in the 1920s. In addition, he was a Catholic priest.
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    The fact is that while Lemaître attributed the cause of the big bang to God, it has been distorted over time and the cause has been attributed to matter or nothingness.There are various reasons why these two ideas coincide.
  • Does God Exist?: Trying to See Both Sides of the Question (adamstask.wordpress.com)
    Suppose:1) There exist things that are caused.
    2) Nothing can be the cause of itself.
    3) There cannot be an actual infinite regress of causes.
    4) There exists an uncaused first cause.
    5) The word God means uncaused first cause.
    6) Therefore, God exists.
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    the reason we ascribe to scientific facts some sort of objective and, in a sense, absolute nature is that they are validated by real-world experience; science begins in theoretical postulation, but if it is to be validated it must end in prediction of observations. And in the case of many multi-verse theories or other such theories one is left with only theoretical postulations that are less parsimonious and sensible than God.
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    the properties of God have intrinsic maximums. For instance, one could define perfect knowledge this way: for any proposition, an omniscient being knows whether is is true or false. An omnipotent being can do anything that is logically possible. An omnibenevolent being will always do what is right in terms of maximizing the good.
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    One of the ways in which Swinburne creates a more interesting argument for the case of theism is by rejecting deductive arguments, in the spirit of Cleanthes, for inductive arguments. Swinburne’s overall argument is placed within the setting of confirmation theory. He distinguishes between P-inductive statements, where the premises make the conclusion probable, from C-inductive statements, where the premises confirm the probability of the conclusion or make it more probable than it otherwise would be. 
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15 thoughts on “Why think there’s a God? (1): Something from Nothing

  1. I’m sorry but this argument is flawed for 2 reasons.
    1. The first flaw is the error in the first premise “Everything that has a beginning has a cause”. This assumes from the outset that the universe had a beginning. This is not established scientifically. We don’t know if our universe is the first or one of many in a continuing line of universes. Simply declaring everything has a beginning doesn’t make it true. This is yet another example of God of The Gaps argumentation – science has proven beyond doubt that the Big Bang actually occurred and now Christians are scrambling to claim divine intervention for the event.
    2. The second is the logical fallacy you alluded to in your article – Special Pleading. The very argument is that EVERYTHING has a cause, yet you claim God doesn’t. This is completely inconsistent and is nonsensical. You cannot simply assert your god is eternal an have thinking people accept such an assertion – it is childish to think so.

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    • Saying the universe had a beginning is not at all saying what was first, second or came afterwards. When you talk about “our universe is the first ” do you mean that we would have said “the earth” was the first, because clearly we did not say that nor believe that. First there where many planets and different solar systems. We assume it is even wrong to think we are the first and only one solar system.

      Even when a Big Bang occurred science did not explain yet where the origins from that reaction got their origin.

      The Cause of God is that God Himself is the “Being of the being” He is the “I am who is”. Without Him is no being and no existence. His cause is to bring into being.

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      • Apologies if I was unclear. I was simply saying it’s not established whether or not the universe has a beginning. Scientists are never afraid to say “I don’t know” when it’s the honest answer. No one knows how the universe started.

        Merely asserting that God did it is not knowledge – it’s just an assertion.

        My main point is the cosmological argument is flawed in the first premise

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        • Dear Scott, we would love to give you some reasonable answer, but we as humans are also very limited.
          The truth of the matter is we don’t know how the world, universe etc., came into being and as such we shall always be confronted with many plausible (?) ideas, but have to face “trying to answer the unanswerable”.

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        • Knowledge is something which may come over us. It is the assured belief or that which is known. It can be about information, instruction, the enlightenment, learning or practical skill.

          Lots of things in this world we do not know. Often we even do not know things about or concerning ourselves. Jesus even did not know when he would be returning, though it is a very important element in the future of humankind. When he even did not know who would be coming to sit next to him in the Kingdom of God, he being the son of God, what can we than know about the unknown?

          God told us that it is not given to man to know the stars and planets and that he would not be able to count all those that exist, because they are more than the grain of sand.

          How the world exactly came into being is not made clear by the Creator probably because He did not find it important that we should know. Nobody can tell for sure how the universe came to existence. What some scientist take for granted know shall be perhaps considered total nonsense in a few years time.

          A few years ago kids learned the molecule was the smallest element, their kids learned the atom was the smallest, their kids learned learned again something else was the smallest thing and now they have to change the schoolbooks again talking about the Higgings part and other matters that science uncovered.

          For us to be able to answer where this or that came from, what was the exact first element, or how the world, universe etc., came into being would be difficult to say. We should leave everybody have their say and think about several possibilities. But to say this or that is the one and only solution, we do not think that is given to man.

          For us only god can answer that and He probably will give the necessary answers in due time.

          What is most important for us is that people come to consider Who is all behind all those things we do not understand.
          For us there is no doubt that God exists and that the Bible is His Holy Word. This is provable from the many prophecies given in it and the fulfilment of those prophecies – Israel being foremost as a proof of God’s existence and the power of His Word.

          Once we believe in God and His Word, the actual mechanics of how the world or universe came into being pale into insignificance. More important are His promises given to those who believe in Him and in His Kingdom to come, and that is probably more where the emphasis in our preaching should be.

          But here again you shall find a personal view, which should and can not be the view of every person and perhaps not even of every Christadelphian, because in our faith everybody has his or her own liberty of thought. (One of the aspects which confuses many people from other denominations which all have to believe doctrines predicted by their church, which everybody has to take or to leave the church.)

          In case “knowledge” means what I mentioned in the beginning of my reply, and also in your language would mean “understanding” or familiarity gained by experience or range of information, we must say that there is the “knowledge of God” and the “knowledge of Him being the creator”.

          It would not be an assertion like you insinuate, because that would be an insisting upon the recognition of one’s rights or the act of claiming one’s rights. Christadelphians I do not claim such a right to declare who has done what and how.
          Perhaps we also try to assert or to vindicate or defend by arguments or measures, but as you mentioned in an other reply on an other posting Christadelphians do not easy to get into a discussion.

          The only things we want to declare strongly are those where we can have certainty and one where is demanded a certain faith or if would like to say the only dogma that we have, namely that there is a God of gods. But we do believe people, who are created in the image of God, have it placed in them to be able to find God, when they look at all the things around them. The Creator has placed many answers on our questions in the universe, nature itself.

          May we express our hope you and many others would be able to get some, though we are convinced we shall not be able to give all, answers.

          Together, writers and readers we can help each other to grow in knowledge and in spirit, by helping there where we can.

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          • Hi again
            Appreciate your effort in replying. Would you be able to elaborate on the following:
            “For us there is no doubt that God exists and that the Bible is His Holy Word. This is provable from the many prophecies given in it and the fulfilment of those prophecies – Israel being foremost as a proof of God’s existence and the power of His Word.”
            What specific prophecies are in the Bible for Israel? Would like to understand your perspective
            Kind regards
            Scott

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            • Dear Scott, may we ask you some patience, because for sure those prophesies shall receive our attention. In some months time a series of articles shall cover the subject.

              Like

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