I clearly remember my elementary school science lesson of “cause and effect.” For every effect, there must be a sufficient and adequate cause. It is one of those self-evident truths of the natural world. Yet, when applied to the origin of our universe the matter becomes a disputable principle. For some time now, some physicists, like Dr. Victor Stenger, are on record affirming, “Not everything requires a cause.” Meanwhile, the Hebrews writer affirms, “For every house is builded by some one; but he that built all things is God” (3:4 ASV). Well, what about this “structure” —the universe— that houses “all things”? Is there an adequate cause to explain it? Is there reason to believe it was built by Someone? We, here, affirm that there is a reason to believe God exists.
There are four independent categories of arguments used to provide a basis for believing a personal God exists, that we are not alone in the universe; and, more importantly, that our experiences have meaning and purpose. They all have their strengths, their appeal, and areas which the dispute naturally centers on. Yet, they are all valid reasons to make the case that God exists. Now, let us turn to the argument at hand.
Cosmological arguments are a group of arguments focused on establishing the “cause and effect” link between God (cause) and the universe (effect), by examining the effect and seeking an adequate and sufficient cause to explain it. In other words, it is based on a well established and self-evident principle of the world in which we live. Naturally, then, there are broad and narrow forms of the cosmological argument. A narrow form would be to focus on the origin of human beings as Thomas B. Warren did in his debate with then atheist Antony Flew. We will be considering, however, the broad form, namely the origin of the universe (nothing too big).
First, we will reflect on the Bible’s cosmological affirmations, and then secondly, we will suggest a reasonable argument which affirms that the universe had a cause, and that cause is God.
Arguments from Revelation
The essence of the cosmological argument is found in the Bible. Consider a few examples. The very first line of scripture makes the clear “cause and effect” affirmation, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). Some readers of Genesis think that since there are poetic elements to this creation narrative (i.e., “God said,” “God saw,” measured creation days, etc.) its historicity is questionable; however, as Old Testament scholar Clyde Woods points out the passage conspicuously lacks Hebrew parallelism, “the fundamental characteristic of Hebrew poetry.” Nevertheless, while the passage is stylistically shaped, artistry does not by itself dimmish its historic claims. Would one question the historicity of the “Star Spangled Banner” commemorating the Battle of Fort McHenry in the War of 1812 simply because it is stylized? In a clearly “narrative” text, Moses affirms: “for in six days Jehovah made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is” (Exodus 20:11).
The “Creation Hymn” psalms also offer cosmological affirmations. They extoll the power and greatness of God and display the sense of wonder, confidence, and admiration filling the psalmist. In Psalm 19, David praises God:
“The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament showeth his handiwork” (19:1).
In Psalm 8, David reflects on both the universe and the status of humanity as part of this universe:
“When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers… For thou hast made [mankind] but little lower than God [lit. heavenly beings]” (Psalm 8:3, 5).
The universe (i.e., “heavens”) exists because of the will of God. David praises God for creating the universe and for creating humanity (cf. 139:7–16). This emphasis on the universe and humanity, reflect both the broad (the universe) and the narrow (mankind) forms of the cosmological argument.
The New Testament likewise affirms the cosmological argument. A biblical faith accepts that the universe was made by God —ex nihilo— from nothing (Hebrews 11:2). The prologue of the Gospel of John affirms that Jesus is the agent of creation.
In the beginning was the Word… The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him; and without him was not anything made that hath been made. (John 1:1–3; cf. v. 14)
The Father brought “all things” into being through the pre-incarnate Lord Jesus. In a very real sense, then, Jesus is the cosmological argument.
The apostle Paul employed the cosmological argument on several occasions. Acts records sermons where he affirms natural theology (Acts 14:15; 17:24) to Greeks and Romans building his plea from the God who made the world. In Romans 1:19–20, Paul pointedly affirms that the testimony of the visible world reveals the attributes of the invisible Creator, namely, “his everlasting power and divinity.” Those that reject such evidence, he argues, are “without excuse.” Finally, Paul lifts up Jesus as the one who created “all things” and presently holds everything together (Colossians 1:16–17).
Arguments from Reason
Providing reasons for our belief in a personal God from nature and reason is found throughout Scripture. It is an act of faith and a natural outflow of loving the Lord with all our heart and mind (Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:26). We should be very clear, that God has provided sufficient witness in the world to point us back to him. Yet, when asked why we believe in God and have hope in Jesus (1 Peter 3:15), it would be wise to think outside “the book” since for many quoting the Bible is insufficient.
Even when fully convicted that truth is on our side, we must face the truth of Alvin Plantinga’s words, “there are no proofs of God that will convince all rational persons.” But that has always been the story even among believers (Isaiah 53:1; Luke 16:27–30).
All we can do is present our reasons hoping that the “accumulated weight” of such arguments will be hard to ignore. After all, as biochemist Dr. Joe DeWeese (Lipscomb University) once said, “Creationists and evolutionists don’t have different evidence… we have different filters through which we understand and interpret that data.” We share our “filter” in hopes it will persuade them to see that the universe points us to “clues” which point to God as the only adequate answer to existence.
Apologist Dr. Ralph Gilmore (Freed-Hardeman University) stresses that the heart of the cosmological arguments centers on three key concepts: causality, necessity (necessary existence), and contingency (contingent existence).
- Causality stresses the cause and effect connection between A and B (A causes B, or B is caused by A). This is the causal relationship.
- Necessity means that A necessarily exists due to its essence which makes A impossible to not exist.
- Contingency points to the dependency B has upon another for its existences, it has an “iffy” existence (B only exists “if…”). Thus, contingency points to non-eternal things or existence and implies the need for another to bring it into existences.
So, if the universe exists (and it does), its existence must be explained. It is as simple as that. It is either here by necessity or contingently. Does it necessarily exists —is it eternal? Is it dependent upon itself —did it create itself? Did something outside of itself bring it into existence —God? Many have tried to side-step the force of this issue, but not without breaking away from the rules of proper thinking and established scientific knowledge.
The cosmological argument presented here stresses in the simplest terms that the universe began and has a cause for its existence. It is called the Kalam Cosmological Argument and was developed by Arabic philosophers of the late Middle Ages (kalam means “Arabic philosophy”). One of these Arabic philosophers was the twelfth-century theologian Al-Ghazali, and his argument has been employed by theists of various persuasions ever since. It is considered one of the foundations of modern Christian apologetic approaches to establishing a positive philosophical case for the existence of God.
In his volume, On Guard, Apologist William Lane Craig summarizes Al-Ghazali’s argument into three simply stated premises:
Premise 1: Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
Premise 2: The universe began to exist.
Premise 3: Therefore, the universe has a cause.
Craig asserts that this is a “logically airtight argument” because in order to deny premise 3 (“the universe has a cause”) one must prove that the first two premises are false. Though the issues are complex we will examine some of the objections made against premises 1 and 2.
Premise 1: Whatever begins to exist has a cause
Craig affirms that in order to deny premise 1 two things must be argued: (1) that contrary to experience something can come from nothing and (2) that the universe broke into existence for no reason whatsoever – that is, without a cause.
To invalidate premise 1, some have appealed to subatomic particles (or, virtual particle, elementary particle), which are the basic building blocks of “all matter.” This includes elements which are “various self-contained units of matter or energy” such as electrons, protons, neutrons, etc., and even the smaller parts which make them up. Some have argued that such can appear and disappear from nothing. From this, it is then argued that premise 1 does not always hold true.
Craig reminds us that these particles, however, emerged in a vacuum which is not the same thing as “nothing,” for “in physics the vacuum is a sea of fluctuating energy governed by physical laws and having a physical structure.” It has contours so to speak. Nothing, on the other hand, has no properties at all. Zero. Meaning, then, that nothing remains to be nothing; whereas, something can emerge in a vacuum.
This is not a controversial assertion. In a 2013 article posted on the Scientific American website entitled, “Something from Nothing? A Vacuum can Yield Flashes of Light,” Charles Q. Choi discusses the Casimir Effect, which was predicted in 1948 by Hendrick Casimir and measured in 1996 by Steve K. Lamoreaux. This “effect” is a measurable phenomenon in quantum field theory. It basically says that the vacuum is not empty space but is full of virtual particles and their electromagnetic wavelengths which leave behind measurable effects.
These subatomic particles have a “quirky” nature. However, though they seem to appear and disappear from nothing, in reality, they are emerging from the complex structure of the vacuum governed by the laws of thermodynamics. Consider Choi’s words:
Quantum physics explains that there are limits to how precisely one can know the properties of the most basic units of matter—for instance, one can never absolutely know a particle’s position and momentum at the same time. One bizarre consequence of this uncertainty is that a vacuum is never completely empty, but instead buzzes with so-called “virtual particles” that constantly wink into and out of existence. These virtual particles often appear in pairs that near-instantaneously cancel themselves out. Still, before they vanish, they can have very real effects on their surroundings. (Italics added)
If someone were then seeking evidence that something can come from nothing and without cause, subatomic particles, it appears, is not that evidence. They do not emerge from nothing, they emerge from the vacuum.
Premise 2: The universe began to exist
The focus of the denial of premise 2 centers on denying that the universe began. Those that deny that the universe had a beginning appeal to concepts which are a bit complex. Case in point, some have said that the universe must be potentially a part of an infinite series of finite (contingent, “iffy”) causes.
In other words, looking backward, the universe has a whole series of causes, but no ultimate cause. There is no real line to separate a time from when the universe did not exist to when it began to exist. The same is true when looking forward. There is no real moment when the present causes will cease with the end of the universe.
Craig raises two problems to this approach. First, an infinite series of finite (contingent) causes cannot be potentially infinite at the same time. let me add another element to this claim. We must keep in mind that this infinite series of causes is made up of finite, or contingent causes. As Gilmore reminds us above contingency points to non-eternal things or existence, and this implies the need for another to bring it into existences. This denial has not solved the problem for it only further extends the dependent state of the universe indefinitely. This is not a solution.
In addition, it is significant to understand that the mathematical concept infinity (symbolically as ∞) is just that — conceptual; it does not exist in reality. This is not controversial mathematics. Physicist Dr. Tom Hartsfield’s article, “Infinity is Not Real,” from the blog Real Clear Science (6 Aug 2013) outlines how problematic infinity would be if it were real.
In summary, Hartsfield explains that while the concept of infinity is incredibly valuable for fields such as mathematics, physics, and philosophy, when brought into our world of measurable things it ruins all mathematical comparisons. It would require rewriting the rules for counting and division. For example, 6/2=3 and 6+2=8. Makes sense. Now observe infinity in the following mathematical sentences: 6/∞=0 and 6+∞=∞. Makes no sense in our world. “Compared to infinity,” Hartsfield points out, “every other number is nothing.” He concludes:
In our material, measurable world, though, infinity is never a real, physical quantity; it is only an abstraction. A mathematician can tell you about an infinite set of numbers, but as much as he wishes, he can’t find you a cup of coffee with infinite joe. That “bottomless” cup of coffee eventually runs dry.
The universe cannot exist due to an infinite set of causes in the past or the future, because actual infinities do not grow or shrink. Thus, you cannot drink infinite coffee out of a cup of infinite coffee, and still, have the same amount of infinite coffee left over. Infinity does not shrink or grow. This well-established application of infinity, then, supports that the universe began to exist and is not the result of an infinite set of causes.
A second problem is found in this arguments rejection of the established thermodynamics laws of nature. These laws clearly establish that the universe had a beginning. Dr. Don B. DeYoung calls them, “the two most basic laws in the entire science realm.” He summarizes them as follows:
The first law states that energy is conserved or constant at all times. Energy, in whichever of its many forms, absolutely can be neither created nor destroyed. This rule ensures a dependable and predictable universe, whether for stars or for human life…
The second basic law of nature also involves energy. It describes unavoidable losses in any process whatsoever which involves the transfer of energy. The energy does not disappear, but some always becomes unavailable, often as unusable heat. Stated in another way, everything deteriorates, breaks down, and becomes less ordered with time.
The second law, known as entropy, says that “unless energy is being fed into a [closed] system, that system will become increasingly disorderly.” Imagine an unopened carbonated bottle of soda. Over time the soda in the bottle will lose its fizz and go flat. That analogy reflects the effects of entropy on the universe.
This implies a few things. First, eventually all the energy in the universe will eventually spread itself evenly throughout the universe, and the usable energy will decrease and the universe will “flatline” like the soda analogy. This is a fixed issue.
Second, since we are not in a present state of disorder, and energy is still available, then our universe has not had an infinite past. As Craig points out, “we’re in a state of disequilibrium, where energy is still available to be used and the universe has an orderly structure.” Since an infinite set of events is a complete number of events, we should be experiencing entropy (equilibrium), but we are not.
And third, this “running down” (entropy) of our universe implies that it had a beginning. Even the late Stephen Hawking affirmed:
Almost everyone now believes that the universe, and time itself, had a beginning at the Big Bang.
Whether one’s cosmology (view of the origin of the universe) includes the Big Bang model or not, the universe had a beginning. In order to have a “running down” ending, there must have been a point when all the available energy was at its peak. Much like our cell phones, the fact that the battery will die implies that it was fully charged at its beginning. For our universe, then, the fact that it will “flatline” in what is called the “heat death” points to a time when it was new and full of energy.
Premises 1 and 2, then, still hold firm, and they should be upheld as formidable arguments that the universe and all that is in it had a beginning. It had a beginning and was brought into being (Premise 3) by a Cause Who necessarily exists due to His essence, namely God.
At times, well-meaning Christians do not feel compelled to enter debates like this, yet the apostle Peter told his Christian readers to be “ready always to give answer to every man that asketh you a reason concerning the hope that is in you, yet with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15).
At other times, well-meaning Christians see the damage often done when entering such discussions. As my friend Jeremy Marshall cautions, “preachers tell the story of the home [the human story] while scientists tell the story of the house [the natural world]; preachers err when they try to tell the story of the house, and scientists err when they try to tell the story of the home.” I agree, but Someone brought both the house and the home into existence, and these point us back to Him (Romans 1:19-20).
Let us remember one significant point to all of this:
[I]f there was ever a time when absolutely nothing existed, then there would be nothing now, for nothing produces nothing but nothingness! Since something does exist, it must follow logically that something has existed always [namely, God].
- Qtd. in Jeff Miller, “Can Quantum Mechanics Produce a Universe from Nothing?“
- All Scripture references are taken from the American Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
- The ontological, cosmological, teleological, and the moral/axiological.
- Thomas B. Warren and Antony N. Flew. The Warren-Flew Debate on the Existence of God. Jonesboro, AR: National Christian Press, 1977. The link leads you to the video version of the debate.
- Clyde Woods, “Concerning Creation —Genesis 1,” in New Beginnings: God, Man and Redemption in Genesis, ed. David L. Lipe (Henderson, TN: Freed-Hardeman University, 2001), 488.
- Roland E. Murphy, The Gift of the Psalms (2000; repr., Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2003), 44.
- Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Dutton, 2008), 128, italics added.
- Joe Deweese, “Why I am a Creationist – Joe Deweese, Biochemist.” Youtube.com.
- Wayne Jackson, et al., Surveying the Evidence (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press, 2008), 24–25.
- Bruce Milne, Know the Truth: A Handbook of Christian Belief, 3rd ed. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009), 68–69.
- William Lane Craig, On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision (Colorado Springs, CO: Cook, 2010), 74.
- Christine Sutton, “Subatomic Particle,” Encyclopedia Britannica.
- Craig, On Guard, 74.
- Charles Q. Choi, “Something from Nothing? A Vacuum can Yield Flashes of Light,” ScientificAmerican.com, 2013.
- Choi, “Something from Nothing?”; Stephen Reucroft and John Swain, “What is the Casimir Effect?,” ScientificAmerican.com.
- Choi, “Something from Nothing?”
- Lee Strobel, The Case for a Creator (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004), 103.
- Tom Hartsfield, “Infinity is Not Real,” Real Clear Science; BigThink.com.
- Hartsfield, “Infinity is Not Real.”
- Don B. DeYoung, “Physics,” in In Six Days: Why Fifty Scientists Choose to Believe in Creation, ed. John F. Ashton (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2001), 342–43.
- DeYoung, “Physics,” 342–43.
- Craig, On Guard, 93.
- Craig, On Guard, 92.
- Qtd. in Keller, The Reason for God, 128, italics added.
- Wayne Jackson, Surveying the Evidence, 25–26.
Ashton, John F. Editor. In Six Days: Why Fifty Scientists Choose to Believe in Creation. Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2001.
Baxter, Batsell Barrett. I Believe Because… A Study of the Evidence Supporting Christian Faith. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1971.
Choi, Charles Q. “Something from Nothing? A Vacuum can Yield Flashes of Light.” ScientificAmerican.com. 2013.
Craig, William Lane. On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision. Colorado Springs, CO: Cook, 2010.
Dickson, Roger E. The Dawn of Belief. Winona, MS: Choate Publications, 1997.
Geisler, Norman L., and Frank Turek. I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004.
Jackson, Wayne, Eric Lyons, and Kyle Butt. Surveying the Evidence. Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press, 2008.
Keller, Timothy. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. New York: Dutton, 2008.
Lewis, C. S. God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics. Edited by Walter Hooper. 1970. Repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994.
Miller, Jeff. “Can Quantum Mechanics Produce a Universe from Nothing?” ApologeticsPress.org.
Milne, Bruce. Know the Truth: A Handbook of Christian Belief. 3rd edition. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009.
Moreland, J. P. Love Your God With All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1997.
____. Scaling the Secular City: A Defense of Christianity. 1987. Repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1988.
Morris, Henry M. Compiler. That Their Words May be Used Against Them: Quotes from Evolutionists Useful for Christians. San Diego, CA: Institute for Creation Research, 1997.
Reucroft, Stephen, and John Swain. “What is the Casimir Effect?” ScientificAmerican.com.
Shelly, Rubel. Prepare to Answer: A Defense of the Christian Faith. Nashville, TN: 21st Century Christian, 1990.
Sire, James W. The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog. 5th edition. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009.
Strobel, Lee. The Case for a Creator: A Journalist Investigates Scientific Evidence That Points Toward God. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004.
Sutton, Christine. “Subatomic Particle.” Encyclopedia Britannica.
Warren, Thomas B., and Antony N. Flew. The Warren-Flew Debate on the Existence of God. Jonesboro, AR: National Christian Press, 1977.
This is a much-expanded version of the article originally published in The Glendale Gleaner (Newbern, TN: Glendale church of Christ).