By Ryan Hemelaar
- Everything that has a beginning has a cause
- The universe had a beginning
- Therefore, the universe has a cause
The first premise seems obviously true as it is deeply rooted in the metaphysical intuition that something cannot come into being from nothing. To say that something can pop into being uncaused out of nothing I think is worse than magic. For at least in magic, you have the magician and maybe a hat, but here you have nothing being caused by nothing, yet coming into existence. It seems absurd.
However, some people try to object by saying, "Ah, so that means God would have to have a cause as well". Simply, no. Remember, the first premise is: "Everything that has a beginning has a cause", God never had a beginning, thus needs no cause. I'll explain later in this article why God cannot have a beginning.
Now I will present two philosophical arguments and one empirical argument as to why the second premise is true, that the universe had a beginning.
- An actually infinite number of things cannot exist in reality.
- A beginningless series of events is an actually infinite number of things.
- Therefore, a beginningless series of events cannot exist in reality.
A distinction needs to be made here from things that are potentially infinite, and those that actually are. For example, a line of finite distance could potentially be subdivided infinitely. You can just keep on dividing parts in half forever, but you will never arrive at an actual "infiniteieth" division. Now the first premise asserts, not that a potentially infinite number of things cannot exist, but that an actually infinite number of things cannot exist.
If actual infinities could occur in reality, absurdities would occur. For instance, let's take a look at David Hilbert's brain-child, appropriately dubbed, 'Hilbert's Hotel'. Imagine a hotel with an infinite number of rooms that are all occupied. A new guest arrives at the hotel wanting to check in, and the clerk says, "Why of course!" and shifts the person in room 1 to room 2, the person in room 2 to room 3, the person in room 3 to room 4 and so on... So that means room 1 has become vacant and the guest gladly checks in.
But now let's suppose that an infinite number of the new guests arrive to this fully occupied hotel asking for rooms to stay in. The clerk says, "Of course, we can fit you in", and proceeds to move the person in room 1 to room 2, the person in room 2 into room 4, the person in room 3 into room 6, and so on (by moving the existing guests to a room that is double their old room number). We see that now all the odd-numbered rooms become free (doubling of any number becomes even) and the infinite number of guests happily move into their rooms. Yet all the rooms were occupied before the guests arrived.
We see that the hotel clerk's actions are only possible if the hotel is a potential infinite, such that new rooms are created to absorb the influx of guests. For if the hotel has an actually infinite number of rooms and all the rooms are full, then there is no more room. Therefore, an actually infinite number of things cannot exist in reality. A beginningless universe has an infinite number of past events, therefore, the universe has a beginning.
Now the second philosophical argument I will present does not deny that an actually infinite number of things cannot exist. However it argues that a collection of an infinite number of things cannot be formed by successive addition. The argument can be stated as follows:
- The temporal series of events is a collection formed by successive addition.
- A collection formed by successive addition can never reach an actual infinite.
- Therefore, the temporal series of events cannot be an actual infinite.
The first premise is obvious. If the universe never had a beginning then in order for us to have arrived at today, temporal existence has had to traverse an infinite number of past events, one event after another. However before the present event could occur, the event immediately prior would have to occur, but before that one could occur, the event prior to that one has to occur, and so on ad infinitum. So as one gets driven back and back into the infinite past, no event could ever occur as they are all dependent on a prior event. Thus, if the series of past events were beginningless, the present event could have never occurred, which is absurd. But the present has occurred so thus there must have been an independent cause at the beginning, also known as a first cause. Being the first cause, it therefore must be uncaused (meaning it can have no beginning, it must always be).
The second premise can also be described as the impossibility of counting to infinity. For if we count each new element that we add to a collection, we can always add one more. Therefore, one can have a potential infinity, but can never reach an actual infinity.
Someone might say that while it is impossible for a collection to reach an infinite number of items by having a beginning and adding members one by one, an infinite could be formed by never beginning but having an ending point. However, this view seems equally absurd, for if you cannot count to infinity, why would you be able to count down from infinity?
Imagine if someone counted down from infinity one number per day, and they finally finished counting today. The question I want to ask is, why did they only finish counting down today? Why not yesterday, or the day before, or a year ago? For since the same amount of time would have had elapsed on any of those other days as today, namely an infinite amount of days. In fact, if we look back at any day in past, we should see the person will have already finished, which is absurd.
Since an actually infinite number of things cannot be reached by successive addition, it shows that there are not an infinite number of past events, meaning the universe had a beginning and there must be a first cause.
Now I will turn to a discussion regarding the empirical proof for the second premise. The second law of thermodynamics states that anything left to itself will tend towards more disorder/entropy. Since the universe is a closed system, the amount of entropy in the universe will be constantly increasing. So therefore, if the universe was infinite in age by never having a beginning, the amount of entropy in the universe would be an infinite amount. The universe should be at complete equilibrium with uniformity everywhere, and with absolutely nothing occurring. Is the universe in such a state today? Obviously not. Therefore, the universe had a beginning.
Now that we have firmly established that the two premises in the Kalam Cosmological argument are more plausibly true than false, the conclusion necessarily follows that the universe has a cause. The next step is to discover, what can we know about this cause? Well, obviously the cause must be outside both space and time, so thus immaterial and timeless. If the cause is timeless then the cause must also be changeless, as changes can only happen within time. A changeless being can never change, so that is another reason why God cannot have a beginning.
But not only can we know that the cause of the universe is transcendent, but I would contend that it must also be personal. For how else could a timeless cause give rise to a temporal effect, such as the universe? If the necessary and sufficient conditions for the production of the first event are present from eternity then the effect should exist from eternity as well, that is to say, the universe should be eternal. But as we've seen, that is impossible. The only way for a timeless cause to create an effect in time is if the cause is a personal agent who freely chooses to create the universe in time. So not only are we brought to a timeless, immaterial, uncaused, beginningless, changeless, spaceless and unimaginably powerful cause, but also to a personal Creator. This, as Thomas Aquinas would say, is what everybody defines as "God".