Challenge: Maybe the Universe Is Self-Existent

Posted: May 24, 2011 by Amy Hall in God is Real, Weekly Challenge

The argument from a first cause is frequently used to show that a self-existent being (that is, God) must exist:

1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

Therefore, we argue, there must be a first cause who is self-existent (existing without a beginning, without a cause), immaterial and not bound by physical laws (since no space, matter, or physical laws existed before creation), and an agent with a will who chooses rather than whose actions are determined by prior events (since He began a new series of events in creation). That is the conclusion, but are the premises true? Rob asks a question about premise #2:

Why do we need a self-existent and eternal being to create the universe? Why can’t the universe itself be self-existent and eternal?

So how would you respond to this question? What reason do we have to think there is an eternal being rather than an eternal universe? Give us your ideas, and Brett will let you know how you did on Thursday.

Comments
  1. bobby says:

    b/c the universe is not eternal, Science tells us the universe is about 13.7 billion years old.

    “Almost everyone know believes that the universe, and time itself, had a begining at the Big Bang”

    – Stephen Hawkings
    Nature of Space and Time, Page 20

  2. Sam Harper says:

    We have good reason to think the universe has not always existed. Bill Craig gives four arguments in “The Kalam Cosmological Argument.” First, the evidence for the big bang suggests the universe had a beginning. Second, if the universe had no beginning, then it would’ve already reached thermodynamic equilibrium (i.e. maximum entropy, heat death, etc.). But since the universe hasn’t reached thermodynamic equilibrium, it hasn’t always existed. Third, if the universe has always existed, then time has no beginning. But if time has no beginning, then there are an actually infinite number of equal intervals of time in the past. But an actually infinite collection cannot exist in reality, so time had to have had a beginning, which means the universe had a beginning. Fourth, even if it it WERE possible for an actually infinite collection to exist in reality, it’s not possible to FORM an actually infinite collection by adding one member after another. But the entire past time was formed by adding one member after another, so time cannot be actually infinite. That means time had a beginning, which means the universe had a beginning.

    But whatever caused time to come into existence cannot itself have a beginning because there would require there to be a time before time, which is incoherent. So whatever caused time to begin must’ve always existed.

  3. Rob says:

    Just to clarify….I don’t mean the material universe, but some underlying pulsating force. Perhaps energy itself. After all, energy cannot be created nor destroyed.

    • Amy Hall says:

      Energy is part of the universe, no? It can’t be created by any natural law, true, but isn’t that the question? If the universe began to exist, as Hawking said in that quote above, does that refer to energy as well as matter? And if so, how could it have begun if energy can’t spring out of nothing?

    • Sam Harper says:

      It’s my understanding that the universe IS energy. Everything physically describable is made of energy. Energy just takes different forms, including matter.

      I actually stumbled on the cosmological argument by accident in my early to mid 20’s when I was thinking about the first and second laws of thermodynamics. Everything is made of energy, as I learned in my physics classes. If the first law is true, then the energy that exists, regardless of what form it takes, has always existed. It has existed for an infinite amount of time. But if the second law is true, then the entropy of the universe has been increasing this whole time. Well, given an infinite amount of time, it should’ve already reached maximum entropy. There shouldn’t be any more energy conversions. There shouldn’t be any more stars, life, or activity of any kind. Given an infinite amount of time, everything should’ve wound down. But since the universe is very much alive with stars, life, and activity, then either the first law or the second law had to have been violated. Either energy was created, or the process of increasing entropy had to have been reversed. It’s not possible for both laws to be true without exception and there be a thriving universe.

  4. Chris says:

    First off. The scientific evidence for a non-eternal universe is OVERWHELMING. To believe the universe is eternal is tantamount to believing the earth is flat. “Who wound the entropy clock?” would be my question. If the universe is eternal all of the “clock” springs should be unwound. If the universe was self existent, it would have to eternal because something coming into existence begs a cause. If you have a physical cause you wind up with a chicken/egg infinite regression.

    Chris Maness

  5. If there was an infinite number of moments in the past, how did we ever reach today? You can’t traverse infinity. It’s like counting up from negative infinity until you reach zero.

  6. Mixon says:

    Even if they universe wasn’t self existing couldn’t one still argue for moral law?

    Premise: If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist.
    Premise: Objective values do exist.
    Conclusion: Therefore, God exists. – William lane craig.

    A self existing universe wouldn’t be able to explain moral values.

    • David says:

      @Greg
      But is not the biblical God portrayed as both transcendent and immanent? This does of course not mean that he is a part of the universe [Panentheism] but rather that he interacts with his creation (opposed to deism).

  7. Elliot Neff says:

    Wow– I need to get here earlier! I see that there are a lot of posts already, so I apologize if I am repeating anything!

    I was able to glance at the first few responses and noticed that Sam had rightly cited William Lane Craig, who has spent extensive time defending and refining the “Kalam Cosmological Argument”, as an eminent authority on this topic.

    The Kalam Cosmological argument goes something like this:

    1. Anything that begins to exist must have a cause
    2. The universe began to exist
    3. The universe must have a cause

    So, the real premise being called into question here is premise two: Did the universe begin to exist?

    Recent discoveries permeated throughout the 20th and even early 21st centuries contribute to the vast majority of philosophers and scientists accepting the conclusion of a finite universe. Norman Geisler and Frank Turek nicely summarize five primary arguments for this stance in their book:

    1. The Second Law of Thermodynamics — The universe is slowly approaching entropy, running out of usable energy. The universe, like a car engine, will soon run out of usable energy and experience maximum entropy and heat death. The only possible way for the universe to not have consumed all of its usable energy already is if it IS finite and began with a fixed amount of usable energy at one time.

    2. The Universe is Expanding — When Edwin Hubble, gazing through his telescope in 1929, discovered the fact that the universe was indeed expanding, it spoke greatly for Theism. It meant that the universe began not only at a point the size of a marble or a pinhead, but at literally nothing at all.

    3. Radiation Left from the Big Bang — Two scientists (I can’t remember their names off the top of my head) discovered radiation outside of their observatories in New Jersey in the mid-1960’s. The scientific community had predicted as early as the 1940’s that if the Big Bang did occur, traces of radiation would still be detectable, but it had never been found until then. Scientists everywhere endeavored to think of some other possible explanation for the radiation, yet none were found. This was the radiation left from the Big Bang.

    4. Great Galaxy Seeds — As early as the 1980’s, scientists predicted that if the Big Bang were true, ripples would be present throughout the universe. And in (I think) 2001, NASA launched a project to see if these ripples really did exist. And they did. Comparable to the ripples in a pond following a pebble breaking the water surface, the ripples were found to be more precise than what was originally predicted.

    5. Einstein’s Theory — The theory of general relativity established that all space, time, matter, and energy had to have come into existence at the same time– none could exist without the other. This shows that there could be no “before” time or “before” matter or energy. Whatever caused the universe had to be outside of time, matter, and energy.

    All of these facts establish plausible grounds for a beginning of the universe– not to mention the philosophical arguments for a first cause!

    This discussion can easily lead into the objection “Who/what created God?” Remember that the first premise states, “Whatever BEGINS TO EXIST has a cause”. The simple answer to this question is that God did not begin to exist and therefore does not need a cause. Now, lest any skeptic argue this to be a case of special pleading, it may be wise to remind that person that this is what many Atheists have argued about the universe (as is the case with this particular challenge) in past decades.

    These are solid, grounded arguments which I believe stand plausibly against any amount of criticism when they are understood correctly!

    • Greg says:

      Elliot,

      you said it so much wiser than I did! Nice arguements.

      Are you still trying to capture Al Capone?

  8. Rob says:

    Materialists would argue that whatever causes matter is part of the universe or is the sum total of the universe. Some force pulsates through all things that forms a self-existent core, and this accounts for the causality of the beginning of the universe. Thus, there is no need for a transcendent God. A self-existent eternal power, yes. But not outside the universe.

    • Amy Hall says:

      “Materialists would argue that whatever causes matter is part of the universe or is the sum total of the universe.”

      That seems to be begging the question. If they declare that whatever caused the universe is by definition the universe, they’re just using their position as the definition to define out the conclusion of God without responding to the argument. How would they respond to numbers 2 and 5 in Elliot’s response?

      • Rob says:

        I suppose they would argue that energy is what’s self-existent and eternal, and it causes a sustainable cycle of big bangs and big crunches that create and destroy space/time/matter. I do like Elliot’s 5th point – where does Einstein say energy must have had a beginning? That’s something I’d like to file away.

  9. The answer that works is the scientific answer. Namely, the standard Big Bang theory.

    Go out and buy a copy of “God and the Astronomers” by agnostic Robert Jastrow. get the second edition.

    He documents 5 reasons and there is a 6th provided by a Catholic astronomer.

    And here they are:
    – redshift/expanding universe
    – light element abundance predictions
    – the second law of thermodynamics
    – the cosmic microwave background radiation
    – the star formation lifecycle

    The Catholic astronomer adds:
    – radioactive isotope abundances

    When it comes to evidence, science is king, and philosophy is definitely less impressive to an unbeliever, however necessary it is for rational thought. Christians need to be MUCH better at handling scientific evidence.

  10. Greg says:

    1. Matter (energy) can neither be created nor destroyed. This is Thermo Law 1 and basically means the universe is a closed system. What we have is all we have.

    2. All matter (energy) is in a state of entropy. This is Thermo Law 2 and means that everything in the universe is moving from a state of usable energy to unusable. The universe is running down.

    Why is knowing this important? Because if #2 is correct this means the universe cannot be eternal because it would have already run out of usable energy an infinite time ago in the past. We would not exist! Also, if # 1 is correct then there is no way to add more to our universe to keep # 2 from happening.

    Almost every scientist agrees that time/space/matter were created at the Big Bang. If the universe were eternal then time would be as well and a negative infinite regression of time is neither plausable nor possible. If time were infinite then again we could never have arrived at this point in time because there would be no starting point to progress from. Infinity is a meaningless word that is used to describe the excessive largeness of something. A true infinite is not possible because you can just add 1 to it continually.

    So is God not infinite then? Yes he is. He exists outside of time/space/matter and is not bound by them. You ask, how do I know this? Can God be comprised of the things that came into existance? Wouldn’t they first have to exist for He to be comprised of them? God has no potential (he cannot change), has no parts (not physical) and must be outside the universe.

  11. Albert says:

    I would ask the person asking the question if they believe that the universe is eternal.

    If they say yes, then I would ask them how the come to that conclusion.
    If they say no, then I would ask them why the have asked the question.

    Either way, I have no reason to answer their question until they can clarify their stance.

  12. Rob says:

    Just a final thought on this after thinking about it for a while. If by the universe we mean all that is, then isn’t it okay to say that God is not outside the universe? Some underlying pulsating force that is self-existent and eternal seems to be exactly what we as theists are arguing for. Of course if the universe means a certain location, or place, then it is false that God is inside the universe. But transcendence is not a geographical description. It is an ontological description. It says that God is a higher order of being, not that He is located elsewhere.

    • Greg says:

      God cannot be part of the universe if he created it. The creator is always outside of the creation.

      • David says:

        @Greg
        But is not the biblical God portrayed as both transcendent and immanent? This does of course not mean that he is a part of the universe [Panentheism] but rather that he interacts with his creation (opposed to deism)…

    • Sam Harper says:

      Yes, I think if we define the universe as “everything that exists,” and if God exists, then God is part of the universe. But I don’t think it’s accurate to define the universe as “everything that exists.” I think a better description of the universe is “the sum total of space, time, and matter.” Or, in other words, the universe is everything that is physically describable or that falls under the realm of physics, or something along those lines. That definition would include the whole multiverse if there is one. It wouldn’t include God or anything else supernatural or immaterial.