Beyond the Big Bang
Copyright © 2001, Dr. William Lane Craig
Edited transcript from a message given at Grace Valley Christian Center Thursday evening, March 8, 2001
From time immemorial men have turned their gaze toward the heavens and wondered. Both cosmology and philosophy find their origins in the wonder felt by the ancient Greeks as they contemplated the cosmos. According to Aristotle, it is owing to this wonder that men first began and now continue to philosophize. They wondered originally at the smaller difficulties, and then advanced little by little to the difficulties over greater matters-Łthe phenomena of the moon, the sun and the stars, and about the origin of the universe.
Why Something Rather Than Nothing?
The question of why the universe exists remains the ultimate mystery. Contemporary philosopher Derek Parfit a has said that no question is more sublime than why there is a universe, why there is anything rather than nothing. This question led the great German mathematician and philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz to posit the existence of a metaphysically necessary being, a being whose non-existence is impossible, a being which carries within itself the sufficient reason for its own existence and in turn supplies the sufficient reason for the existence of anything else in the world. Leibniz identified this being as God.
Leibniz's critics, on the other hand, claimed that perhaps the space-time universe itself might be the necessarily existent being demanded by Leibniz's argument. The Scottish skeptic David Hume wrote: "Why may not the material universe itself be the necessarily existent being? Indeed, how can anything that exists from eternity have a cause, since that relation implies a priority in time and a beginning of existence?" There was thus no warrant, it was felt, to posit for the universe a supernatural cause of its existence. As Bertrand Russell put it so succinctly in his BBC radio debate with Frederick Copleston, "The universe is just there, and that's all."
Thus in answer to Leibniz's question, "Why is there something rather than nothing?" we have two possible candidates-ŁGod, or the material space-time universe itself. Is there any way to break this deadlock? Well, if it could be shown that the universe lacks one of the essential properties of a necessarily existent being, it would follow that the universe is not necessary in its existence but, rather, contingent.
Philosophers who have analyzed the concept of necessary existence have identified several essential properties which any necessarily existing being must possess. It must be eternal, uncaused, indestructible and incorruptible. If the universe were to lack any of those essential properties it would follow that its existence is not necessary. The logic of the argument here is very simple: "P or Q. Not Q; therefore, P." Either God or the universe is the necessarily existent being. If it is not the universe, it follows logically that it is God.
Now, let me attempt to diffuse an emotional bomb that might be ticking in your mind at this point. I am not claiming that I can prove that God exists. Rather, my claim is the modest one that insofar as the evidence makes it probable or plausible that the universe is not eternal, it also makes it probable or plausible that a personal Creator of the universe exists. In other words, if the universe is not eternal then it lacks one of the essential properties of a metaphysically necessary being, and therefore it follows that it is probable that a personal Creator of the universe exists.
Secondly, I want to make it clear that I am not proposing God to stop up the gaps in our scientific knowledge; rather, quite the contrary. What I'm suggesting is that the best scientific evidence that we have today indicates that the universe is not eternal but began to exist. Far from appealing to gaps in our scientific knowledge, my appeal is to the best evidence of astronomy and astrophysics available today. It is based upon what we do know, not upon what we do not know.
Beyond that point my argument is philosophical, not scientific. I'm not espousing some sort of creation science in which God is posited as some sort of a theoretical entity in a scientific theory. My questions are primarily philosophical, not scientific. A scientist who refuses, as a scientist, to ask certain questions about the origin of the universe can still ask those questions, and I believe should ask those questions, as a human being. Indeed, I think these are vital questions to ask, because the deepest questions about the meaning of life and the nature of reality are not scientific but, rather, philosophical in nature.
How, then, shall we proceed? Taking the beginning of the universe as our given, we can proceed through a series of three questions or disjunctions: 1) Did the universe have a beginning, or is it beginningless? 2) If it had a beginning, was that beginning caused, or was it uncaused? 3) If the beginning of the universe was caused, was that cause a personal being, or was it impersonal?
Did the Universe Have a Beginning?
Let's look at that first disjunction: Is the universe beginningless, or did it have a beginning? Prior to the 1920s people generally thought that the universe was just a static object, a stationary entity. In 1929, however, an alarming thing happened: an astronomer by the name of Edwin Hubble discovered that the light coming from distant galaxies appears to be redder than it should. Hubble explained this by saying that the universe is expanding, that the galaxies are literally moving away from us and therefore the light from the distant galaxies is affected and shifted to the red end of the spectrum. The startling conclusion to which Hubble was led is that this red shift is due to a universal expansion of the universe; the light from the galaxies is affected because they're all moving away from us.
Hubble not only showed that the universe is expanding, but that it is expanding equally in all directions. To get a picture of what this is like, imagine a balloon with buttons glued to the surface. As you blow up the balloon the buttons get further and further apart even though their relations to one another remain constant. Those buttons on the surface of the balloon are just like the galaxies in outer space. Though they are stationary in space, as space expands they grow further and further apart.
Big Bang Theory
The staggering implication of this is that as you trace the expansion back in time, everything was closer and closer together, until finally at some point in the past the entire known universe was contracted down to a mathematical point, called the singularity, from which the universe has been expanding ever since. The farther one goes back in the past, the denser the universe becomes, until one finally reaches a point of infinite density from which the universe began to expand. That initial event has come to be known as the Big Bang.
How long ago did the Big Bang occur? Only since the 1970s have somewhat accurate estimates become available. In a very important series of articles published over three decades, two astronomers, Alan Sandage and Gustav Tammann, estimate that the Big Bang occurred approximately 15 billion years ago. According to the Big Bang theory, the universe began to exist in a great explosion from a state of infinite density about 15 billion years ago.
Four of the world's most prominent astronomers describe that event in these words: "The universe began from a state of infinite density. Space and time were created in that event, and so was all the matter and energy in the universe. It is not meaningful to ask, 'What happened before the Big Bang?' It is somewhat like asking, 'What is north of the North Pole?' Similarly, it is not sensible to ask where the Big Bang took place. The point universe was not an object isolated in space; it was the entire universe. And so the only answer can be that the Big Bang happened everywhere."
This event that marked the beginning of the universe becomes all the more amazing when one reflects on the fact that literally nothing existed before it. Most lay people don't appreciate that, according to the standard Big Bang theory, not simply all matter and energy, but physical space and time themselves came into existence at the Big Bang. Therefore, as the Cambridge astronomer Fred Hoyle points out, the Big Bang theory thus requires the creation of the universe from nothing. This is because as one goes back in time he reaches a point at which, in Hoyle's words, "the universe was shrunk down to nothing at all." Thus what the Big Bang model requires is that the universe had a beginning and was created out of nothing.
On the standard Big Bang model we can represent space-time as a sort of inverted cone. As you go back in time it shrinks down until finally it reaches an initial cosmological singularity, before which nothing existed. When we say that the universe originated out of nothing, what we mean is that it is true that nothing existed prior to the Big Bang singularity; or, it is false that something existed prior to the singularity.
Now some people were obviously deeply disturbed with the idea that the universe began from nothing; therefore, over the decades, various alternative models were proposed to the Big Bang theory with the hope of averting the absolute beginning predicted by the standard model. We've seen such models as the steady state model or the oscillating model or, more recently, various proposed quantum physical models. Let's say a word briefly about each one of these.
Steady State Theory
The steady state model, which was first proposed in 1948, held that the universe never had a beginning but has always existed in the same state. As the galaxies expand, new matter comes into being to fill the voids left by the retreating matter, so that the overall state of the universe remains unchanged. Now, from the moment this model was first proposed in 1948 it has never been very convincing. According to science historian Stanley Jaki, the theory never secured a single piece of experimental verification. It always seemed to be trying to explain away the facts rather than explain them. According to Jaki, the proponents of this model were actually motivated by openly anti-theological, anti-Christian motivations. A second strike against the theory was the fact that a count of galaxies emitting radio waves indicated that there were more of these radio sources in the past than they are today, and thus the universe is not in a steady state after all.
But the real nails in the coffin for the steady state theory came in 1965, when A.A. Penzias and R.W. Wilson, two scientists working for the Bell Telephone laboratories, discovered that the entire universe is bathed with a background of microwave radiation, the same sort of radiation that you have in your microwave oven at home. This radiation background is a vestige of a very hot and very dense state of the universe. In the steady state model no such state could have ever existed, because that model holds that the universe was the same from eternity, thus that model has been thrown out today by virtually everyone. According to Ivan King in his book, The Universe Unfolding, the steady state theory has now been laid to rest as a result of clear-cut observations of how the universe has changed with time.
A second model proposed to avert the beginning of the universe was the so-called oscillating theory of the universe. Science writer John Gribbin describes this model in the following way: "The biggest problem with the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe is philosophical, perhaps even theological: What was there before the bang? This problem alone was sufficient to give a great initial impetus to the steady state theory. But with that theory now sadly in conflict with the observations, the best way round this initial difficulty is provided by a model in which the universe expands, collapses back again, and repeats the cycle indefinitely."
According to the oscillating model, the universe is rather like a spring, expanding and contracting from eternity. Some of you may remember Carl Sagan, in his popular Cosmos television program of several years ago, reading from the Hindu scriptures about cyclical Brahman years in order to illustrate the oscillating model of the universe.
There are, however, at least three very well known difficulties with the oscillating model. First of all, the oscillating model is physically impossible. For all the talk about such a model, the fact remains that it is only a theoretical possibility, not a real physical possibility. You could draft such mathematical models on paper, but they could not be descriptive of the real universe, because they contradict the known laws of physics. As the late professor Beatrice Tinsley of Yale University explained, "In oscillating models, even though the mathematics says that the universe oscillates, there is no known physics to reverse the collapse and bounce back to a new expansion. The physics seems to say that those models start from the Big Bang, expand, collapse, and then end."
More recently, four other scientists, in describing the contraction of the universe, admitted, "There is no understanding of how a bounce can take place. We have nothing to contribute to the question of whether and/or how the universe oscillates." In other words, in order for the oscillating model to be correct the laws of physics would have to be revised.
Secondly, the observational evidence is contrary to the oscillating model. The key question here is whether the density of the universe is sufficiently great to halt the expansion of the universe and then cause its re-collapse. If the density of the universe approximates a certain critical factor, the expansion will gradually slow to a halt, come to a stop, and then re-collapse under the force of its own internal gravitational attraction. On the other hand, if the density does not attain this certain critical parameter, the expansion will simply go on forever and ever. The critical question here is the density of the universe.
An illustration of this difference would be the escape velocity needed by a rocket to escape the Earth's gravitational field and to go into orbit or into outer space. Unless the rocket attains a certain escape velocity, the force of gravity will simply pull it back to earth again. But if it attains a certain escape velocity, then it will go into orbit or into outer space. In exactly the same way, if the universe is expanding at "escape velocity" or faster, then the expansion will overcome the internal pull of its own gravity and it will simply expand forever.
Clearly, in order to even be a possibility the oscillating model requires a universe that is expanding slower than escape velocity. But is that in fact the case? The crucial factor in answering that question is the density of the universe. It has been estimated that if there are, on the average, more than about three hydrogen atoms per cubic meter throughout the universe, then the universe would be sufficiently dense to re-collapse. Now, that may not sound like very much matter, but remember that most of the universe is composed of just empty space.
I'm not going to go into all the technicalities of how scientists measure the density of the universe, but let me simply report the conclusion. According to the most recent evidence, it has been confirmed with about 95 percent certainty that the universe is not dense enough for it to recontract, and that it will simply go on expanding forever. In fact, the most recent evidence indicates that, rather than slowing down, the expansion may actually be accelerating, which completely precludes the possibility of re-collapse and an oscillating universe. Thus the conclusions of Alan Sandage still stand: 1) the universe is open, 2) the expansion will not reverse, and 3) the universe has happened only once, and the expansion will never stop.
Thirdly, if an oscillating universe were physically possible, and even if the density of the universe were high enough to cause it to recontract, the fact is that the thermodynamic properties of an oscillating universe imply the very origin of the universe that its proponents sought to avoid. As several scientific analyses have pointed out, in an oscillating universe entropy is conserved from cycle to cycle, which has the effect of generating larger cycles and a longer expansion time with each successive cycle. What that means is that as you trace the cycles back in time they become smaller and smaller and smaller. Therefore, in the words of one Russian scientific team, Novikov and Zel'dovich, "the multi-cycle model has an infinite future, but only a finite past."
The astronomer Joseph Silk estimates on the basis of current entropy levels in the universe that the universe could not have gone through more than about one hundred previous oscillations. This implies that the oscillating model of the universe would still require an origin of the universe prior to the smallest cycle. So whether you choose a high density model, a low density model or an oscillating model, the thermodynamic properties of such a universe imply that the universe had a beginning. According to the British physicist P.C.W. Davies, "The universe must have been created a finite time ago and is in the process of winding down. Prior to creation, the universe simply did not exist." Thus the oscillating universe, or at least an eternally oscillating universe, is precluded both physically, observationally and thermodynamically.
Vacuum Fluctuation Model
In recent years astrophysical cosmology has become increasingly speculative, erasing the boundary between physics and metaphysics. In fact, according to the cosmologist Alexander Vilenkin, the field in which he works as a theoretical physicist is referred to as "metaphysical cosmology." The fact is that these theories are as much metaphysics as physics. And some theorists have speculated whether the introduction of quantum physics into cosmology might not serve to avert the absolute beginning of the universe predicted by the standard model.
Some of the earliest quantum theories of the origin of the universe were the so-called vacuum fluctuation models of the universe. According to these models, which were first proposed in 1973 by Edward Tryon, our observable universe is but a tiny part of a much wider, eternal, unobservable universe. This wider universe is just empty space, a quantum vacuum. Our observable universe originated in this quantum vacuum through a fluctuation of the energy which is locked up in space-time, and through a quantum fluctuation was converted into matter. So throughout the womb of this "mother universe," so to speak, various mini-universes are constantly forming through the quantum mechanical fluctuations in the energy locked up in the vacuum.
The fatal flaw in such models is that there is a non-zero probability that at any point in this wider vacuum-space a fluctuation would occur which would grow into a universe. Therefore, given infinite past time, universes would eventually form at every point in the quantum mechanical vacuum, or the wider space, and therefore they would begin to collide with one another and to coalesce into one massive, infinitely old universe. Thus, given infinite past time, we should now be observing an infinitely old universe, not our relatively young one; so the theory contradicts observation. Christopher Isham, Britain's leading quantum cosmologist, has observed that this difficulty was "fairly lethal" to the vacuum fluctuation models, and therefore "they were abandoned twenty years ago and nothing much has been done with them since."
Chaotic Inflationary Model
A second type of quantum mechanical model was Andrei Linde's chaotic inflationary model. Inflation is a new wrinkle which many theorists wish to add to the standard model. It proposes that very early in the history of the universe, between around 10-35 and 10-33 seconds after the Big Bang, the universe underwent a super-rapid or inflationary period of expansion. Linde's proposal is that inflation begets inflation, so that multiple universes are spawned. As each domain of the universe inflates, it spawns further universes, which in turn spawn further baby universes.
Now the question arises: If inflation goes on forever, did it have a beginning, as in the typical inflationary scenarios? Interestingly enough, Linde's main objection to the initial cosmological singularity is not scientific but metaphysical. He writes, "The most difficult aspect of this problem is not the existence of the singularity itself, but the question of what was before the singularity. This problem lies somewhere at the boundary between physics and metaphysics." Linde has therefore proposed an eternal inflationary universe in which every domain of the universe is formed by a prior inflating domain of the universe, and that one by a prior inflating domain, ad infinitum. "Thus," he says, "the universe is an eternally existing, self-producing entity that is divided into many mini-universes."
In 1994, however, Arvind Borde and Alexander Vilenkin in the Physical Review Letters showed that in fact Linde's model did not serve to avoid the initial cosmological singularity as he had hoped. They wrote, "A model in which the inflationary phase has no end naturally leads to this question: Can this model also be extended to the infinite past, avoiding, in this way, the problem of the initial singularity?" They answer, "This is in fact not possible in future eternal inflationary space-times as long as they obey some reasonable physical conditions. Such models must necessarily possess initial singularities. A physically reasonable space-time that is eternally inflating to the future must possess an initial singularity." They conclude, "The fact that inflationary space-times are past-incomplete forces one to address the question of what, if anything, came before."
Interestingly enough, in his response in the Physical Review of 1994, Linde agrees with their critique, and he now says that there must have been a Big Bang at some point in the indefinite past at which the universe came into being.
Quantum Gravity Model
A final class of quantum physical models is the quantum gravity model proposed by James Hartle and Stephen Hawking, which has received tremendous attention in the popular press through Stephen Hawking's bestselling book, A Brief History of Time. According to Hawking's model, the space-time of the very early universe, around 1043 second after the Big Bang, is analogous to the surface of a sphere. It does not terminate or begin in a point, which would be an edge or boundary to space-time, but rather it is rounded off, rather like the beginning or the front part of a badminton birdie. On Hawking's model the past is finite, but it is boundless in the sense that it has no beginning point because of the rounding off of space-time.
Now, Hawking is not at all reluctant to draw theological implications from his model. He writes, "The universe would have neither beginning nor end, and would be neither created nor destroyed. It would just be. What place, then, for a Creator?" Whether or not Hawking has these implications for his model depends entirely on whether his model is meant to be a literal description of the universe or is just a mathematical way of modeling the universe with a beginning. I think it's quite clearly the second, for Hawking achieves this rounding off of space-time only by substituting imaginary numbers, that is, numbers which are multiples of the square root of negative one, for real numbers for the time variable in his equations.
The problem with this is that imaginary numbers are just mathematical tricks which make the computations easier, but they have no physical significance. As professor C. Liu writes in Philosophy of Science, 1993, "In quantum physics the state vector in the Schr├â┬Âdinger equation is not a physical magnitude, for it is an imaginary function, and such functions do not represent real physical magnitudes." Thus Hawking's model is simply a mathematical redescription of a universe with an initial singularity in such a way that that singularity is suppressed and doesn't appear in the description.
Let me give you an analogy for this from the Special Theory of Relativity. In the Special Theory of Relativity, four-dimensional space-time has a curved geometry; it is a pseudo-Euclidean geometry. But this curvature can be eliminated if you use imaginary numbers for the time coordinate. This converts the pseudo-Euclidean geometry into a flat Euclidean geometry. But clearly space-time itself doesn't change because of this mathematical trick; it's just a redescription of the very same space-time using imaginary instead of real numbers. Sir Arthur Eddington said that it was, "not very profitable" to speculate on the implications of so-called imaginary time. "For," he said, "it can be scarcely regarded as anything more than an analytical device. Imaginary time is merely an illustrative tool which certainly does not correspond to any physical reality."
In exactly the same way, Hawking's model is just a way of redescribing a universe with an initial singularity in such a way that the singularity doesn't appear in the new description. He admits, "Only if we could imagine the universe existing in imaginary time would there by no singularities. When we go back to the real time in which we live, however, there would still be singularities."
Thus, far from eliminating the initial cosmological singularity, the Hartle-Hawking model merely conceals it behind the artifice of imaginary time. The model is simply a mathematical redescription of the universe using imaginary instead of real numbers. It's not a literal description of the way the world actually is. It is interesting that in his most recent book, The Nature of Space and Time, co-authored with Roger Penrose, Hawking himself says this explicitly. He writes, "A physical theory is just a mathematical model, and it is meaningless to ask whether it corresponds to reality. All I'm concerned with is that the theory should predict the results of measurements." But if that's all it does, then Hawking's model eliminates neither the beginning of the universe nor the need for a Creator. In fact, by positing a finite past on a closed surface, his model actually implies rather than denies the beginning of the universe.
In summary, I think that we can say that none of the alternative models-Łthe steady state theory, the oscillating theory, nor the various quantum physical theories-Łsucceeded in successfully avoiding the beginning of the universe predicted by the standard Big Bang model. The best evidence indicates that the universe in fact began to exist.
What Caused the Universe?
But that leads to Leibniz's question: Why does the universe exist, instead of just nothing? Out of nothing, nothing comes, so why does the universe exist? Notice that this is a philosophical, not a scientific question. Robert Jastro, the former head of NASAs Goddard Institute for Space Studies, has written, "Consider the enormity of the problem: Science has proven that the universe exploded into being at a certain moment. It asks: What cause produced this effect? Who or what put the matter and energy into the universe? And science cannot answer these questions. The scientists' pursuit of the past ends in the moment of creation."
In other words, science conducts us to the beginning of the universe-Łthe threshold of eternity, as it were-Łbut no further. Nevertheless, the beginning of the universe, which is established by science, does have philosophical implications. In the words of one scientific team, "The problem of the origin of the universe involves a certain metaphysical aspect, which may be either appealing or revolting." That metaphysical aspect is due to the metaphysical principle that out of nothing, nothing comes.
As one philosopher has put it, "it seems quite inconceivable that our universe could have sprung from an absolute void." If there is anything we find inconceivable, it is that something could arise from nothing. Therefore there must have been a cause of the origin of the universe. In the words of the philosopher C.D. Broad, "I cannot really believe in anything beginning to exist without being caused by something else which existed before and up to the moment when the thing in question began to exist."
Kai Neilsen, an atheist philosopher at the University of Calgary, gives the following illustration. Neilsen says, "Suppose you suddenly hear a loud BANG! and you ask me, 'What made that bang?' and I reply, 'Nothing; it just happened.' You wouldn't accept that; in fact, you would find my reply quite unintelligible." Well, what's true of the little bang is true of the Big Bang as well. We shouldn't accept the answer, "Nothing; it just happened."
This puts the atheist philosopher in a very awkward position as well. As Anthony Kenny of Oxford University points out, "a proponent of the Big Bang theory, at least if he is an atheist, must believe that the universe came from nothing and by nothing." But that's a pretty hard pill to swallow. Quentin Smith, who is himself an atheist philosopher, admits, "The response of atheists and agnostics to this development has been comparatively weak, indeed almost invisible. An uncomfortable silence seems to be the rule when the issue arises among nonbelievers, or else the subject is briefly dismissed with the comment to the effect that 'science has no relevance to religion'."
But these sorts of facile brush-offs are merely ways of avoiding the hard questions, not answering them. Look at it this way: Before the beginning of the universe, there wasn't even the potentiality of the universe's existing, because there wasn't anything prior to the beginning of the universe. But if there wasn't even the potentiality for the existence of the universe, then how could the universe come to exist? There must have been a cause with the potentiality to create the universe.
Adolf Gr├â┬╝nbaum, a philosopher of science at the University of Pittsburgh, has argued against this conclusion by maintaining that the idea of a cause of the Big Bang is self-contradictory, and that the question of what caused the universe's origin is therefore a pseudo-problem. Gr├â┬╝nbaum argues that there cannot be a cause of the Big Bang because, according to the Big Bang model, there was no time prior to the Big Bang. And since causes are always prior to their effects, therefore there can be no cause of the origin of the universe.
But it seems to me that it is Gr├â┬╝nbaum's own objection which is the pseudo-problem. Three alternatives, at least, come to mind for how there could be a cause of the Big Bang. One alternative would be to say that the cause of the universe exists timelessly without the universe and brings the universe into being at the moment of the Big Bang. In this case, the cause of the universe would be timeless without the universe, and temporal at and since the creation of the universe.
A second alternative would be to say that the cause of the universe exists in a sort of "metaphysical time" prior to the inception of physical time. Physical time begins at the Big Bang. But if the cause of the universe were an immaterial being, then it could have its own time in which it exists prior to the inception of physical space and time.
Third, one could simply say that the cause of the universe is simply timeless. This would in fact be compatible with Gr├â┬╝nbaum's own theory of time, according to which all moments in space-time are equally real. In this case the cause of the universe would simply transcend the four-dimensional space-time continuum and be the cause of its having an origin at the Big Bang.
Thus it seems to me that there is no incoherence philosophically in speaking of a cause of the origin of the universe. On the contrary, it seems to me what is incoherent is the idea that the universe simply popped into being, uncaused, out of absolutely nothing. Now by the very nature of the case, if the universe does have a cause, then this cause, as the Creator of time and space, must be a being which transcends time and space and is therefore timeless and spaceless, beginningless and immaterial, changeless, uncaused and enormously powerful.
Personal Creator of the Universe
That leads us to the third question that we proposed: Is this cause personal or impersonal? I would argue that there's good reason to think that this cause must be a personal free agent. We have seen that there is an eternal cause of the origin of the universe. In that case, ask yourself the question: Why isn't the effect just as eternal as the cause? If the cause were a mechanically operating set of necessary and sufficient conditions, and if the cause were eternally present, then its effect should be eternally present as well.
To give an illustration, suppose that the cause of water's freezing is the temperature being below zero degrees Centigrade. In that case, if the temperature were below zero degrees Centigrade from eternity, then any water that was around would be frozen from eternity. It would be impossible for the water to just begin to freeze a finite time ago. Therefore, if the cause of the universe exists timelessly and eternally, then why isn't the effect, the universe, also existent timelessly and eternally?
It seems to me that there is only one answer to this dilemma, and that is that the cause is a personal agent endowed with freedom of the will, and therefore able to create a new effect in time without any antecedent determining conditions. For example, a man who was sitting from eternity could freely will to stand up, and thus you would have a new effect arise in time from an eternal agent cause. Thus we are brought not simply to a cause of the origin of the universe, but to its personal Creator. And this is a conclusion of enormous theological significance. It is no secret that the Bible begins with the words, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." (Genesis 1:1)
What objections might be raised to this conclusion? In his book, God and the New Physics, the British physicist P.C.W. Davies raises the question: Then what caused God? If everything has a cause, then God must have a cause too, so if God is the cause of the origin of the universe, what is God's cause?
I must confess that as a philosopher I was disappointed to find this tired old argument on the lips of a sophisticated physicist. The relevant principle is not that everything has a cause. Rather, the relevant causal principle is everything that begins to exist has a cause. That is to say, something cannot come into being out of nothing. Anything that comes into existence must have a cause which brings it into existence. But if something exists timelessly and eternally, then it wouldn't need to have a cause. Nor is this special pleading for the case of God, because that is what the atheists always said about the universe-Łthat the universe is eternal, uncaused, indestructible and incorruptible, that it is a metaphysically necessary being, in effect. But that conclusion has now become implausible in light of the discoveries of contemporary astrophysical cosmology.
In conclusion, it seems to me that there is an uncaused, beginningless, changeless, eternal, immaterial, spaceless, powerful, personal Creator of the universe. He is the answer to Leibniz's question of why there is something rather than nothing.
Thank you for reading. If you found this content useful or encouraging, let us know by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2001, Dr. William Lane Craig
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The "NIV" and "New International Version" are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™