Today, there is no serious debate about whether the universe is eternal or whether it had a beginning. This was not always the case. For centuries the Jews, Christians, and Muslims have held that God created the universe. The first verse of the Bible says “in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). However, others held that the universe was eternal. This debate was a big deal. You may be reading this thinking, why does it matter? It matters because if the universe is eternal, then there is no need for a universal creator but if the universe began to exist at some point, then it would need a cause which made it begin. It was certainly more attractive for atheists to think the universe was eternal as God would not be necessary.
Before some of the amazing discoveries of the twentieth century, this debate was mainly waged on philosophical grounds involving some pretty notable scholars like Aristotle, al-Ghazali, and Thomas Aquinas. The principle philosophical argument that the universe had a beginning is known as the “kalam cosmological argument”. William Lane Craig is currently one of the world’s foremost scholars on this argument and sums it up like this:
1) Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
2) The universe began to exist.
3) Therefore, the universe has a cause.
The implication is that there is a “First Cause” that is outside of the created universe that caused it to begin.
Whatever begins to exist has a cause
The first statement of the argument above should not be at all controversial, after all, we all acknowledge that the things that happen around us have causes. If you came out of Target and walked up to your car in the parking lot and noticed a big dent in the side, you would assume that the dent had a cause. You would not assume that the dent just happened on its own without a cause. Some call this the law or theory of causality or cause and effect. This law of causality is actually foundational to scientific exploration. We observe something in nature and conduct research or experiments to determine why it happens. Scientists know they have found a cause when they are able to reproduce its effects in an experiment. It is self-evident that whatever begins to exist has a cause.
The universe began to exist
It turns out there is serious philosophical evidence that the universe cannot be eternal and, in fact, had a beginning. Events in our universe are a collective formed by successively adding new events, something we commonly call history. Every single event in the history of the universe is proof that the universe cannot be infinite. Let me give you an example. On February 1, 2009, the Pittsburgh Steelers won a record sixth Super Bowl title beating the Arizona Cardinals 27-23. The Steelers could only have won that game, indeed the game could only be played, if a finite number of events preceded it. If an infinite number of events has to precede it, it would never occur.
Let’s put it another way. Let’s say a friend of yours says to you “I’m going to buy you an ice cream”. You reply “Great, when will you buy me an ice cream?” to which your friend answers “I will buy you an ice cream after I finish the infinite number of errands I have to do.”
If your friend has an infinite number of errands to do before he buys you an ice cream, when will you get that frozen goodness? Answer: never. So, the fact that there are events occurring at every moment every day is proof that the universe cannot possible be infinite. In other words, the universe had to have had a beginning.
This was the type of debate that went on for centuries until the early twentieth century when a number of discoveries were made that provided solid scientific evidence to back up the philosophical arguments. There is so much mounting evidence proving the universe had a beginning and hinting at God as the creator that I will unpack that in a future article.
The universe had a cause, I believe the cause is God
Because the universe began to exist, there must be something or someone that caused it. But why does this “First Cause” have to be God? Well, let’s rule out what the “First Cause” cannot be. Because space, time, matter, energy, everything in the universe began then the cause cannot be anything natural. Everything we know of the natural world was created so it could not also be the cause. The cause must be supernatural. The First Cause also cannot be the type of god envisioned by pantheism where god is a part of the universe and is in everything. Again, if the universe is god it cannot create itself. What type of possibility for the First Cause are we left with?
Well, the First Cause must be timeless, immaterial and nonspatial since time, matter and space were created by the First Cause. The First Cause must be immensely powerful and supremely intelligent to have created the entire universe. The First Cause must also be personal because he decided to create the universe in the first place, decided that there should be something instead of nothing.
Who best fits the description of a timeless, immaterial, nonspatial, powerful, intelligent, personal being? I believe it is God.
I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be and Atheist by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek
To Everyone an Answer edited by Francis Beckwith, William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland.
Creation out of Nothing: A Biblical, Philosophical, and Scientific Exploration by Paul Copan and William Lane Craig