- Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
- The universe began to exist.
- Therefore the universe had a cause.
(P.S. the cause is God.)
This argument is disarmingly simple. It is intuitive, seemingly reasonable, and a person doesn’t have to go against the entire scientific establishment to make it. However, it is only simple out of necessity, for the differences between our understanding of causality and the conditions at the beginning of the universe will soon make themselves apparent.
Epicureanism taught that the universe is made up of a finite number of indestructible atoms that move around in a void. Things only come into being through the atoms forming new compounds after atoms from old compounds are broken apart and recycled. This was an early description of the first law of thermodynamics. Nothing is ever created from nothing, cause or no cause. Everything is just different arrangements of atoms that have existed since the beginning of time. Already you can detect a false equivocation here of the way things made of matter begin to exist and the way matter itself begins to exist.
The argument claims that everything which begins to exist has a cause, but in reality everything that begins to exist has several causes. Aristotle posited four types of causes:
- Material cause – The material that is caused to become something.
- Formal cause – The form that the material is caused to take.
- Efficient cause – The thing that does the causing.
- Final cause – The reason for the cause.
For example: A carpenter (the efficient cause) assembles pieces of wood (the material cause) into a table (the formal cause) so he can sell it to a customer (the final cause). The carpenter does not literally cause the table to exist (you can not cause something that does not exist to do anything) rather he causes material that was not the table to become the table. This is why everything which begins to exist through an efficient cause also has a material cause.
What can this tell us about the beginning of the universe? Christian theology is adamant that God created the universe ex nihilo – out of nothing. There could not have been a material cause for the universe because if any material existed before the universe, it would already have been defined as the universe, which would mean that the universe did not begin to exist at all. The universe could only have had an efficient cause, which the argument suggests is God. But if there was no material cause, then what did God causally affect when he created the universe? It couldn’t have been the universe because the universe didn’t exist yet. Did he act on nothing at all and the universe just popped into existence? An affectless effect? In what sense does that qualify as a cause? It’s not absurd, it’s incoherent. The only option that even begins to conform to our understanding of causality is creatio ex deo, the idea that God caused himself to become the universe. If not that, then the type of cause that created the universe was so far removed from our understanding of causality that the universe might as well have just had an a-causal beginning.
Credit for much of this argument goes to @CliftonsNotes aka Theoretical Bullshit aka Liam from The Bold and the Beautiful. His series of videos on the Kalam argument and hilarious interaction with William Lane Craig can be found here.