Is a god the first cause of everything, from beyond time and space? This is the sixth of a series of short posts about whether gods exist and why the question is an important one.
If a god is beyond time, then it cannot cause anything to happen, because cause and effect (if they exist) involve time. If a god is beyond space, then it cannot interact with a universe that involves space.
|Photo – Stellar nursery NGC 6357 composite image from NASA|
If something must have created the universe, and that something was a god, then what created the god? And if the god can have always existed without being created, why can the universe not have always existed without being created?
The argument that the universe must have had a cause is sometimes framed as the Kalam cosmological argument. Kalam refers to Islamic theology and Cosmology is the study of the origin and nature of the universe. The argument typically goes like this:
1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause
2. The universe began to exist
3. Therefore the universe has a cause
But both of the premises are questionable.
Premise 1. ‘Everything that begins to exist has a cause,’ is misleading, in the context in which it is presented. When we say that tables and chairs and people and planets ‘begin to exist’, there is nothing actually beginning to exist.
What is happening is that particles that already exist are rearranged into new patterns, and we are giving names to parts of these new patterns. Also, at a quantum physics level, some of those rearrangements can happen without a cause, such as the decay of a radioactive atom.
Premise 2. ‘The Universe began to exist,’ is questionable. We simply don’t know the answer, because our physics only brings us back to the Big Bang. Maybe the universe began to exist, and maybe it is eternal. Maybe there are many universes.
But we do know that, whatever happened, it happened at quantum physics level, where classical Newtonian spacetime physics do not apply.
In any case, even if both premises were true, the conclusion does not logically follow from the premises.
I’ll explain why that is the case in the next post.
|Michael Nugent is Chair of Atheist Ireland|