I posted this in 2017 given that my friend Sarah Kruck had asked about the question, “If God created the universe, who created God?” As of 2020, I haven’t updated it, but it’s now on a list of topics I’d like to address further. For now, it’s fairly basic.
In this post:
I. Epistemology of Contingent Entities
II. Absolute Values
IV: Finite Regressions and Infinite Sets
⮕ IV [Excursus]: Impossibility of an Actual Infinite
V: Heuristic Errors with the Contingent vs Absolute
VI: Xenophanes and Contingency Cosmogony
Part I: Epistemology of Contingent Entities
A question I’ll be exploring is, “If God created the universe, who created God?” First, some prep work, primarily on the knowledge or beliefs that we have around what it means to be a being, contingent or non-contingent. Big words aside, this is basically, “knowledge of whether or not something is eternal.”
The law of causality is one of the most basic laws in all of science. Every effect must have a cause, and the cause must be antecedent and superior to the effect. That is, the cause must be adequate to explain the effect. For example, imagine that you come across a car, and by one tire of the car is a mound of worker ants. You will not assume that the worker ants made the car, as they are not an ADEQUATE cause.
Some entities are contingent and cannot account for their own existence. Mount Rushmore, for example, is made of natural material, but it did not pop into existence, nor is erosion an adequate cause to explain it. Mount Rushmore, we can say, relies on outside forces to adequately explain its existence.
The universe, we know, will have an end. It is not infinite, and this was first proved scientifically in the early 1900s. More recently, the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin Theorem proves that classical spacetime, under a single, very general condition, cannot be extended to past infinity (that it, is is geodessicaly incomplete) but must reach a boundary at some time in the finite past.
Now either there was something on the other side of that boundary or not. If not, then that boundary just is the beginning of the universe. If there was something on the other side, then it will be a quantum region described by the yet to be discovered theory of quantum gravity. In that case, Vilenkin says, it will be the beginning of the universe. Either way the universe began to exist.
Vilenkin is blunt about the implications:
If you’d like more information or you are a visual/auditory learner, watch this video featuring Professor Vilenkin:
Because of that, we know the universe had a beginning. It is also a contingent entity, so there are three possible explanations for its existence, as follows: it is eternal and has always existed (proven to be false), it is not eternal and created itself out of nothing, or it is not eternal, and was created by an adequate cause.
Part II: Absolute Values
We are exploring the thought of, “If God created the universe, who created God?” We learned yesterday that the universe has a beginning and will have an end, and it is not able to account for itself, thus making it a contingent entity.
Since the universe relies upon something else to explain its existence, we must ask, “what caused the universe?” Stephen Hawking wrote that, “Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist,” and, “the universe can and will create itself out of nothing.”
We’ll delve quite deeply into some fundamental errors that Hawking makes in the future, but for now let’s shed some reason on Hawking’s statements. GK Chesterton aptly noted, “It is absurd for the evolutionist to complain that it is unthinkable for an admittedly unthinkable God to make everything out of nothing, and then pretend that it is more thinkable that nothing should turn itself into everything.”
So what caused this universe? We can logically and scientifically reason out a few key points using the law of causality, among others. The entity which created the universe is something that:
- (a) existed before or outside it,
- (b) is superior to it [the creator must be greater than the created];
- (c) is of a different nature, since the finite, contingent entity (universe) cannot explain itself.
From this, we can also reason that, had there been a time when nothing existed, nothing would also exist now. [Note: In a separate article, I will synopsize past and current academic thoughts on this premise. It’s too long for this article, but is both enriching and, at times, quite amusing. —Luke]
Part III: Eternality
In connection with the last post, we have to reason that, had there been a time when nothing existed, nothing would exist now. Sproul made an astute observation noting that if nothing always produces nothing then, “reason demands that if something exists… the something must be self-existent…there must be a self-existent being of some sort somewhere, or nothing would or could exist.”
Keep in mind, however, that we know that one entity (our universe) is a contingent entity and has not always existed, so an outside, absolute entity must be the cause for its existence.
To demonstrate this logically, everything that humans know to exist can be classified as either matter (including energy and quantum-level entities) or mind; there is not a third alternative. Using what we know so far, we can reason that:
- 1. Everything that exists is either mind or matter.
- 2. Something eternal exists, since something exists now.
- 3. Therefore either mind or matter is eternal.
► 3a. Matter is not eternal, as we have proven;
► 3b. Thus mind is eternal.
Nothing can never produce something, so if something exists now, something must have always existed. Yet we know that the universe had a beginning and will have an end.
Part IV: Finite Regressions and Infinite Sets
What if we could show that nothing can produce something? In this regard, we’re going to look at some writings by Stephen Hawking, who says that science has removed a need for God. Hawking concludes, “Because there is a law of gravity, the universe can and will create itself out of nothing.” We must subject Hawking’s statement to logical analysis to decide if it is valid. First, what is “nothing” that Hawking mentions? Notice that Hawking says, “Because there is a law of gravity…” Hawking assumes, then, that gravity exists, yet gravity is not “nothing,” as he claims. ” Nothing” is total non-being.
Hawking, then, is simultaneously proclaiming that the universe was created from nothing and from something. Another way of viewing this is, “because X, Y is created,” but that presupposes the existence of X in the first place. But wait, what, then, created X? And what created the thing that created X? Ah-ha, a loop of infinite regression!
Hawking creates some more, horrible logical errors with his conclusion. He says the the universe comes from nothing that turns out to actually be something, and then he says that the universe creates itself. If the universe is “Y,” then he is saying “Y will create Y.” That presupposes the existence of the universe to account for its own existence!
But wait, stunningly, Hawking is ALSO saying that a law of nature (gravity) explains the existence of the universe, which is yet another contradiction, as a law of nature’s own existence depends of the prior existence of the nature it describes! Hawking’s entire conclusion is, at it turns out, three self-contradictions in one sentence, and seems to me to be further proof that nothing will never produce something. From nothing, nothing comes.
Discursus: The above view is not unique to Hawking. I was recently listening to Peter Atkins, whose work in science is just phenomenal, and he was discussing why the concept of God as a causal factor for the existence of the universe violated Occam’s Razor. Although I don’t agree (a complex creator can be simpler than other alternatives by involving less suppositions, and thus not violating the Razor), I was reminded of what he wrote in one of his books about what he thinks is the simplest reason for why the universe was created. His account is as follows:
“Now we go back in time beyond the moment of creation, to when there was no time, and to where there was no space. In the beginning there was nothing…By chance there was a fluctuation, and a set of points, emerging from nothing, defined a time.
From absolute nothing, absolutely without intervention, there came into being rudimentary existence..yet the line of time collapsed, and the incipient universe evaporated, for time alone is not rich enough for existence.
Time and space emerged elsewhere, but they too crumbled back into their own dust, the coalescence of opposites, or simply nothing. Patterns emerged again, and again, and again. Each time the pattern formed a time, and through their patterning into time, the points induced their own existence.Sometimes chance patterned points into a space as well as a time. Then, by chance, there came about our fluctuation. Points came into existence by constituting time but, this time, in this pattern time was accompanied by three dimensions of space…with them comes stability, later elements, and still later elephants.”
I find the quote above to potentially be accidental fluff in search of a cogent explanation. He has also commented, “I argued that there was nothing to be made, I did not argue that there was nothing here now. I think it quite right that we should regard the current universe as an elaborate and engaging rearrangement of nothing….so there is nothing for God to do!”
I would describe that part of his thought process as being unintelligible, at least to me. His views may be a little inchoate, even to himself. Regardless, Hawking, Atkins, and others seem to not be able to offer any viable alternatives on this issue.
Part IV [Excursus]: Impossibility of an Actual Infinite
A question that people have wondered since the time of Islamic philosopher Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali is, “Can there be an actual, infinite set of anything?” If you haven’t picked up on why this is such a salient question, hopefully the following excursus will help.
Scientists and philosophers struggle with the thought of any number of actually infinite (∞) things, including temporal events.
To illustrate this, suppose you had an actually infinite number of coins…1, 2, 3…to ∞ (infinity).
Now take away every odd-numbered coin. How may coins would you have left? All the even numbered coins, so an infinite number. So you’ve started with an infinite number, subtracted an infinite number (you’ll NEVER reach the end of them), and ended with an infinite number! ∞-∞=∞
Now consider something else! With infinite coins, you take away every coin above coin number 5. You take away 6, 7, 8….to ∞. How many coins do you have left? Well 5! So you started with an infinite number of coins, you subtracted an infinite number (just like the first time, and again…you can never reach the end if you counted forever), and this time you have only five left! So ∞-∞=∞, but ∞-∞ can also equal 5!
If the universe had no beginning but an infinite past, an infinite number of metaphysical absurdities would exist, because infinite past events would have taken place. It seems, as Hilbert said, that the idea of an actually infinite number of things is just an idea in your mind; not something that really exists. And what’s more, in a physical universe, such could not exist.
An infinite past universe is also problematic in that we could never reach today; more specifically, an actual infinite number of past events is logically impossible. On the other hand, if the universe began to exist, for the atheist, this is even more problematic. Still, some cosmologists will say that this infinite past is true, but try to circumvent the negative conclusion by re-stating the issue as such:
“Yes, you can’t form an actually infinite collection of things by starting at a point and adding one thing after another. [You’ll never reach the end, as with this very day being the “end” of infinity in the past universe.] You will never get to infinity. But what you can do is never start and just finish at a point. That way you can form an actual infinite by successive addition.“
Hopefully you can see why this is also untenable. If not, it’s easy to view this as a thought-experiment where we substitute days for events, as the basic logic is the same, so the reasoning will lead to the correct conclusion.
What this restated issue is akin to is a series of dominoes falling, and you see the last domino falling (today), even though before it could fall an infinite number would have to fall prior to it.
It seems to me that if that series is infinite and it never had a beginning, it is even more difficult to see how the last domino (day) would fall. If you say it would fall then, you’re immediately confronted with the question: why didn’t it fall yesterday? If it can fall in infinite time then why didn’t it fall yesterday? Infinite time was done by then. Or why didn’t it fall the day before yesterday? Or the day before that?
What you discover is that there is no point in past time at which the last domino would fall, because it would have already fallen prior to that. That contradicts the hypothesis that the dominoes have been falling for eternity. This idea seems to me to be even more difficult than the idea of starting at a point and getting to infinity.
We can sum up the above with the following premises.
- 1. An actually infinite collection of things cannot be formed by successive addition—that is, adding one member at a time, one after another.
- 2. The series of past events is a collection formed by successive addition. The series of past events up to today has been formed by one event after another being added to the series. One event happening on the heels of another. That is the way the past is formed – by successive addition.
- 3. Therefore, the series of past events cannot be actually infinite.
Luckily, we are not the only people to hold this view, either. Dr. George FR Ellis, perhaps the world’s most brilliant cosmogonist, has called postulates of actual infinites “ill defined and untestable probability measures.” There are reasons that one would ideologically wish them to be true if one were an atheist, but it is difficult to see how they can fit in with our observable reality, or any reality on scientific and metaphysical grounds.
Ellis also notes that we are reaching testability limits for some realms of astrophysics [Limits to Verification in Cosmology, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, as well as other published works]. Thus he correctly presses that there is a great need to ensure that we are staying metaphysically engaged in order to better understand the nature of the universe. In essence, we must not abandon thinking about our thinking, as Hawking and some others do, if we want to discover more about the universe.
Part V: Heuristic Errors with the Contingent vs Absolute
We saw with Hawking’s argument that he reached a loop of infinite regression, among other errors, in explaining the existence of the universe. If gravity created the universe, what created gravity? If there are infinite universes, what created them? What created the thing that created them? This same “problem” is also ascribed to God with the question, “If God created the universe, who created God?”
There is a heuristic error latent in that question, though! To explain it in terms somewhat easier to understand, imagine that you are a hamster in a locked cage. You did not simply appear in the cage; your existence is contingent upon an outside entity placing you there. As a hamster, you know that you must press a button to get a pellet of food. This is your reality. It is all you know. It is how your world always has worked and always will work. You reason that whoever put you there must also have to press a button to get food, because that is the way things work! But is that true?
Now apply this to the absolute reality that we will identify as the creator of the universe. You think, “I was created and had a beginning, everything I know has been created and had a beginning, so this creator, too, must have been made and had a beginning.”
The error is the same as the hamster’s; it applies the constraints of the created to the creator. Such is always doomed to failure and infinite regression and is inherently illogical. You might also imagine that you are a goldfish in a round goldfish bowl. You look through your bowl and think, “The universe is curved and magnified.” However, that is only true for you; it cannot logically be applied to the outside reality.
Part VI: Xenophanes and Contingency Cosmogony
We have learned that infinite regression loops occur when a contingent entity tries to ascribe the laws which govern it (a hamster only getting food by pressing a button assumes that such is true outside the cage) to the absolute entity which created it (the human that put it in a locked cage does not need to press a button; he is not bound by those laws).
Throughout history, much of polytheism has attributed laws of nature to various gods. There were gods of thunder, gods or fire, gods of rain, etc. These gods were, in fact, ruled by natural laws. Zeus, for example, had to be BORN by Cronus and Rhea.
Philoponus, Xenophanes, and Aquinas noted, these were really nothing more than humans given powers to control certain aspects of nature, as many natural laws ruled them. They were, then, gods of nature. Xenophanes noted that, were a horse to have a god, it would look like a horse, being an idea of nature, and a cow would have a god that looked like a cow, or a redhead a god who has red hair. Yet while Xenophanes made fun of the “gods,” he also said, “There is one God…similar in mortals neither in shape nor thought…remote and effortless he governs all there is.”
In fact, all three philosophers above reasoned that the universe must have been created, but by an entity outside of, unlike, and not governed by nature. If it were governed by nature, it would have been unable to create the universe, as the creator must be greater than the created.
Today, we can easily see the logic of that in various cosmological arguments, notably the Kalām and contingency cosmological arguments, which follow in this pattern:
- 1. All contingent realities depend for their existence upon a non-contingent or necessary reality.
- 2. The universe is a contingent reality.
- 3. Therefore, the universe depends for its existence on a non-contingent or necessary reality.
We ask the question, “If God created the universe, what created God,” yet we’ve shown that the nature of reality must by necessity be different for the creator of the universe. While it seems at first strange to us, the Hebrew God Logos has from ancient times been unlike the polytheistic “gods of nature,” instead being a “God outside nature,” having created nature and its laws.
Unlike Zeus and others, who are ascribed parents, God describes Himself as a necessary being with the attribute of self-existence. Indeed, a creator who creates a rule (that all things must be created and have a beginning) for a certain entity does not need to be governed by that rule Himself, just as, though we require our hamster in his cage to press a button for food, we need not press a button ourselves.
Paul noted, “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things.” (Acts 17:24-25) God describes Himself as having the property of aseity/self-existence, as He is eternal, unlike so many of the gods men have made up. He is described as being outside of nature and utterly independent.
The Creator of the universe (the universe being a contingent reality) is the absolute reality necessary for the universe to exist. We know that in order for something to exist, something must have always existed, and unlike other gods, that is what God says He is—eternal and absolute; in a totally different category than man.
From a very early time, God explained that the universe is aging, that it had a beginning, and that it was contingent. Using logic and science, we’re able to clearly see that today, and unlike Stephen Hawking, we won’t end up in an infinite causal-regression loop. Praise God!
With love, always,