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The Argument from the Beginning of the Universe

Let me begin this post with Psalm 19:1-2 (NASB):

"The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge."

Two weeks ago, we discussed general revelation, the way in which God reveals Himself apart from something like divinely inspired text. General revelation is available to all people at all time, and, if God does reveal Himself to us in this way, this indicates that God created our minds to discover Him. Let's set our minds on the universe. What does it tell us?

The argument from the beginning of the universe has a long history, spanning back to the work of a Muslim philosopher and theologian named al-Ghazâlî, who lived from 1056-1111. Writing in the Medeival period during a resurgence of Greek thought in the Arab world, which had run parallel to a similar revival of Greek thought in the Latin-speaking world, al-Ghazâlî formulated an argument for the existence of God from the beginning of the universe. Today, the idea that the universe began to exist is commonplace; most people believe that the universe began to exist with the Big Bang. But this commonplace belief was practically unthinkable to all but Christians, Jews and Muslims only about 150 years ago. During the Medieval era, practically all philosophers had argued or assumed that the universe was eternal and unchanging, and therefore uncreated. Al-Ghazâlî distinguished himself by arguing, using philosophical arguments, that the universe began to exist. And, if the universe began to exist, then the universe has a cause.

This argument remained, basically ignored and unchanged, until Immanuel Kant's basically identical formulation of it in his book, Critique of Pure Reason (1781), in which he argues that the question of whether or not the universe began to exist was inscrutable; one really couldn't know which position to hold. Then, in the early 20th century, the astronomer Edwin Hubble discovered evidence that the universe was not unchanging but, in fact, expanding rapidly. This revolutionary discovery suggested that, if the clock were turned back, the universe would become smaller and smaller until it reached a point, called a singularity, which is the beginning of space, time, matter and energy. In other words, Hubble had found scientific evidence for the beginning of the universe.

In 1979, the Christian philosopher, William Lane Craig, combined the philosophical arguments of al-Ghazâlî, combined with the scientific evidence for the beginning of the universe, and brought al-Ghazâlî's argument back to life. His book, which was his doctoral thesis, is called The Kalām Cosmological Argument, a name for this argument which expresses its focus on the cosmos as well as its Muslim origin. The rest, as they say, is history.

The Kalam Cosmological Argument (hereafter the KCA) is one of the most discussed arguments for God's existence today. As I indicated in my post on natural theology, I will link to a video for each argument from William Lane Craig's ministry, Reasonable Faith. Watch the video below, and then I will discuss the argument in more detail.

This video focuses mainly on the scientific evidence for the beginning of the universe, so I won't cover the philosophical arguments for the beginning of the universe so much. Here is the syllogism:

  1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.

  2. The universe began to exist.

  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

I suggest that you read my post on logic in order to better understand how to interpret this argument. That being said, the form of the this argument is not covered in that post. Briefly, this argument moves from describing a characteristic of a class to a particular member of that class. For instance, if all cats have claws, and Felix is a cat, then Felix has claws. This argument form is valid because what describes a class describes an individual in that class. In the same way, the universe is a member of the class "everything that begins to exist," which is represented in premise 2.

How is this argument to be symbolized? Here, things get a little tricky. If we think of an object as x, then we can describe what's true if x has a certain characteristic (i.e., if x begins to exist). The implication here is that if x is a member of the class of things that begin to exist, then x has a cause. In that way, statements with a universal quantifier (i.e., statements that describe every member of a class) end up being veiled conditional statements. For this argument, allow E to mean "begins to exist" and C to mean "has a cause." The letter u will substitute x as a particular member of the class "everything that begins to exist" and means "the universe." Here is the argument symbolized:

KCA (symbolized)

  1. (x) Ex->Cx

  2. Eu

  3. Therefore, Cu.

The expression (x) means "for any x," and the first premise is read, "For any x, if x begins to exist, then x has a cause." Notice that, when symbolized in terms of conditional statements, the logical structure of the argument becomes clear. For those of you who read my post on logic, you may have recognized that this argument follows the rule modus ponens and is therefore logically valid.

Now, we move on to the soundness of the argument. Remember that an argument is sound if the premises are true, or at least more probably true than false. Here, I'll simply list the support for each premise:

Premise 1

  • The claim that things that begin to exist can come into being without a cause is absurd. If some things can come into being without a cause, why not anything and everything?

Premise 2: Philosophical Arguments

  • The claim that the universe never began to exist includes the claim than an actually infinite series of past events precedes this moment. This is absurd, since an actually infinite number of things cannot exist in the real world.

  • If an actually infinite series of past events does exist, then the present would have had to be reached via a series of consecutive events in the past to reach the present. Since counting an actually infinite set to reach a definite result is impossible, then the present could not exist if the universe is infinite in the past, since it could not have been reached, which is absurd. Therefore, the claim that the universe began to exist is absurd.

Premise 2: Scientific Support

  • The Second Law of Thermodynamics

  • The empirical evidence for the Big Bang

The two philosophical arguments above were originally given by al-Ghazâlî and then were further developed by William Lane Craig. The scientific support was covered in the video.

As I indicated in the post on natural theology, I want these posts to be brief. I want to leave some space for my own analysis and the video for your consideration. Suffice it to say that I am convinced that this argument is good. Though many have tried to account for the evidence for the Big Bang with a model of the universe as eternal, none of those alternatives seem to me to be more probable than the original Big Bang model, and those alternative models don't account at all for the philosophical arguments against a universe infinite in the past. Like William Lane Craig, I find the philosophical arguments particularly convincing, since they show that the whole idea of a universe without a beginning is quite absurd, aside from empirical evidence. Given the fact that most people agree with premise 2, and premise 1 seems to be obviously true, then the conclusion follows that the universe had a beginning.

Once, then, we ask, "What could have possibly created the universe out of literally nothing?" the inference becomes clear. This is a third form of logical reasoning called abductive reasoning, which is reasoning from an observation to be explained to its most probable explanation. Here, William Lane Craig simply analyzes the properties required in the cause and shows that these are most plausibly properties of what we would call God. Such a cause must be incredibly powerful, spaceless, timeless, immaterial, and personal. So this argument, if good, tells us quite a lot about our Creator. The universe is telling us something, and it is that it was created out of nothing a finite time ago.

That is it for this week's post! Since these are more brief, I hope that you find it edifying as well as concise. I'm thankful for these short videos from Reasonable Faith, since they make my job so much easier. If you have any questions, feel free to email me at the address on the homepage or subscribe and comment below.

Next week, we will discuss the (in)famous argument from contingency, which is based on the age-old question in philosophy, "Why is there something, rather than nothing?" Tune in for that post next week!

Finally, if you find yourself continuing to come back to the blog, please consider subscribing to it, so that you will get notified of each new post. With a subscription, you can also comment below and start a discussion! Finally, if you have any questions or comments about the blog, then you can send me a message from the bottom of the homepage. I look forward to receiving messages from you. Thank you for reading!

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