Theistic Arguments: First Cause

The Cosmological Argument, also known as the First Cause Argument, is one of the most important arguments for the existence of God, not only because it is one of the more convincing, but also because it is one of the most used. The thought that everything that happens must have a cause, and that the first cause of everything must have been God is widespread. In my honest opinion it is not, however, valid.

The First Cause argument might be used as follows:

1. Everything that happens has a cause. (Axiom)
2. At one point, something came from nothing, the Universe came into existence. (Axiom)
3. This must have had a cause. (From 1 and 2)
4. Since no matter existed at that moment, the cause must have been God.

First, we should look at the two axioms. The second axiom, that the Universe once came into being, is the least doubtful. It is almost certain that our Universe did come into existence some 10 to 12 thousand million years ago. It can, however, be said that time did not exist before the Big Bang, and that it is therefore impossible to speak of anything happening before the Big Bang. Therefore, it is not entirely correct to say that something ever came from nothing, because there was no time when there was nothing.

The first axiom is very doubtful indeed. Quantummechanics works with events in nature that are, or at least seem to be, completely random. Particle/anti-particle pairs can come into existence and annihilate again without any apparent cause. Many quantum-processes seem to happen without cause. Saying that everything must have a cause is a very bold thing to do, and would require some major scientific theories. Until and unless these theories are presented, I call the first axiom a falsehood.

This alone should be enough to invalidate the First Cause Argument, but there is more. The first axiom suffers more attacks. Hume showed that humans cannot perceive 'cause' and 'effect', but construct these notions from past experiences. It is impossible to prove that A was the cause of B. We can only see that B happened after A, anything else is just something we think up. This casts doubt upon the notion of 'cause'.

Even if we agree that everything we see has a cause (which for quantum reasons I won't) how can we infer from that that everything has a cause? This is mere speculation, it is not knowledge we can ever have.

And just suppose that every thing has a cause, then the argument is still invalid, for the Universe is not a thing, it is the set of all things. And a set cannot be a member of itself, so a conclusion about things in the Universe is not necessarily valid for the Universe itself.

So, since not everything seems to have a cause, and the Universe is not a thing at all, the First Cause argument fails. But suppose that it doesn't, that everything does have a cause. Then, I'm afraid, we have to say that God had a cause too, and that that cause had a cause too, ad infinitum. If someone protests that God did not have a cause, we see that this person denies the first axiom, and the entire argument falls. The First Cause argument simply fails.

Victor Gijsbers