Can We Avoid a Beginning to the Universe?

Can you prove the universe is eternal, and never had a beginning? Some scientists think so. But this is a very old idea they are working on.

The Kalam Cosmological Argument was first formulated by a Muslim philosopher in the 12th century to combat ancient Greek ideas about an eternal universe. The Kalam does not function as a proof of Christianity – or indeed Islam – but it clearly gives us ground for a cause that we can deduce as personal, powerful, immaterial, beginning less and timeless. Why? Because time, space, matter and energy were all created with the universe, so the cause cannot be of the same stuff as what it caused. So, it took will and choice to cause the universe to exist. This cause of the universe fits with how mono-theistic religions describe God.

The basic Kalam argument says:

1 – Whatever begins to exist has a cause.

2 – The universe began to exist.

3 – Therefore the universe has a cause.

 

I’ve discussed some of the scientific support for premise 2 – the universe began to exist. But not everyone agrees that the universe began to exist. There are various attempts to argue for an eternal universe. This blog looks at them.[1]

1 – Oscillating Universes

Imagine universes coming into existence and then dying out one after another. A bit like a pendulum swinging to and fro into eternity.

The problem with this theory is that our universe has thermodynamic properties, and we know that entropy (the degree of disorder in a system) grows over time. So, on each oscillation, the degree of entropy increases. This means that each oscillation cycle gets longer and longer. So if that is the case, then working backward, the earlier oscillations were shorter.

Where’s this leading? You guessed it. We are back at the universe having a beginning. The first oscillation had to be initiated by a cause.

2 – Bubble Universes

The idea behind this theory, also known as the multiverse, is that each bubble contains a different universe and the second law of thermodynamics only applies inside each different bubble.

The problem is that you still need a beginning, even to the multiverse. The Borde Guth Vilenkin theory from 2003 discovers that any expanding universe cannot be infinite into the past. It must have a starting point, a space time boundary.

Bubble Universes still need a first cause and a beginning.

3 – Baby Universes

In this theory, energy is thought to travel through worm holes in space and exit from black holes, spawning baby universes as it does so. The problem here is that subatomic physics has shown that whatever goes into a black hole stays in our universe. So, the second law of thermodynamics still applies. And – we are left with needing a space time boundary condition again.

4 – The Universe Caused Itself

This idea is incoherent and worse than magic. At least in magic you have a magician and a hat for him to draw the rabbit out of. With this idea, the rabbit just pops into existence all by itself! No – this is an illogical idea. The universe would have to first exist to cause itself. Do you see the problem? It’s a logically incoherent idea.

 

5 – The Big Bang is Logically Incoherent

Because the laws of physics break down at the big bang, it is said that this is a logically contradictory state of affairs.[2] Why is it logically contradictory? Presumably because the person making the claim is a naturalist. And you will often find the naturalist making assumptions about the universe that are very similar to the theists assumptions about God. So – the naturalist needs the universe to be eternal to satisfy their naturalistic worldview. A supernatural creation event does not fit well with naturalism.

This is not an issue of logic at all. It is a worldview issue, and what the naturalistic worldview will permit.

Yet at what cost? This attempt seems to ignore all the scientific evidence and philosophical reasoning to the contrary. For example, Einstein’s model for General Relativity predicted a finitely old universe before this was a fashionable idea. He underplayed this prediction until further theories and observations (that I’ve discussed here) confirmed a finite universe.

Basically, you have to ignore a lot of data to cling to the ancient Greek idea of an eternal universe and to avoid challenging your own worldview assumptions.

 

Conclusion

If the universe began to exist, then it has a cause. To admit that, and to stop there and not consider what that cause is, seems to me to be really very strange. We are all about making scientific discoveries…right? So why would we stop at the thought of making metaphysical discoveries, and looking seriously at why we are here in the first place?

If we take the Kalam’s conclusion – which logically deduces a personal first cause – then the question becomes, what is that creator like? To answer that question, the best place to start is Christianity. If you can disprove Christianity, then you can really work out what the truth is – right?

[1] William Lane Craig, On Guard Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision, (Lee Vance View: David C. Cook, 2010), kindle edition, loc 1131 – 1649, synthesised and summarised.

[2]Big Bang Vanishes” – Quantum Theory Describes an Eternal Universe, The Daily Galaxy, posted 17th June, 2019, https://dailygalaxy.com/2019/06/big-bang-vanishes-quantum-theory-describes-an-eternal-universe/.

 

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I live in the UK, I'm married to Janet and I'm passionate about proposing a case for the historic Christian faith. You can find me on Twitter at @stuhgray.

16 thoughts on “Can We Avoid a Beginning to the Universe?”

  1. Just as important as proving God’s existence is looking at what God created , what was the purpose of God creation and more importantly why is the creation obviously amoral.
    Surely a better explanation is that we became self -aware and began to judge our actions hence morality was born , not in the universe but in us.
    This is my interpretation of eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil those old writers had to explain morality.

    1. Hey there – that’s interesting that you would describe creation as “obviously amoral.” I’m wondering what you mean?

      Also can I ask – if we “began to judge our actions,” I’m wondering what we judged them against?

  2. Well just look at the terrible loss of life in natural disasters , I could list them and they take place all over the planet , but not only that they kill the good as well as wicked. Now tell me that nature cares about us or anything living come to that.
    It was only after we developed self-awareness that we could choose which way to act , we no longer behaved instinctively it’s what is often labelled as free will.
    Free will created a problem because we had to judge and religious people passed on the act of judgement to a set of rules or religious beliefs it made life much easier for them.
    In secular nations the moral rules are decided on democratically and they are not constant but civilisation is only possible with mutual agreement .

    1. I would agree that nature doesn’t care about us. It’s nature – it’s a mechanism. When people get in it’s way, terrible tragedies occur. I would also argue that this fact does not count against theism, but for theism.

      So – an important term you have used is “self-awareness.” How do you understand that term?

  3. Surely theism postulates a caring God ; why would a highly moral caring God place his helpless creatures in such a terrible situation. The best answer theists can give is that we do not conform to God requirements .
    If a couple have a baby the baby may not conform but that is no reason to punish the poor child .
    I think the term self-awareness explains itself but you could replace it with self consciousness. Animals exhibit consciousness in varying degrees but not as humans do.

    1. So are you saying that because people die in natural disasters that this is somehow Gods fault? That seems to ignore all the benefits we have in being alive. And also ignores the responsibility we have for behaving carefully in a dangerous, beautiful creation. That God has requirements seems to be completely irrelevant to this point.

      So – somehow humans evolved to become conscious beings then. Yes? Well – that’s a fine story. But it is completely lacking in any evidential support. Evolution of the gaps, perhaps! And worse – atheist philosophers like Thomas Nagel (for example) reject this idea as viewing the difficult problem of consciousness the wrong way round. Consciousness is so staggeringly challenging to the naturalist because of its inner perspective that is thought by him to precede everything else. How quickly we accept our own conscious minds without considering the incredible fact that we are here and thinking and observing.

  4. Sorry I do try to condense my thoughts to much and get misunderstood.
    The story goes we live in a fallen world and Gods original world was perfect ; the reason the world is dangerous and imperfect is our disobedience — to put it simply we ruined creation by not following Gods instructions.
    It is a pretty good way of explaining things when you consider it is about six thousand years old.
    I’m not sure what you consider evidence to be , for me it is a plausible explanation as far as our present knowledge can take us.

    1. > the reason the world is dangerous and imperfect is our disobedience — to put it simply
      > we ruined creation by not following Gods instructions.
      You might be caricaturing Genesis 3 somewhat here, making God out to sound like a control freak. “Unless you do A then B then C in that order, I’m going to throw a fit!!” When you look at this text, it doesn’t say that at all:

      1 – God gave them FREE reign, but said not to approach one very specific area (tree of knowledge good evil) because it would be harmful to them. Given he’s spent the last 2 chapters teaching the people lots of stuff…and encouraging them to use their freedom…its not the knowledge thats the concern here. But its the effect – death – God’s trying to avoid.
      2 – The actual temptation is about Eve being like God herself, not needing to depend on God any more for anything. Living as if God doesn’t matter. (how interesting that’s how most people now live today!)
      3 – In eating the fruit they both actively chose to live as if they need not be dependent on God. This is how they were built to live. So – there were consequences to this choice. Human death was a big one.
      4 – It was God who cursed the earth in response to human sin.

      Danger for humans is a natural part of living in the universe. You touch a hot fire – you burn your hand. But – the consequence of the fall are many additional problems for mankind. Death and suffering are big consequences.

  5. “If we take the Kalam’s conclusion – which logically deduces a personal first cause ”

    Again, Kalam doesn’t say anything at all about the cause of the universe, much less conclude that it’s personal. You’re adding here. Again.

    1. Think of it this way.

      If the cause of the universe was impersonal (gravity, perhaps) the effect and the cause would be simultaneous. Both would be eternal. But we’ve shown that the universe is not eternal. So the logical deduction here is to conclude a cause which is other than the effect, which is not an impersonal force. But rather, an exercise of agency. And only persons have agency to exercise.

      Honestly I don’t think your issue is a logical one. I think its a worldview problem. If I’m right (I don’t know whether I am so I could be wrong) then you are presuming – God simply cannot exist. That is your starting point. And you cannot change from that. So – given your presumption that God cannot exist – there therefore cannot be a personal cause to the universe. And anyone who says there is is either deceitful (you’ve accused me of that MULTIPLE times) or simply mistaken, importing something into the argument that’s not there. Not so. The logical inference is clearly there.

      So – the question remains – do our wordviews allow us to go there? If your answer is no – God cannot exist – than fine!! That’s your decision. But please realise that:

      1 – because i have a different worldview to you, this does not make me deceitful
      2 – there are consequences to your decision. Not following the solidly logical inferences suggested by the Kalam are one of them.

      1. I don’t have a starting point of God does not or cannot exist. My issue isn’t my world view. It’s that you are adding to Kalam and saying Kalam says… I’ve corrected you numerous times, but you are intentionally still doing it. You are being intentionally dishonest.

  6. Let me first make it clear that interpretation of the bible depends on who is doing the interpretation , it is not absolute . Among Christian groups there are many interpretations and if we include all other groups the number is huge.
    The tree of knowledge of good and evil is best interpreted as the growth of moral awareness. You could argue whether it was a tree , how tall it grew , what fruit it produced , if it shed seeds ect ect
    I’ve brought up four children and more by luck than judgement they have turned out pretty well. Now they no longer depend on me ; that is a sign of adulthood , being able to think for yourself , stand on your own feet , take the buffets of existence in the chin.
    I’m 77 so that means most of my life is over and very soon I will die , I hope for a peaceful departure but there is no guarantee of that outcome.
    Many find solace and comfort in religion and many more like to remember their loved ones in cemeteries or by the distribution of ashes.
    What you regard as God given free will is the greatest gift you have been given , don’t cling to what old documents say or what others say use the gift to assess your own place in the world.

    1. Respect to you sir for your work and the children you have raised. No small thing!

      Remember that, because people interpret things differently, does not take away from the fact that the original writer had an original intention. You might be saying – we can never find that original intention. Well – i think the whole of the bible is an exercise in interpreting the fall of man. Theres a grand story of people and their lives here that goes to illustrate the things i’ve been saying about the fall.
      I do agree with what you are saying about free will. This is so important to God that he allows evil to persist in the world…for now. Mans evil against man is tolerated for now, because man’s freedom is such a good to God. But – it won’t be that way for ever.
      To me, the issue isn’t the form the truth comes (document) or the age of them (old). The question is – does it have a rang of truth about it? And – even though its not fashionable in our world today, could it be on to something?

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