Must the Cause of the Universe Be a Person?

In my previous posts here and here, I’ve outlined the Kalam Cosmological Argument, and I explained some of the scientific evidences that support its philosophical premises and conclusion.

1 – Whatever begins to exist has a cause.

2 – The universe began to exist.

3 – Therefore the universe has a cause.

I also said it is reasonable to infer that, because the universe must have a cause, that this cause must have different properties from the universe itself. It must be a cause which is external from the universe itself, timeless (eternal), immaterial, powerful, and because it is eternal, it must therefore exercise agency in order to bring about a non-eternal universe. This inference points to what mono-theistic religions, like Christianity, describe as “God.”

The thing is – God is always understood by religious people to be personal. But, is it reasonable to infer from the Kalam that the cause of the universe is personal, as the religions claim God is?

Here are three reasons why we can infer a personal first cause to the universe from the Kalam:

FIRST – Because we can describe a CAUSE in TWO Different Ways, but ONLY ONE is Appropriate

We can describe a cause in terms of natural law, and we can also describe cause in terms of the actions of an agent. Here’s an example:

I come into the kitchen and the kettle is boiling. Why? Here’s the two different ways to describe this cause:

Natural Law – the flame’s heat is being conducted by the metal kettle bottom, increasing the kinetic energy of the water molecules. They break the surface tension and are thrown off in steam.

Agent Action – My wife Janet put the kettle on for a cup of tea.

Both of these explanations are legitimate in describing why the kettle is boiling.

But in the case of the beginning of the universe, a scientific explanation is not necessarily legitimate. Craig explains, saying “there is nothing before (the universe), and therefore it cannot be accounted for in terms of laws operating on initial conditions. It can only be accounted for in terms of an agent and his volitions, a personal explanation.”[1]


SECOND – The Cause’s Personhood is LOGICALLY IMPLIED by its Timeless and Immaterial Properties

A logical implication is where, “if p is true then q must also be true. So, p implies q.” Its important to notice that p and q are not the same, but they ARE logically equivalent.

The only entities we know that are timeless and immaterial are abstract numbers and minds. But numbers cannot cause anything while minds can. So, this IMPLIES that the transcendent cause of the universe is a MIND. And only personal agents have minds.

But can a mind, and so a person, be timeless? Don’t we exist as people and therefore think during the passage of time? I sure did that as I was writing this blog – it took a while to think thru and write it down. But why must an eternal person be that way?

Personhood involves self-consciousness, intentionality and freedom of the will. That’s what all persons are like. None of these properties demands existence “in time.” An eternal being could know everything without having to gradually discover it. As long as there is no change in this eternal being, we do not need to ascribe temporality to the person. A changeless self-conscious can be an eternal mind.[2]

So, I’m saying the conclusion of the Kalam, that the universe has a cause, IMPLIES that the transcendent cause of the universe is an eternal MIND. And only personal agents have minds.

p is the conclusion of the Kalam – “Therefore the universe has a cause.”

q is the personhood of the cause of the universe.

So, p implies q.


THIRD – An Eternal Cause Producing a Finite Effect Requires the Volition of an Agent

If the universe was a natural phenomenon, then we would expect it to be timeless. The cause cannot be different from the effect under natural law. Yet, the scientific evidence points to a finite universe, not an eternal one.

So, a personal agent has freely chosen to create a universe in time. There’s a complex philosophical argument for this. But basically, if there’s no agent causing the universe, it is incoherent that we have a temporal and not an eternal universe.



The Kalam concludes that the universe has a first cause. The logical inference that follows the Kalam’s conclusion is that this cause is personal, “uncaused, beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and unimaginably powerful. This, as Thomas Aquinas was wont to remark, is what everybody means by ‘God.’”[3]

[1] Willian Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2008), edition 3, 152.

[2] Terrance L. Tiessen, Is God timeless or temporal apart from creation?, Thoughts Theological, posted October 31st, 2013,

[3] Craig, 153.

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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.

23 thoughts on “Must the Cause of the Universe Be a Person?”

  1. “there was nothing before…” except, of course, the agent. Who acted upon some condition. That is, if the label “agent” truly fits.
    Intentionality carries with it the notion of aspectual shape and thus the metaphysically relevant basics of location and sequence.

    1. Ah – the ontological assumptions of the committed physicalist? Well – as I suggest in the blog – there’s nothing apparently temporal about a changeless, omniscient mind that has intentionality. So…maybe we could qualify the term “agent”? Temporal-Agent / Atemporal-Agent? Hey – I’m just spit balling 😉

    2. Hi Keith – apologies – i think i may have accidentally deleted your last comment. Yikes, swiping the wrong way can be dangerous!

      I’m interested why you don’t think this inference from the Kalam is a positive explanation? After all – the argument points to particular attributes that we would expect the cause to own given the effect we experience (the universe).

      Yes – if i have a physicalist worldview (there can be no God, only matter, energy, etc) then the cause is necessarily a mystery. Because there necessarily is NO metaphysical, only physical. But grimly declaring “the cause is a mystery” seems like digging one’s heels in at this point. Almost – it *must* be a mystery if I’m going to keep my worldview intact. And i’m not prepared to go any further. But surely the logic of the Kalam argument at least poses the question – why should I stick with that particular God-denying worldview?

      Is this ontological creep, or is it simply the ontology of the theist?

      Also, it seems to me we’re not trying to impossibly understand A by studying not-A. That could be a potential logic problem right there. Rather, we are showing that by studying the effect, we infer a cause that is reasonable on a non-physicalist ontology, and evidenced elsewhere in the world religions, e.g. Christianity.

  2. “SECOND – The Cause’s Personhood is LOGICALLY IMPLIED by its Timeless and Immaterial Properties”

    a claim based on a baseless premise fails. There is no evidence of any timeless or immaterial person. You have a circular argument, Stuart. God has to exist since my universe needs it to exist so my god has to exist…

    1. Well – the Universe DOES exist. Otherwise there is no argument and no one to pose it. And – I know I exist because to question it proves it, and I have to endure your confusing rants within it, friend. 😉

      1. Yep, the universe does exist. There is no evidence your particular version of your god did it.

        Nothing confusing about my points, Stuart.

        So, what about timelessness and immaterialness indicates a person, Stuart? What is your thought process here? Minds aren’t immaterial. There has to be brains for a mind to exist and brains and minds exist in time since they require a sequence of events. No evidence otherwise. If you are a dualist, then you have to show a separate mind. If it can use the brain as some kind of a receiver device, then the mind is electrochemical in nature since it can interact. If it is electrochemical in nature, then we have devices that can sense it, if it exists. Where are these disembodied timeless minds, Stuart?

      2. Physicalist understanding of mind -> physical process. Therefore “I” do not exist but the third person perspective on a physical process does.

        But “I” think that is a lot of nonsense. Because the world is full of “I”s saying what they think. i.e. you and me.

        “I” ceases to exist on a third person perspective. You knew that – right?

      3. Still no evidence for your claims, Stuart. people do exist, still no evidence for your immaterial mind.

        What I am most curious to see is you explain what you just said in coherent terms.

      4. Not at all. What I have is evidence that the mind is part of the brain; science repeatedly supports that conclusion. You have nothing, Stuart. But you need to pretend that here is something supernatural going to create a need for your version of the Christian god. You need a soul to inhabit those ideas of heaven and hell and to give creedence to your presupposed god idea that it has to be timeless and immaterial.

        No evidence for a god or souls or “timeless and immaterial minds”. It is only you who says “biological processes just made a sound, so what?” No need to denigrate the minds and brains we have. There is plenty of “what” to care about.

      5. I’m not talking about God – I’m talking about the philosophy of mind. Something that seems beyond your grasp at the moment. There are great books on it tho – try Mind and Cosmos by Thomas Nagel, the atheist philosopher.

      6. Stuart, you need a claim that minds are immaterial and timeless to create a excuse for your nonsense about your god. That’s not hard to see at all. Yes, Nagel writes about dualism too. That doesn’t keep this from being about your god and your creationism. Nagel also claims that ID is different from creationism and that is not true. When a philosopher wants to ignore biology in favor of his baseless claims, I’m not impressed, atheist or not.

  3. If your First Causer “exercises agency in order to bring about a non-eternal universe” then there must have been a degree of freedom in which to exercise the agency. That degree of freedom is unmeasured-duration-of-existence (which must be beginningless and hence negative infinity).

      1. Degree of Freedom is a well-known concept – one way it is expressed : any of a limited number of ways in which a body may move or in which a dynamic system may change.

        As used in the KCA, negative infinity relates to infinite regress. It is endless backwards. This is another well-known concept.

        If agency is to be exercised, this involves making a choice. The choice here is “when” to action the exercising of agency. The “when” relates to the degree of freedom known as duration (or time).

      2. That certainly sounds like a mechanistic understanding of freedom – when agents (not mechanisms) exercise freedom, they choose to act. Can mechanisms even exhibit freedom?

        Qualifying infinity as positive or negative seems pretty redundant to me. Tho yes – an infinite regress is well understood in philosophy.

        Yes – agreed – agents make a choice to act. And yes – we are time bound in this process. The personal agent responsible for the universe is not time bound by definition. They cannot be as time was created along with space and matter at the beginning. So it’s not helpful to project our constraints onto that personal agent. IMHO – we would be assuming that agent is constrained as we are – which is not intuitive at all. Why should the creative agent be constrained by the nature they created? Particularly given that nature did not exist when the agent acted to create it.

      3. One other thought – because the concept of negative infinity is meaningful in math – this does not mean it translates and is meaningful in philosophy where we are dealing in actual and potential infinities.

  4. There is something I would like you to clarify. This relates to the claim that the First Causer was “eternal” and “timeless”.

    I infer that your meaning of “time” is related to change, or to the existence of the universe. cf al-Ghazali and his assertion that time is the measure of motion. Can you please clarify?

    I am unclear of the meaning of “eternal” – perhaps it is unmeasured beginningless duration?

    1. Metaphysicians define time in different ways – A theory and B theory of time are very common. I would go with the A theory of time. Things/events in time are not all equally real – the future does not yet exist and the past no longer exists. Only things in the present are real.

      1. Thanks for your response – perhaps you could clarify a bit more – in your definition/meaning of time, does change cause time? Or to put it another way, if there is no change, is there time?

      2. That’s a really interesting question Ian. Aristotle and Leibniz proposed that talk of time was talk of relations between events (change) while Plato and Newton proposed that time is an empty container within which events were placed. So time is independent of events and change.

        I’ll have to think about it Ian.

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