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Answering "Who Created God?" and Other Objections to the Cosmological Argument

The kalam cosmological argument for God's existence says that:

  1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause. (Things don't pop into existence from nothing.)
  2. The universe began to exist. (Cosmology science confirms the universe had a beginning: the "Big Bang" and the evidence for it like redshifts and cosmic background radiation.)
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause. (An immaterial, timeless, extraordinarily powerful cause.)

"But what caused God?" is the usual atheist retort. 

When I first had read about the cosmological argument and talked to an atheist work colleague about it, this was his exact objection. What's our response?

In his book, On Gaurd: Defending Your Faith With Reason and Precision, William Lane Craig says this atheist objection is a misunderstanding of the first premise:

At this point the atheist is likely to retort, "All right, if everything has a cause, what is God's cause?"

I'm amazed at the self-congratulatory attitude of students who pose this question. They image that they've said something very important or profound, when all they've done is misunderstand the premise. Premise 1 does not say that everything has a cause. Rather it says that everything that begins to exist has a cause. Something that is eternal wouldn't need a cause, since it never came into being.

[11th century Islamic philosopher] Ghazali would therefore respond that God is eternal and uncaused. This is not special pleading for God, since this is exactly what the atheist has traditionally said about the universe: It is eternal and uncaused. The problem is that we have good evidence that the universe is not eternal but had a beginning, and so the atheist is backed into the corner of saying the universe sprang into being without a cause, which is absurd.

Objection: Maybe things do pop into existence without cause?

Craig addresses a few other common objections to the cosmological argument. Atheists sometimes claim that premise 1 is invalid because subatomic particles come into being from nothing. Craig writes,

Sometimes skeptics will respond to this point by saying that in physics subatomic particles (so-called “virtual particles”) come into being from nothing. Or certain theories of the origin of the universe are sometimes described in popular magazines as getting something from nothing, so that the universe is the exception to the proverb “There ain’t no free lunch.”

This skeptical response represents a deliberate abuse of science. The theories in question have to do with particles originating as a fluctuation of the energy contained in the vacuum. The vacuum in modern physics is not what the layman understands by “vacuum,” namely, nothing. Rather in physics the vacuum is a sea of fluctuating energy governed by physical laws and having a physical structure. To tell laymen that on such theories something comes from nothing is a distortion of those theories.

Objection: The universe really popped into existence from nothing

Craig writes that he was surprised to see atheists most often go after premise 1 as it empirically true:

When I first published my work on the kalam cosmological argument back in 1979, I figured that atheists would attack premise 2 of the argument, that the universe began to exist. But I didn’t think they’d go after premise 1. For that would expose them as people not sincerely seeking after truth but just looking for an academic refutation of the argument. What a surprise, then, to hear atheists denying premise 1 in order to escape the argument! For example, Quentin Smith of Western Michigan University responded that the most rational position to hold is that the universe came “from nothing, by nothing, and for nothing”—a nice close to a Gettysburg Address of atheism, perhaps! 

This is simply the faith of an atheist. In fact, I think this represents a greater leap of faith than belief in the existence of God. For it is, I repeat, literally worse than magic. If this is the alternative to belief in God, then unbelievers can never accuse believers of irrationality, for what could be more evidently irrational than this? 2. If something can come into being from nothing, then it becomes inexplicable why just anything or everything doesn’t come into being from nothing. Think about it: Why don’t bicycles and Beethoven and root beer just pop into being from nothing? Why is it only universes that can come into being from nothing? What makes nothingness so discriminatory? There can’t be anything about nothingness that favors universes, for nothingness doesn’t have any properties. Nor can anything constrain nothingness, for there isn’t anything to be constrained!

I like that note: A belief that the universe magically came into existence without cause or creator is "a greater leap of faith than in the existence of God." Empirical evidence and everyday experience confirm that things don't come into existence out of nothing. To believe it about the universe itself is atheism's great leap of faith.

Objection: The universe doesn't need a cause

Another objection is, while everything in the universe has a cause, maybe the universe itself doesn't need a cause. Craig writes this too is fallacious,

I’ve heard atheists respond to this argument by saying that premise 1 is true of everything in the universe but not of the universe. But this is just the old taxicab fallacy that we encountered in chapter 3. You can’t dismiss the causal principle like a cab once you get to the universe! Premise 1 is not merely a law of nature, like the law of gravity, which only applies in the universe. Rather it’s a metaphysical principle that governs all being, all reality.

 Craig concludes,

Common experience and scientific evidence confirm the truth of premise 1. Premise 1 is constantly verified and never falsified. It’s hard to understand how anyone committed to modern science could deny that premise 1 is more plausibly true than false in light of the evidence.

So I think that the first premise of the kalam cosmological argument is clearly true. If the price of denying the argument’s conclusion is denying premise 1, then atheism is philosophically bankrupt.

Objection: The cosmological argument is true, but that doesn't necessarily imply God's existence

Another objection I've heard is, "It's true that things must have a cause, it's true that the universe had a beginning, and it's true this means the universe was caused. But that doesn't mean God exists!"

Put another way, the cosmological argument proves something caused the universe to exist, but that doesn't mean God is the cause. Maybe there's something outside of the universe that's not God that caused the universe.

Craig has answered this elsewhere: 

When you do a conceptual analysis of what it is to be a cause of the universe, you arrive at a being which is an uncaused, beginningless, timeless, spaceless, enormously powerful, personal creator of the universe.

That is to say, whatever caused the universe to exist must be:

  • Uncaused. Otherwise we get into a regression of causes. Aristotle's Unmoved Mover argument states there must be a first cause that brings everything else into existence, and we assume that first cause is the thing that caused the universe.
  • Timeless. The reality of the universe is space and time. Whatever caused the universe to exist isn't governed by the universe's dimension of time.
  • Spaceless. Immaterial. Whatever caused the universe to exist isn't made up of the stuff of the universe.
  • Powerful. What kind of energy is required to make a universe? Energy so powerful its unfathomable to humans. Whatever caused the universe to exist set into motion the expansion of the universe and ultimately all its outcomes: the spinning of the galaxies, the fiery burn of stars, the rotation and orbit of planets. Enormously powerful, whatever caused the universe to exist.
Craig argues this is best described by God. Indeed, humans have long described God as eternal, outside of time, spirit/non-corporeal, omnipotent and all-mighty. 

It's true that this doesn't require it be God! But if you believe in something uncaused, timeless, spaceless, immeasurably powerful that created everything, well, that's little different than God.

My experience

The atheist colleague I mentioned previously challenged me, "Who created God?"

I explained that God doesn't have a beginning, and there is no requirement that He have a cause. 

He responded by changing his argument: "OK. I concede we don't know why the universe came into existence. But we will eventually, and like everything else, there will be a natural explanation."

This answer seems reasonable on the surface: everything in nature has a natural explanation. But on further thought, this requires a leap of faith, doesn't it? "I don't know, but eventually we will have a naturalistic explanation" is a statement of faith; a belief. 

Even if it seems true of the natural world, the origin of nature itself -- why there is something rather than nothing -- may not have a natural explanation. Indeed, this might be a category error to think otherwise: there are natural explanations for natural phenomena, but the very existence of natural things cannot be caused by nature. The universe cannot cause itself. 

The existence of nature doesn't demand a natural explanation, as nature cannot cause itself.


I've only just started reading this book by Craig, and there is so much here that is valuable to defending faith in God. So often I hear from folks in the technology space, "There is no evidence for God. Zero. None."

This is so obviously false to me, but so many people genuinely believe it.

I think this book will help me speak to such folks.

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