First Something

by Brian 17. October 2010 01:11
A good friend of mine told me about a question his teenage son raised the other day. This particular question has been asked many times throughout history and it is one I frequently hear and read about: If the universe was created, who or what created God? Often theists dismiss the issue by saying: God is eternal and uncreated – as if this will resolve the problem for adults or even middle school kids. It is true, contingent entities have an antecedent explanation or cause and noncontingent entities do not. But for many of us, merely placing God in the noncontingent category and everything else in the contingent category seems like an intellectual shell game.
Given arguments for God’s existence based on contemporary cosmology, a more refined question along the same line emerges: If God doesn’t need a reason or cause for His existence, then why does the universe? In other words, if we are willing to accept something could be necessary and uncaused, then why not the universe? Of course if the universe had a beginning, the question is moot. If you want to delve into whether or not the universe began to exist; William Lane Craig presents an excellent case in this technical article.  Since theories past, present and probably future come and go leaving us with something like the standard Big Bang model and an ultimate beginning, perhaps the question is put to bed – or is it?
Nontheistic cosmologists have been working for decades to get around the uncomfortable implication of the universe beginning to exist. They have hypothesized all sorts of alternatives. Stephen Hawking has recently posited a necessary First-Law (Physics with a capital ‘P’) where the observable universe or universes necessarily obtain out of nothing. There are multiverses, pocket universes, bubble universes; the list goes on. Regardless of the specifics of these theories, they all attempt to do one thing; posit a natural and noncontingent first-something from which our observable universe is part of or emerges from. By doing so, they avoid an ultimate beginning falling outside a naturalistic framework of understanding. More to the point, these theories attempt to skirt a supernatural explanation. I will refer to their first-something as the Universe (capital ‘U’). 
The Christian apologist might simply direct the honest seeker towards Craig and others and say: The evidence strongly suggests an ultimate beginning of the Universe; things that begin to exist have a cause; therefore, the Universe has a cause. This cause transcended space and time and had immense creative power. This may be credible to some (myself included), but not everyone. The problem with this approach is the speculative theories offered by nontheists to deny an ultimate beginning have created a lot of noise and obfuscation. In the current climate, it is difficult to persuade the casual seeker by discussing cosmology. It’s an uphill battle when you hear soundbites from the major media claiming the universe sprang into existence out of nothing but Physics alone. One really has to delve into a lot of data and theory to form an intellectually responsible position. What I want to present here is a basic apologetic for general consumption and one you can share in a few minutes.
The idea starts out with an unarguable truth: The fact anything exists at all, rather than nothing, entails a first-something. This is a basic metaphysical principle very few would disagree with (theists and nontheists alike.)[i] As far back as Parmenides, the metaphysical assertion “from nothing, nothing comes” has been one of the most confirmed and accepted principles of ontology. Given this principle and the absurdity of an infinite causal regress; the fact anything exists at all entails a first-something, uncaused and uncreated, otherwise nothing would exist. So now on to the second step of the apologetic…
The first-something is without an external ground or cause and is a bare fact unswayed by our unanswered questions of how, what or why. As I mentioned, nontheistic cosmologists say the Universe is the first-something. Theists say God is the first-something. These options form an exhaustive disjunction; forcing a choice. The first-something is God or the Universe.[ii] The question: Who or what created God? is absurd if God is the first-something. Likewise, the question: Who or what created the Universe? is meaningless if the Universe is the first-something. The real question we face is: Who or what is the first-something; God or the Universe?
The third and final part of the apologetic is to show God is the more plausible first-something by contrasting the plausibility of the two disjuncts. We may even start at par, leaving out all experiential and religious experience, with two immeasurable entities beyond the event horizon of the Big Bang, beyond direct observation. The points below help to lead an honest seeker towards the more plausible choice:
1. Matter and energy reveal a wholesale winding down as described in the second law of thermodynamics. Noncontingent entities do not wind down or dissipate. Why should we apply to the wider unobservable Universe that which we cannot apply to the observable universe? On the other hand, abstract objects (like numbers) as conceptual entities do not wind down or dissipate. If an ultimate Mind is the source and locus of abstract entities it would seem to have a permanence not found in matter.
2. Theistic and nontheistic cosmologists agree the observable universe is fine-tuned for the existence of life.[iii] When faced with a choice between the Universe and God as the first-something, which choice is more congruent with the reality of fine-tuning? Purposeless matter cannot intend life. Intentionality is more at home with mind than matter. On the Universe view, conscious observers are accidental byproducts. But where is our sense of economy here? Why such an astounding, complex and downright bizarre byproduct? No, conscious observers, with minds, are more congruent with a First-mind than with a First-matter.
In conclusion, the fact anything exists at all entails a first-something. We are faced with the question: Is the first-something God or the Universe?  This is a real dilemma one cannot escape and is based on solid metaphysical grounds. I believe God is the more plausible choice based on at least the two points above. An atheist coworker when confronted with this challenge chose the Universe as the first-something and told me we should “just accept it in all of its beauty and complexity for the gift that it is.” Such a slip of the tongue needed no response.

[i] Sometimes skeptics suggest things do come from nothing, like virtual particles spontaneously popping into existence in a quantum vacuum. But such an environment is actually something and in no way violates the principle. Others may argue for an infinite regress of causes (either by eternal past events or some sort of cyclical loop - but these ideas do not have much support in philosophy or science.) 
[ii] I ignore in the phrase “God and the Universe” any sort of pantheism and all of the insipid suggestions from skeptics like: Zeus, gods, super-intellects, aliens, flying spaghetti monsters, etc. If one really wants to include pantheism one might alter the disjunction between Mind and non-Mind (matter).
[iii] There are about twenty or so parameters in the Standard Model of particle physics today, many of which if varied even minutely would result in a universe unsuitable for life. Cosmologists try to get around this problem via the prodigal idea of a multiverse and the observer effect. The multiverse is a metascientific theory since we cannot observe anything beyond the horizon of our local universe. Furthermore, cosmologists who appeal to the multiverse to account for fune-tuning, fail to recognize the mathematical limit (universal improbability bound) fine-tuning entails. Anything less likely than one in 1e150 is not just highly improbable, but practically impossible to occur with specificity. A practical example is flipping an honest coin 500 times. After doing so you would have an improbable event greater that one in 1e150. For all intents and purposes, it is impossible (because the odds are so small) that anyone at any time could present the sequence in advance of flipping the coin.This is true even if you tried this in every location of the universe since the beginning of time. 
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About the author

I am a Christian, husband, father of two daughters, a partner and lead architect of EasyTerritory, armchair apologist and philosopher, writer of hand-crafted electronic music, avid kiteboarder and a kid around anything that flies (rockets, planes, copters, boomerangs)

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