The God before time? Why not the universe before time?

There is something that happens without fail whenever I debate a theist regarding the nature of the cosmos. Whenever we engage in such a discussion a theist never fails to bring up the cosmological argument. For any of you who don’t know, the cosmological argument sets out to prove a first cause and attempts to do so like this: Whatever began to exist had a cause. The universe began to exist. Therefore the universe has a cause.1 and this cause is commonly thought of as a God or Gods. But the problem with this argument is that it only begs the question, where did God come from? Now of course we cannot apply the same argument to God for the simple reason that God supposedly never had a cause but instead has always existed. There are a few flaws with this claim that I would like to shed light on and the first and most obvious is the fact that time itself started with the Big Bang thus God could not have been around forever simply because there was no forever. Forever requires time and time is a by product of the universe thus the only way for God to exist “before” the Big Bang is if there were a God before time, in a sense, which leads me to my next point. When said flaw is pointed out theists then usually say “Well before time God could just have always existed therefore not needing a cause.” But with this being the only commonly used (and somewhat plausible explanation for God) we can use it to also prove there doesn’t need to be a God to create the universe. So if we go with the assertion that before the universe things could come into existence, or simply always be in existence, we can then say this: Since there is no time, there is no cause and effect thus something that happens or comes into being doesn’t need a cause and with that assertion we can say that the universe coming into being wouldn’t need a cause simply because there is no time and thus no cause and effect. So essentially, God is out of a job.

~~Peter

32 comments

  1. You seem to be confusing the statement: “Whatever began to exist had a cause,” with the statement, “Whatever exists has a cause.”

    If the cosmological argument was stating the latter, then yes, God needs a cause. However, it’s not, it is stating the much more believable former statement.

    If something exists timelessly, then it does not need a cause. But we know the universe does not exist timelessly, it had a beginning and it exists temporally right now. Hence why the universe needs a cause, while God does not.

    This may seem unfair. Why does God get to be timeless but nothing else? Well, that’s the entire point of the argument. The cosmological argument simply states that SOMETHING had to have created time and space, yet it itself is non-temporal and non-spacial. This non-temporal, non-spacial something is what we refer to as God.

  2. Yes I do get that. I’m just saying that before the universe there was no time and thus no cause and effect so essentially, the universe coming into existence doesn’t need a cause. I’m basically saying the cosmological argument is stupid.

  3. Cause and effect doesn’t necessarily need time, just a causal relationship. Physical causes DO need time because they exist temporally, which means they also have a temporal relationship. However, if a cause was non-temporal it could still function without time.

    We know that all physical effects need a cause, being the first moment in time doesn’t change this rule. However, it doesn’t seem like we can provide a plausible physical cause because nothing exists temporally before the first moment of time. Thus, the cosmological argument invokes a non-temporal, non-physical cause.

    Suppose T0 is no time at all, and anything that exists at T0 is not existing temporally. Also suppose T1 is the first moment in time. Then the conclusion of the cosmological argument says:

    At no time at all (T0), God exists and is the cause of the beginning of the universe at T1.

    So what’s the temporal relationship between T0 and T1, how many seconds? Nothing at all, there is no temporal relationship between T0 and T1.

    However, what is the relationship between God and the universe? Casual, because if God doesn’t exist, then the effect of the beginning of the universe would not exist.

    This is not a stupid argument, even if there are stupid versions of it.

  4. Okay, so first off cause and effect must have time. The relationship between the cause of something and its effect is a period of time. What is one cause-effect relationship that doesn’t require time. If you can prove one I will revoke my statement that causes and effect require time.

    But if we still hold to the realization that cause and effect requires time than the effect T1 has no cause because anything before T1, anything that could have caused it, would be before time thus cutting out the cause-effect relationship.

    The cosmological argument is still dumb because a) quantum particles can come into existance thus if we go by the argument they would require a creator yet using the uncertainty principle and what we know about quantum mechanics and quantum fluctuations, they have no cause. They first don’t exist and then come into existence ex nihilo. It really is matter from nothing and the cosmological argument doesn’t take this into account therefore it isn’t an accurate argument/model to use for the universe.

  5. Dude! I just got around to reading this. I must say;
    The fact your mind can fathom all of this is fantastic. Whenever I attempt to think of “the beginning” (whether it be time, God, or the universe)it kind of boggles the shit out of my head. It’s like I can’t think back that far, though I feel like I should be able to remember. It almost feels like a traumatic memory that I blocked out a long time ago, and now that I want to remember I’m unable. Does that even make sense? I’m too tired to make sense xD
    Anyway,
    A prodigious job you’ve done! I love how you concluded with “So essentially, God is out of a job.” It reminded me of God Called In Sick Today by Afi. I always enjoy reading your blogs, even though sometimes, though rarely, I don’t exactly agree.

    Stay in school, don’t do drugs, look both ways before you cross the street, don’t talk to strangers and all that good stuff.

  6. Not all scientists believe that sub-atomic events are uncaused. There are around 10 different interpretations of the data, many of which involve causation. In addition to this, the quantum particles do not come out of nothing. They arise as spontaneous fluctuations of energy contained in the sub-atomic vacuum, a vacuum with structure and physical laws. It could be matter out of non-matter, but it is defiantly not “something” out of “nothing.” Nothing means absolutely nothing.

    As for causation and time, there may be a powerful relationship between the two, but time doesn’t have to be required. Causation’s main component is necessity, that is, if A caused B, then B would not have happened if it were not for A. Being causally prior is not the same thing as being temporally prior, even if all our every day examples of causation contain both. Saying a cause cannot exist outside of time seems especially extreme when we know that time doesn’t have to exist.

    It comes down to what seems to be the more plausible proposition: Either “Whatever begins to exist has a cause” or “Something can come from absolutely nothing.”

  7. Well first off, so what if all scientists don’t agree with it. Not all scientists agree on anything and that really doesn’t prove anything. Secondly, it’s not that all sub-atomic events are uncaused it’s that quantum fluctuations and events of that nature are spawning matter from nothing. Also, the particles do come out of nothing. If you choose to take the vacuum fluctuation approach I can argue that. You seem to not know the difference between a partial vacuum and a perfect vacuum. A perfect vacuum is literally nothing. No particles, no pressure and ultimately 0 total energy as our universe has. (of course a perfect vacuum is impossible to attain unless there is nothing in existence). So matter really is coming out of nothing. I suggest you watch this lecture by theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ImvlS8PLIo

    Onto cause and effect. You actually said all of our everyday examples require time and you failed to provide one instance where time is not required for a cause/effect relationship thus my claim still stands. I also never claimed that a cause cannot exist outside time, I said cause and effect cannot. Essentially you have conceded this point to by admitting that all our everyday examples need time while failing to provide any that don’t.

    And on the last sentence, your claim has been shown to be false whereas mine is scientifically verifiable therefore your claims fall, mine still stand and thus I win. Done. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Other things you should watch/read:

  8. A perfect vacuum is still not “nothing.” To be nothing means there is no space, no time, no physical laws, no properties, no structure, no constraints, and no powers. When I say nothing, I mean complete metaphysical nothingness: Absolute non-being. It doesn’t seem like this type of nothingness can exist, and that is not the type of nothingness Lawrence Krauss was proposing (He even says when he says nothing it is not “really” nothing.) Krauss supports a caused universe; he believes it’s caused out of a quantum state where there is zero energy.

    Now I wouldn’t be surprised if Krauss’ model was true, the problem is that it doesn’t even deal with the cosmological argument. The question just gets pushed back into, “What caused the original quantum state?” If the quantum state began, we’re right back to where we started with premise 1. However, few, if anyone, believes that the quantum state has existed during an infinite amount of time, because given an infinite amount of opportunities then universes would eventually be spawned at every point in the quantum state vacuum, and, as they expand, they will begin to collide and coalesce with one another. Lastly, the quantum state is not timeless, because that would contradict all supporting evidence of it.

    Time still exists in these vacuums, so I don’t see how Krauss’ demonstration supports any of your previous statements. Furthermore, you accusing me of not providing an example of a non-temporal causation is nothing but special pleading. The examples of quantum fluctuations you are pointing to exist in time themselves. You are flat out contradicting your entire argument.

    “Something can come from absolutely nothing” is thus not supported by science and makes no rational sense, while “Whatever begins to exist has a cause” is a reasonable proposition that all of science hinges on. Without causation there is no predictability, and without predictability science is dead.

  9. How is asking for an example of a claim YOU made special pleading? You said cause/effect doesn’t need time and I merely asked for an example. You are failing to provide even one example and you said that all of our everyday examples need time. YOU contradict your own case.

    The fact that quantum fluctuations don’t need a cause directly contradicts the first point of the cosmological argument and you entirely ignored that. They begin to exist but don’t have a cause.

    And I’m not arguing all events don’t have a cause but there are some that don’t. If there are some that still do then there is still predictability and thus science still works. And earlier you mentioned universes colliding yet that is exactly what M-Theory predicts so essentially you just (in some ways) agreed with another theory about the origins of the universe.

    So in an overview, the main point of my argument that cause and effect require time has never been refuted and therefore, again, I win.

    @Roni, who’s Toby?

  10. Quantum mechanics is a problem for causal determinism, but not for causality in the way the cosmological argument uses it.

    Causal determinism – the idea that every event is necessitated by antecedent events and conditions together with the laws of nature. (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

    This is the type of causation that science utilizes. However, quantum mechanics undermines this due to things like, radioactive decay , the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, and of course quantum fluctuations. Instead of given deterministic causes, that is, if we know the precise cause then we are capable of knowing the precise effect, quantum mechanics has instead relied on probabilistic descriptions of the phenomenon. Thus, quantum mechanics is considered “uncaused” since it is impossible to know how the effects will pan out in any given case.

    However, this is different from causation used in the cosmological argument, which is really just saying “Being cannot come from non-being.” Like I said earlier, “If A caused B, then B would not have happened if it were not for A.” This type of causation is of course still present in quantum physics, because there are set laws, conditions, and properties that are required for the existence of the quantum fluctuations. Failing to know the effects determinately does not remove this type of causation.

    So it’s really just a matter of semantics. Quantum mechanics are “uncaused” with respect to deterministic causes. This is extremely unusual since the rest of science relies on causal determinism, which is why the scientific community uses the word uncaused. However, it is not “uncaused” with respect to the necessity of existent, relevant powers producing phenomenon. The latter is what the cosmological argument utilizes.

    Perfect vacuums are not “nothing,” and indeterminate causation is not “uncaused.” Saying quantum mechanics dispel premise one is just a game of word association, and fails to actually understand what the argument is claiming.

  11. Well you make a few flaws here the first being you contradict yourself. In the 3rd paragraph you say that quantum mechanics can’t work with causal determinism yet in the very next you say they can work together. Which is it?

    What it seems is that you have now strayed from the main point of my post which is cause and effect need time and you still haven’t negated that. You said they don’t need time yet you still provide no examples and thus I really can’t take that seriously. Now you are merely debating definitions with me whilst ignoring my original argument and thus this is getting nowhere.

    And yes, a perfect vacuum is nothing. There is no energy, no matter, no laws (seeing as laws are just ways to describe matter). There is nothing. Your argument does not work.

    The last thing I have to say on the cosmological argument is this. Virtual particles begin to exist yet they have no cause. They pop into existence and then out.

    So as an overview, all of my claims still stand where as you are just running in circles.

  12. I didn’t contradict myself; I’m explaining the difference between causal determinism and causality used in the cosmological argument. The cosmological argument relies on a very “bare-boned” definition of causality which is nothing more than “Something cannot come from absolutely Nothing,” this is a metaphysical statement about reality. Causal determinism is a specific theory and process used to determine causation and predict effects. I’m sorry if it’s confusing but you not understanding the difference doesn’t mean my argument is flawed.

    I’ve tried to spell out why Perfect Vacuums are not “nothing.” Perfect Vacuums have properties, this fact is non-contentious. If you’re unwilling to budge on that then there’s nothing I can possibly say. The whole argument on time is pointless if you believe that perfect vacuums are total nothingness.

    You can claim whatever you want, but your confidence does not match your knowledge on this subject.

  13. My confidence doesn’t match my knowledge? Well considering you were the one arguing cause and effect can occur without time I would not be talking. You have not refuted anything I originally said whilst trying to prove me wrong based on semantics. But I want to ask you a question, what properties do you speak of? If there are ones then I will say you were right about that point. The only reason I am “not budging” is because you haven’t proven anything. You have just been arguing semantics and ignoring my original argument.

    I take back what I said about there being a contradiction, upon further inspection I see that you were talking about two different types of causation, I am sorry.

    But I just want to restate one thing, my original argument was that cause and effect needs time to occur and that has gone un-refuted through out this debate.

  14. This comment I read sums it up nicely: “What a couple of the other answerers are talking around, but not naming specifically, is the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. Under this principle, particles can borrow a certain amount of energy, essentially from nowhere, for a certain amount of time. The amount of energy that can be borrowed is related to the amount of time it can be borrowed for by planck constant, h, one of fundamental constants of the universe. It sounds a bit wierd but it definitely does work that way. If it didn’t there’d be no radioactive decay, modern electronics wouldn’t work, and, as mentioned above, there’s be no casimir effect.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncertainty…

    The next key point is a FLAT universe. In a flat universe the energy of the kinetic expansion is exactly balanced by the gravitational energy of the matter. It used to be easy to visualise as the kinetic energy of the matter coasting outwards versus the gravitational enrgy of the stars and galaxies pulling inward. Now it’s a little more difficult to visualise because of the additional dark matter and dark energy complicating the equations, but the final outcome is the same:

    In a flat universe the total energy is zero!

    If the total energy is zero you can borrow it under the Hesenberg uncertainty principle for an infinite length of time. The whole of existance can then be thought of as one giant quantum fluctuation. It’s creation is then explicable using the current laws of physics.

    This only works, however, if the universe is flat. If it isn’t flat, then some other mechanism beyond our current understanding of physics must be involved at the big bang. Cosmologist devote a lot of time and effort to determining whether the universe is flat or not. Currently we believe it is, at least to within the accuracy limits of contemporary experiments. New measurements by more accurate intruments are being made at the moment. Of particular interest in the cosmic microwave background. It’s actually quite an exciting time to be involved in this field..”

    http://uk.answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20100318090355AAQqjqB

  15. “According to this scenario, by means of a random quantum fluctuation the universe “tunneled” from pure vacuum (“nothing”) to what is called a false vacuum, a region of space that contains no matter or radiation but is not quite “nothing.”” Victor Stenger
    The key part for our conversation is “from a pure vacuum (“nothing”)”

  16. Hey Peter, I have to say that you are clear in you writing. That’s good.

    I do disagree with you “hypothesis” though. I haven’t read much of the comments so please forgive me if I am restating something that has already been said.

    You brought up the “Big Bang Theory” as if that was factual, testable proof to prove that there is indeed no God. Knowing that theories are not factual for one begs the question of “why so much faith in a theory” but that is not what I want to comment about.

    What I want to share with you is that creation cannot be tested. Once it happened, it can’t be reproduced. Athiests, scientist and archeologist all have tried to disprove that God created everything but in fact cannot simply because creation is not something that can be proven by scientific means. Only what already exist can.

    Now it goes back to the original title, the God before time. That is the only logical explanation.

    Here is a great treatment on the matter.
    http://www.gty.org/Resources/Sermons/90-359

  17. First off I want to thank you for your comment. Even seeing comments disagreeing with me make me happy ๐Ÿ™‚

    Now to your point, I do not believe I was trying to disprove god since it cannot be done seeing as the hypothesis of god is an unfalsifiable one. I was merely trying to present a different side. And it is true that the Big Bang Theory is not fact hence the term theory but it is the most commonly accepted model and it does not invoke god. It is true that it does not disprove god, it merely provides an alternative. Thanks for your comment and anything else you would like to add I would love to hear.

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