Did the Universe begin to exist without a cause?

  • Clarifying the question

    We mean to ask here with the whole of space-time reality began to exist on its own, without any cause whatsoever. Notice that we are not asking whether it might simply exist on its own without a cause, but rather whether it can begin to exist without a cause. To define our terms:

    Physical reality = def. The Universe or the conjunction of all universes. All space and time, its boundary points, and contents.
    “Begin to exist” = def. A state of affairs begins to obtain if and only if there is a time-dependent state A, and at least one finite interval or point of time X, such that A does not occur prior to X.1

    1. William Lane Craig offers the following alternative analysis particular to the tensed theory of time (note: “iff” means “if an only if”):

      “…where 'x' ranges over any entity and 't' ranges over times, whether instants or moments of nonzero finite duration:
      A. x begins to exist at t iff x comes into being at t.
      B. x comes into being at t iff
        (i) x exists at t, and the actual world includes no state of affairs in which x exists timelessly,
        (ii) t is either the first time at which x exists or is separated from any t′ < t at which x existed by an interval during which x does not exist, and
        (iii) x’s existing at t is a tensed fact.” [Craig & Sinclair, The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology (Blackwell, 2010), 194.] Similarly, see every event has a cause.

    2. Quentin Smith: “The most reasonable belief is that we came from nothing, by nothing, and for nothing.” [Theism, Atheism, and Big Bang Cosmology (Oxford, 1993), 135.]
“No, after all…
  • Existence “after” non-existence is incoherent

    A clock with a fat arrow coming out of it and pointing back at the clock.

    If something can come from nothing, then non-existence can be “followed by” existence. This is relevant because non-existence being “followed by” existence is straightforwardly impossible.1

    1. David Oderberg: “[The words ‘followed by’ here] cannot mean is that there is at one time nothing and at a subsequent time something, because the nonexistence of anything is supposed to include time: to say that at one time there is nothing whatsoever is self-defeating because it is to say that there is a time at which nothing exists — hence something did exist. But it is hard to see how else we are supposed to understand ‘followed by’; or when the denier of the causal principle says that it is possible for something to come from nothing what are we to understand by “from”? Again it cannot have a causal sense because something is supposed to have come into existence uncaused. All that appears to be left is a timeless contradiction — the existence of nothing and the existence of something.” [“Traversal of the Infinite, the 'Big Bang' and the Kalam Cosmological Argument.” Philosophia Christi 4 (2002): 305-36.]
“Yes, after all…
  • Matter can't be created (1st Law of Thermodynamics)

    A particle of matter with a lock around one of the orbitals.

    1st Law of Thermodynamics (conservation) says matter cannot be created or destroyed. This is relevant because if physical reality began to exist then, in contradiction to the 1st law of Thermodynamics, matter would have begun to exist as well.

    But no,…

    • …It's a law of spacetime; it doesn’t apply to objects independent of spacetime or to spacetime itself.

    And so what? Couldn’t it simply be that…

    • …It's only naturally impossible—not fully (or logically) impossible.
  • Time can't be caused (no "before" time)

    A hand is in the flicking position, about to check over a series of dominos; the hand is black with stars inside..

    Causation requires space-time. This is relevant because if causing spacetime (emphasis on time) requires spacetime to already exist, then causing spacetime would amount to self-causation, which is absurd.

    But no,

    • Time is relational (so causation, a “first move,” can initiate time)1
    • Causation does not require time (causal priority needn't imply temporal priority)2
    1. The subsantivalist view of time loosely says space and time are like a container for objects and movement. Without the container, events could not occur. However, on the relational view, space and time exist through relationships; the existence of space requires objects, and the exist of time requires events. So imagine God metaphorically sitting for all eternity. On a relational view, no time passes. When God metaphorically stands up and starts moving, time begins. (Or more realistically, when God chooses to create.)
    2. It is true that temporal becoming requires time, as do notions of before and after. However, causation can be atemporal. Philosophers call this simultaneous causation. Consider how God might have caused the universe to exist. Possibly: God's atemporally seeing that ‘creating a Universe with a beginning is good’ is the cause of God's deciding/acting to create. Here we have a non-event state (independent of time) causing a first immaterial event (God's creating). The event of God's causing the first material event (e.g., causing the Universe to begin to exist) is simultaneous with the coming into being of the Universe. That is to say, the event of God's deciding/acting would be temporally simultaneous to the creation event while being logically and causally prior to it. (Again, this fits the criteria for what philosophers call “simultaneous causation”). As an example of simultaneous causation, consider how a chandelier's not falling depends atemporally on the chain it hangs on. Similarly a bowling ball can be atemporally causing an impression in a pillow it is resting on.

      William Lane Craig: “classical theological creationists like al-Ghazali (1963, pp. 23, 33, 36) maintained that the cause of the origin of the universe is timeless, and contemporary defenders of divine timelessness such as Stump and Kretzmann (1981), Helm (1988), Yates (1990), and Leftow (1992) also conceive of God's causal relation to the world to be one which involves no temporal succession on God's part, whereas the effect is temporal in its existence.”