I think about belief, and the reasons I believe, quite a lot. And I sometimes ponder, if I cut it down to just one reason, what would it be? What is it that I just can’t go past?
I don’t think I really can simplify it like that, but if I could, this would maybe be it.
I don’t think the existence of the universe can be explained any other way than that God made it. Here’s why this is my personal conclusion.
Logic and choices
For me, it all comes down to three simple questions.
Did the universe have a beginning?
We know our universe began almost 14 million years ago at the big bang, but we don’t know if there was another universe before that. But it seems impossible, nonsensical even, to think that a physical chain of events could go back in time forever.
- It is impossible to count to infinity, so it is equally impossible to count backwards from infinity to now. An infinite chain of events is impossible.
- In infinite time, every physical process which could ever happen would have happened, and there’s be no more left to happen now. The universe would long since become homogenous and inert.
Philosophers and mathematicians still debate some of these things, but to me, the universe must have had a beginning. And even if it was infinitely old, we can still ask what caused it to exist?
Does the universe have a cause?
Everything we know in our universe has a cause, that is, conditions that are necessary for each and every thing to be and which lead to each thing existing. The only near exception to this are quantum events, which appear to occur randomly and, according to most quantum models, have no direct cause, but it is still necessary that a quantum field exists, which still require a cause.
So it seems reasonable that the universe has a cause, or a reason for its existence – much more reasonable than thinking that it just appeared for no reason and no cause. To me, that doesn’t make any sense at all.
If the universe began with a quantum event as some say, this isn’t the real beginning as a strong quantum field had to first come into existence, and thus that is what needs to be explained.
What could cause the universe?
If something physical caused our universe, then we need to follow that chain of events back to its start. And if it was really the start, then another physical event couldn’t be the cause, because we have gone back to the first physical event. So the cause must be non-physical.
If a non-physical event or being caused the universe, we might reasonably use the same logic and ask what caused that event or being? Again we’re going to get into a chain of events that must have had a start – unless we say this non-physical cause was outside time, and thus eternal.
This is different to the chain of physical and temporal events which I don’t believe can be infinitely long, because this cause is non-temporal, and so isn’t made up of infinite parts, and therefore isn’t impossible.
We can argue what might be a non-temporal non-physical cause, but we could also define such a cause as God if we chose – or else believe that God as usually defined is the best, perhaps the only, candidate.
Objection your honour!
There are many objections to this line of argument, but to me they all seem to be trying to avoid the argument rather than being genuine alternatives. Of course many disagree with me here, but I am sharing how I see things.
- We can argue that the universe could be infinite, but it doesn’t make any sense to me, and I doubt it would make sense to many if the alternative wasn’t God.
- We can argue that the universe began with a quantum event if we are willing to ignore the fact that this quantum event doesn’t start from nothing, but a quantum field which we haven’t explained.
- We can ask what caused God, but there are good reasons to think that God doesn’t require a cause in the same way that the universe does.
- We can argue that this line of reasoning doesn’t explain which God did the work – but who cares? To get as far as concluding God exists is a big step and takes us a fair way towards further answers.
- And we can simply say we don’t know and we don’t mind not knowing, a view I hear often. But that is not an answer I am happy with when there is another answer staring us in the face. It isn’t a response atheists are happy with of theists offer it in answer to atheist arguments, and if there is only one hypothesis on the table, it must be the post probable answer until and if another appears.
I can’t go past
So I can’t go past the logic. The universe is evidence for God, and there’s no other hypothesis that competes with it. For me, that’s a rock bottom conclusion.
Of course there are many other arguments about God’s existence, some reduce the probability that God exists, others increase it. I think there are more that increase the likelihood of God than those which lessen it.
But the universe stands for me as an argument with no satisfactory answer.
I have analysed all the arguments on both sides of this question in more detail in The Cosmological Argument.
Diagram by NASA, via SNAP.