Does there have to be a reason for everything?

April 28th, 2015 in clues. Tags: , , , , , ,

Big bang

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.

10 Comments

  1. Acknowledging that there are Anthony Flew-type “conversions,” where an intensely rational person eventually thinks his/her way into a belief in a god (not a personal one, in Flew’s case), I think that reason/logic is rarely “the narrow gate” that leads one to affirm God’s existence. What William James said about a moral universe (closely connected, in this context, with God) strikes me as being the best description of the gateway that leads the vast majority of us to religious faith. “Are our moral preferences true or false, or are they only odd biological phenomena making things good or bad for US, but in themselves indifferent? How can your pure intellect decide? If your heart does not WANT a world of moral reality, your head will assuredly never make you believe in one. Mephistophelian skepticism, indeed, will satisfy the head’s play-instincts much better than any rigorous idealism can.” Scientific models change with new discoveries, are discarded when new theories do a better job in explaining what seem at the time to be facts, which also are subject to change and alteration. I would shudder to have my faith tied to certain reasons which reflect ephemeral scientific views. On a related subject, Kierkegaard once remarked that the truest way we can love God is simply to NEED him.

  2. I really enjoyed this post for it says much of what I believe. However, I think I’m at a place where my inner sense of the divine is enough for me. And I find Newton Finn’s comment excellent as well.

  3. Hi Newton,

    I have always thought the same as you here – that “reason/logic is rarely “the narrow gate” that leads one to affirm God’s existence”. But it is the gate for some, and lack of reason and logic is becoming a gate out of belief for increasing numbers of people. I write for such people as these, for I am one of them.

    I think the moral argument is very strong, but it can be avoided by saying morality is subjective. I don’t think anyone thoughtful can live that way, but they can certainly think it. And I think a sense of the divine is wonderful for those to whom it is given, but many don’t seem to have it (that generally includes me) and some can be talked out of it.

    I don’t think my faith is tied to ephemeral scientific views – I simply accept the science and understand my faith in that context. I have no trouble changing my understanding when science changes, but it doesn’t change my faith much.

    Thanks for your comment. I generally agree with you, but find I am one of the minority here who experiences things differently.

  4. unkleE, “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.”

    What would those good reasons be ?

  5. Hi Ken,

    1. I’ve always been interested in cosmology, and when I was young there were three theories about the origin of the universe – the big bang (which is obviously now known to be true), steady state and pulsating. The latter two postulated that the universe was “eternal’, i.e. it had no start, and therefore didn’t require an explanation of its origin. We could say the same for God.

    2. God is defined as living outside of time, and creating time. I can’t imagine that, but physicists apparently can. This is probably saying the same as #1, but it does again suggest that just is.

    3. The universe is contingent, i.e. it could be different and it conceivably could not exist at all if things had been a little different (e.g. if the constants weren’t so finely-tuned and it had collapsed in on itself and disappeared. Contingent things require an explanation of their existence. But God is defined as necessary, not contingent, and necessary things don’t require an explanation of their existence, they just are.

    4. There will always be a mystery about existence, no matter how we explain it. But it seems quite clear the universe is a created, contingent thing, not capable of being eternal and self existent. But God as he is conceived by christians (and others) seems to be a much more suitable candidate for being eternal and self existent. We may not be able to understand God, but we can understand why we can’t understand him.

    That’s how I see it.

  6. There is no way to get around that a non-physical, immaterial, eternal God created the universe and everything in it
    I gave my life to God when I was just a boy and I lost my way for many years..I’ve recently found my way back or I should say He found me again
    The two most valuable things I’ve learned in my 44 yrs are one….I am a great sinner and two….Jesus Christ is a great savior

  7. G’day Ross. Thanks for visiting my website. I am glad to hear you found your way back to God …. or you allowed him to find you again. I hope the next part of your life is good.

  8. Hello uncleE, I’ve got two questions for you.

    You said, “But God is defined as necessary, not contingent, and necessary things don’t require an explanation of their existence, they just are.”

    Who defined God? Human being?

    You also said, “But God as he is conceived by christians (and others) seems to be a much more suitable candidate for being eternal and self existent.”

    What makes you think that God seems to be self existent?

  9. Hi StillThinking, thanks for reading, and for your questions. Here’s my thoughts …..

    “Who defined God? Human being?”

    A believer in a revelation-based religion like christianity would say that God reveals himself to us, and so he defines himself. But if we are talking from a philosophical or non-religious viewpoint, then yes, people have defined God. But it isn’t an arbitrary definition.

    For me, it comes down to the three questions I ask in this post.

    1. Did the universe have a beginning? Because the universe (i.e. everything material that is) is running down (entropy) and because it seems impossible that an infinite chain of discrete events can go back forever into the past, I believe it did.

    2. Did the universe have a cause? Because it is clearly contingent (it could have been different) and doesn’t look like it could have caused itself, I can’t conceive of it not having a cause.

    3. What could cause the universe? If it couldn’t cause itself, then something outside it must be the cause. But something outside it can’t be something just like the universe, or it would be part of “everything material that is”. So the cause must be non-material, but also powerful enough to cause it. And that is the beginning of a definition of God.

    “What makes you think that God seems to be self existent?”

    The universe exists. If there was once nothing, then there wouldn’t be anything to cause the universe. So something must have always existed and be self-existing. I have argued that couldn’t be the universe, and the only reasonable something I can think of is a God.

    What do you think?

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