Given my recent post on falsely assuming that God’s eternality excludes the possibility that He has a cause (and thinking premise 1 of the kalam cosmological argument proves He doesn’t have a cause), I thought it fitting to address atheists who assume that the universe, if it is eternal, is uncaused. Some atheists reason as follows:
(1) If the universe began to exist, then it has a cause
(2) The universe did not begin to exist
(3) Therefore the universe did not have a cause
This commits the fallacy of denying the antecedent. The form of the fallacy is as follows:
(1) If A, then B [If Bono is an American citizen, then he is a human being]
(2) Not A [Bono is not an American citizen]
(3) Therefore not B [Therefore Bono is not a human being]
Applied to the atheists claim that an eternal universe must be an uncaused universe, the fallacy looks like this:
(1) If the universe began to exist, then it has a cause [If A, then B]
(2) The universe did not begin to exist [Not A]
(3) Therefore the universe did not have a cause [Therefore not B]
It could be the case that all things, both eternal and temporal, require either a temporally prior or logically prior cause. One cannot merely assume that an eternal being is an uncaused being. One must provide an argument for this premise.
This will prove difficult because we have a very good reason to think that even an eternal universe must be caused. The universe is a contingent being (meaning it need not exist in every possible world). It could have been different than it is. For example, it may have operated according to different laws, been constituted by a different number of quarks, or perhaps even constituted of a completely different set of particles. So even if the universe has in fact existed eternally, it did not need to exist, and/or it did not need to exist in the fashion that it does. The defining feature of contingent beings is that they require an external cause for their being. They do not have being in themselves, so they must derive their being from some transcendent source; something else must make contingent beings the way they are. So even if the universe was eternal, as a contingent being it must derive its being (be caused by) from a transcendent, logically prior cause.
One might grant this, but then ask what caused the logically prior cause of the universe. Perhaps the logically prior cause of the universe is also a contingent being, and as such it also has a logically prior cause, but to avoid an infinite regress of logical causation one must eventually terminate the regress with a necessary being — a being that cannot not exist, whose nature is such that it must exist and must exist as X rather than –X.
Given the evidence, naturalists need to do one of three things:
(1) Identify the necessary being that caused the universe (or caused the cause of the cause of the cause of…the universe).
(2) Provide an argument for thinking that the universe is metaphysically necessary rather than contingent.
(3) Provide an argument for thinking that not all contingent beings require a transcendent cause.
In summary, even if it could be demonstrated scientifically that the universe is eternal (and it can’t), atheists cannot avoid the causal question. The universe cannot cause itself, so the cause must transcend physical reality. Furthermore, one cannot posit another contingent being as the cause of the universe because that just pushes the problem of origins back one step and invites an infinite regress. Eventually one must arrive at a necessary being to explain all contingent beings, including the universe. And if that necessary being is not God, then what is it?