May 29, 2012

The Universe: Caused, Self-Caused, or Uncaused?

The First-Cause Argument 

Why is there something rather than nothing? This is a big question. Everything that we see around us was caused by something else. The chair you are sitting on was built by someone. The screen you’re using to read this was built by someone. You yourself were caused by your parents, and they were caused by their parents. Like a chain of dominoes, everything we see was caused by something else.

This idea of cause and effect is at the heart of the first-cause argument for God. This family of arguments is also known as the cosmological argument because cosmos is the Greek word for world. There are different forms of the cosmological argument, but one that I find very persuasive goes like this:

·         Whatever began to exist has a cause.
·         The universe began to exist.
·         Therefore, the universe has a cause.

This argument is based on the law of cause and effect: whatever began to exist has a cause. However it is very important to state this law correctly. This law does not state that everything has a cause. Misstating the law like that results in the inevitable question, “Well, if everything has a cause, then what made God? Got ya!” I’ve heard university professors dismiss the first-cause argument in this way, demonstrating that they did’t really understand it in the first place. Instead, it is important to state that everything that began to exist must have a cause. If something never had a beginning—if it is eternal—then it didn’t need a cause. (In philosophy, this type of being would be referred to as a necessary being rather than a contingent being.) Therefore God doesn’t need a cause since God is eternal and never started to exist.

Further, if the universe has a cause, this cause must be outside of the universe. This is true since everything that has a beginning is caused by something outside of itself. Also, the chain of cause and effect cannot go back forever. There has to be a first-cause—a first domino that was pushed. Therefore, there has to be an eternal first-cause that exists outside of the universe and is powerful enough to bring the universe into existence. If this is true, it is a strong argument for the existence of God.

Caused, Self-caused, or Uncaused?

Let’s think about this another way. Was the universe created, self-created, or uncreated? There are only three options. Either (a) the universe was uncaused, or (b) it was self-caused, or it was (c) caused. If you’re having a discussion with someone, write these three options on a napkin and the other person to pick which one he or she things is correct. If you’re thinking through this for yourself, which one do you think is correct?

We can eliminate one of these three options right away. It is impossible for the universe to be self-caused.  That would violate the law of non-contradiction. The law of non-contradiction states that something cannot be both “A” and “Not-A” at the same time and in the same way. For example, something cannot be both “completely blue” and “not completely blue” at the same time and in the same way. But if the universe was self-created, it would need to exist and not-exist at the same time and in the same way. Unless the universe existed, it would have no ability to create anything—because it doesn’t exist. But if it already exists, it doesn’t need to be created! Therefore the universe cannot be self-caused. Being self-caused or self-created simply doesn’t make sense. We should eliminate it as an option.

If the universe is not self-caused it must be either caused or uncaused. If it is uncaused, there are two theoretical options: the universe could have came into existence with no reason, or it could be eternal and therefore does not need a cause. The first of these options—that the universe came into existence without a cause and for no reason—asks us to sacrifice a lot. That idea would sacrifice the law of cause and effect as well as the principle of sufficient reason. I do not think we should consider this a serious option. From nothing nothing comes. 

A more common response is to proposed that the universe itself is eternal. After all, it is asked, if something must be eternal, why can’t this thing be the universe rather than God? That is a valid question, however I believe there are two solid replies to this, one scientific and one philosophical.

1. The scientific reply is that eternal existence of the universe doesn't fit the current scientific understanding of cosmology. The eternal existence of the universe seemed possible when the dominant model for the universe was the steady state theory. However, the steady state theory has been supplanted by the Big Bang model, and one of the significant implications of the Big Bang theory is that is includes a beginning to time and space. In fact, some scientists resisted converting to the Big Bang theory because of this implication. If the universe began with the Big Bang, we need to ask what caused the Big Bang. The Big Bang is not something eternal and it did not cause itself. (Please note: This argument does not require anyone to believe in the Big Bang or an old universe. The point is that even if that model is true, it does not eliminate the need for a cause for the universe.)

(If the universe begins with a singularity approximately 14-16 billion years ago this is the temporal limit for the universe. Based on Einsteinian physics, time and space could not exist before this point. And even if we could conceive of a temporal eternity for this singularity before this point, there would still need to be an outside force to cause this singularity to move out of its equilibrium—which it must have been in if it was eternal. Although some physicists have speculated that there have been a series of oscillating universes, it is calculated that because of entropy these oscillations could not be eternal and must end in the hot or cold heat death of the universe. If the universe were eternal, this would have already occurred.)

2. The other reason that the universe cannot be eternal is because it is impossible for there to have been an infinite amount of time that has passed before now. This is a fascinating and brain bending argument that I find absolutely convincing. Imagine that there is a series of dominoes extending from inside the room you are in, out the door and out of view. For all you know, perhaps there are an infinite number of dominoes. But, now imagine that you see the dominoes falling, one knocking over the next, as this series of falling dominoes comes into your room. If you saw the dominoes fall, you could know with certainty that there was not an infinite number of falling dominoes. Why? It would take an infinite amount of time for an actual infinite amount of dominoes to fall. And just like a person can never finish counting to infinity, an actual infinite number of dominoes could never finish falling. Therefore, if an actual infinite number of dominoes had to fall before getting to your door, then the falling dominoes would never reach your door. In the same way, if an actual infinite number of minutes had to take place before yesterday, time would have never reached yesterday, much less today. Therefore, just as there had to be a finite number of falling dominoes, there also had to be a finite—not infinite—amount of time before today. An infinite past simply doesn’t make sense. Therefore time must have a beginning. And if time had a beginning it must have a cause.

If the universe is neither self-caused or uncaused, the only remaining option is that it was caused. Whatever this cause was, it must be something that transcends the universe and something with the level of power needed to bring a universe into existence. Added to this, there must be some sort of necessary and eternal first-cause that—itself not requiting a causeexists as the sufficient reason for contingent reality. With this in mind, it seems very reasonable to believe “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)
Universe, Create Thyself
Why God But Not Thor?
Faith With Reasons

May 23, 2012

Podcasts for Understanding the Times

This is not a time for Christians to stick their heads in the sand. We need to be people who understand our times. I would like to recommend two podcasts to you that I think are extremely valuable for helping us understand and think about our times from a Christian worldview.

The Briefing with Albert Mohler
I listen to The Briefing every day, Monday through Friday. I am amazed how much news and analysis Albert Mohler packs into each of these 15-minute programs. Some Christians respond to cultural controversies with knee-jerk reactions while others sacrifice Biblical truth on the altar of social correctness. We should do neither. Mohler does an outstanding job of helping Christians think about current headlines and cultural controversies in a way that is careful, informed, and deeply perceptive. I highly recommend this program and I wish I could make it mandatory listening for all Christians!

The Dividing Line with James White
The other podcast I currently listen to on a regular basis is The Dividing Line with James White. This is an apologetics (defending the faith) program dealing with a wide range of topics. I want to especially recommend downloading the broadcasts, starting on May 1, 2012, in which White responds to pro-homosexual arguments by activists Dan Savage (anti-Christian), Matthew Vines (professes to be a Christian), and President Obama. White's two-hour presentation on the May 8 broadcast is especially valuable, as more and more people attempt to argue that the Bible permits homosexual sex within a committed relationship. This issue is being pushed on society so strongly and manipulatively that Christians must not let themselves be unequipped.  (Download past Dividing Line programs via iTunes. The complete reply to Matthew Vines can be downloaded here.)

May 16, 2012

Bowling and Heaven

Bowling can help us understand the Bible’s message about salvation. A perfect score in bowling is 300. To get this you need to throw a strike in all ten frames plus the two extra balls at the end. If you leave any pins standing, your hope of a perfect game is shot.

Now, imagine that you’re in a bowling contest and the prize for bowling a perfect 300 in one game is a million dollars. If you find yourself in the middle of the game with several open frames and gutter balls, you have no hope of a 300. At that point it won’t help to get serious and bowl perfectly from then on out. You can improve your score, but your chance of winning the prize is totally gone.

Many people treat their lives like a bowling game they are trying to salvage. We look back on our lives and realize that we have thrown a lot of gutter balls and left a lot of pins standing. We get convicted and realize that this isn’t a score that we would want to bring before God one day. So we decide that from here on out were going to turn over a new leaf. We think that if we can get very serious and try for perfection from this time forward, we can salvage the final score and please God in the end.

We can’t.

The truth is, God demands perfection. Jesus actually said this. He didn’t say, “Try your best and it will be okay.” Jesus said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). James 2:10 states, "whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking it all." Only perfect is perfect. Yet, we have not been perfect. We’ve sinned, and trying hard from here on out can never erase the gutter balls in the frames of life we’ve already played. 

Think of it another way. What if each of the ten frames were one of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17).  If that were the case, would you have a 300 game going? I know I don’t. In fact, when I really think about God’s commands, I don’t think I’ve had a strike in any of them. Have you? Have you consistently kept God number one in your life (commandment #1)? Have you always honored Him with your words (#3) and your time (#4)? Have you ever told a lie, even a small one (#8)?  

Maybe you’re proud because you have a few strikes because you have never murdered someone (#6) or committed adultery (#7).  Okay, but Jesus taught that if you hate someone you have murdered them in your heart (Matthew 5:21-22). As far as adultery, Jesus also said, “everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). There go those strikes.

This is bad news because not only does our score fail to win the prize, but it also earns us a penalty. The Bible says that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). What we earn—what we deserve—from our life of sin is spiritual death—eternal punishment and separation from God.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that Romans 6:23 goes on to say, “…but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

God demands perfection, but he knows that we’re not going to be able to give it. We come into this life with a bad score from the first frame. To be right with God, He needed to make another way. That is why God came into this world.

Jesus Christ is the only human being to ever throw strikes in all ten frames. The Bible says that Jesus was tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin (Hebrews 4:15). He always knocked down every pin and never left any standing. Jesus, the Son of God, was the only person to ever get the perfect 300. He is the only one to win the prize rather than the penalty.

When we look at the score board, we see our gutter balls and Christ’s perfect game. The amazing thing is what Jesus offers to do for us. Jesus offers to switch scores.
The Bible states, “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:20b-21). In effect, Jesus offers to erase His name from His score and to put your name there. In exchange, He agrees to claim your failed score. You get His prize. He takes your penalty. That is what the sinless Son of God was doing on the cross. The Lord died on the cross in the place of everyone who will trust Him as their substitute. Because of what Christ did, God is willing to look at you and see Christ’s 300 rather than what you threw.

Will you turn to Him and accept Christ’s offer? Or will you keep trying to get your own perfect score?

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