4. The First Cause
How did the physical world come into existence? Having rejected the first three possible answers to this question, we have now arrived at Answer #4 which is: “There is something else, self-existent and fundamentally different from the physical world, that brought the physical world into existence.”
The fact that anything exists is beyond extraordinary. Not to be awed by “mere” existence itself is to live in the Ordinary World. Of course the physical world does exist , but we must not let the Ordinary World lull us into taking its existence for granted. As I have argued in the previous parts of this post, the question of how the physical world came into existence is fundamentally a question about causality. Simply stated, an effect (i.e. the physical world) exists which demands a cause.
Before proceeding, I think it is important to clarify one thing to prevent any possible misunderstanding. While it is common to speak of non-physical things such as thoughts as “causing” other thoughts, this is a much broader use of the term than the way in which I use it in this argument. The way in which one thought “causes” another is a fundamentally different relationship from the way in which one physical event causes another physical event and thus it is important not to confuse the two uses of the term. Throughout my entire argument, when referring to “causality” I am and have been referring to physical causality.
Many do not believe the answer to this question is within the reach of human reason. In part #3 of this post I discussed Hume’s attempt to remove this question from the sphere of human reason; however, as influential as Hume’s argument has been, it is not upon Hume’s ideas that most who do not think human reason can answer this question base their belief. The most common reason is not a rational argument at all, it is a sentiment or a feeling that the question is beyond reason. The source of the sentiment varies. Some dismiss the question because the beginning of the physical world is so far removed from normal life. Others dismiss it because they believe all things religious are non-rational and of course the answer to this question has significant religious implications. Regardless of the source of the sentiment, this is too important a question to dismiss or ignore based on a sentiment. For my part, I cannot state strongly enough that this is not some esoteric question which can be safely ignored, or worse, relegated to the non-rational world of mystics or to irrational leaps of faith. This is fundamentally a question about causality and arguments based on causality are in the very center of human reason’s wheelhouse. Thus, if human reason cannot handle this question, it is doomed to strike out with every other question of significance that is thrown at it. Denying human reason’s ability to arrive at a conclusion to this question undermines reason to such an extent that it is a self-refuting proposition. Either one must accept human reason’s capacity to discover truth or deny its capacity, but there is no rational justification for separating this question from all others as beyond the realm of reason.
In the previous parts of this post I have shown that the physical world is not self existent and that it could not have come into existence from literally nothing. I then showed that Hume’s conception of causality contradicts our intuitive understanding of causality and that accepting it would have profound negative implications for all human knowledge. Thus, we are still left with an effect which demands a cause. I therefore have to conclude that the existence of the physical world demands the existence of something else that brought it into existence, and that this something else which brought the physical world into existence must be fundamentally different from the physical world itself. This “something else” that brought the physical world into existence would of course be the Creator. To see how fundamentally different the Creator must be, let us examine the most common objection to first cause arguments for a creator.
This common objection is of course the question: “What caused the Creator?” Or put another way, “How was the Creator created?” Are we left with no answer to this question better than the “turtles all the way down” response with which many who should—and probably do—know better flippantly dismiss first cause arguments for the existence of a Creator? With a little thought it is obvious that if there is a Creator of the physical world, the Creator must not be subject to the laws of causality which govern the physical world. It is a cardinal mistake to view the laws of causality as transcending the physical world. Nonetheless, this is routinely a hidden assumption of materialists when they use their “turtles all the way down” response to dismiss first cause arguments and it is so blatantly circular that I cannot help but think that they know better. Causality and time are inseparable. Causality demands that every effect B must have some cause A, but this requires that A occurs before B in time. But time itself is a characteristic of the physical world and makes no sense outside of the context of the physical world. Thus our conception of causality, which is inextricably linked to our conception of time, also makes no sense outside of the context of a physical world.
The inescapable conclusion of this is that the creator of the physical world must transcend the physical world and must be fundamentally different from the physical world. As such, the Creator does not exist in time and is not bound by it; indeed, time itself must have been created with the creation of the physical world by the Creator. There is no “before” or “after” for the Creator. The Creator does not need the filter of time as we do to make reality comprehensible, for He comprehends the totality of reality directly and completely. Since the Creator created time, He also created causality and thus it makes no sense to say He is subject to that which He created. Therefore, to ask “What caused the Creator?” is literally nonsense.
I therefore conclude that the only rationally consistent conclusion to our question is that the physical world was created by something else, self-existent and fundamentally different from the physical world.
I will close with an observation. It is my experience that most people who have given this question serious thought and yet still reject the conclusion that a Creator exists, do not reject it on rational grounds. While they will certainly make rational arguments, when really pushed their rejection is more visceral than rational. No rational argument, no matter how sound, would be strong enough to convince them that something exists which transcends the physical world. They find the most implausible scientific or philosophical theory infinitely more believable than any argument that leads to the conclusion in something that exists beyond the physical world. This is an observation, not an attack, and it is most certainly not intended pejoratively. While not rational, such an attitude is as understandable as it is flawed. Addressing this will be the subject of my next post: Does Matter Exist?
1. ^ One challenge of writing a blog about large philosophical topics is that many sentences could branch into large topics themselves, but doing so would completely obscure the main argument, whereas not doing so leaves possible holes in the argument. This sentence is a case in point. I state that the physical world has objective existence without offering proof. There are some who would disagree with this statement who would argue that the physical world does not have objective existence using some type of idealistic argument, or even a solipsistic one. However, for the purpose of this series of posts on the existence of the physical world I have assumed the reader does not doubt the objective existence of the physical world. While I have no time for solipsism and don’t think it is worthy of series thought, I do think some forms of idealism are intriguing and at least worthy of consideration. Perhaps in a future post…