First Cause Argument

The classical First Cause argument for G-d addresses perhaps the most basic and obvious question of all: Where did everything in our universe — space, matter, energy and time — all come from? Logically, there are only two possible answers to this question:

1. Everything in our universe has simply existed forever. There was, therefore, no entity outside of the universe that was required to create it. 2. Some entity outside of the universe must have brought it all into being at some point in the past.

Since, as we will see, there are many logical inconsistencies with an eternal universe; the second possibility, that something outside the universe must have created it, is the only viable explanation for all of existence. First Argument: When we speak about time moving forward, we mean the process of one cause leading to a particular effect, which in turn becomes a new cause for another effect, and so on into the future. The concept of time moving backwards, and unraveling the cause and effect chain of our universe, would, therefore, mean just the reverse — going from a present effect to its cause, and then to the cause which preceded it, and so on, retracing the steps one by one. If one maintains that everything in our universe has simply existed forever, with no beginning point which set the universe into motion initially, then even if it were possible to retrace the past time further and further, without ever stopping, we would still never be able to unwind the past chain completely. Every cause preceding every effect would always have a previous cause which preceded it, forever and ever, without any initial beginning point at all. Consequently, to cover every instant from this present moment, all the way back into this unlimited past, would be impossible, even given endless time. But that leads us to a contradiction. This exact same series of past moments was, in fact, entirely covered by the past time moving forward. In other words, coming from all of the way back in the past, time has now clearly made it up into the present. Let’s try to illustrate this with an analogy. Imagine that an individual is just about to begin a journey from Jerusalem to Tel-Aviv. Before he leaves, a friend tells him not to bother. Somehow, the entire city of Tel-Aviv has been moved to a new location which cannot be reached from Jerusalem, even with unlimited time. As our would-be traveler is considering this strange turn of events, he and his friend see someone about to enter Jerusalem. This fellow tells them that he has just come from the new location of Tel-Aviv. Both of them immediately understand that it must, therefore, be possible to get to this new location of Tel-Aviv from Jerusalem. After all, if it is possible to get from A to B, then it must also be possible to go from B all of the way back to A. Similarly, if from all of the way back in time until the present (going forward) was attainable, then it must be that, from the present to all of the way back in time (going backwards) must also be attainable. There must, therefore, be some final point that can be arrived at. As a second analogy, consider the well-known children’s story of Hansel and Gretel dropping bread crumbs in the forest to mark their journey. If they would have wanted to retrace their journey, it is not logical that they would never have been capable of picking up all of their breadcrumbs. As much time as they needed to drop their breadcrumbs going forward, is the same amount of time that would be required to re-gather them going backwards. Time’s “breadcrumbs” are the various “links” which make up the “chain” of previous causes and effects. If time was able to “drop them all” moving forward, then it must also be possible to reach them all going backwards. How can it be impossible for time to do in a backward direction that which it has clearly already done in a forward direction? Second Argument: We see that the universe is in the midst of a process. It is different today than it was yesterday, and it will be different tomorrow than it is today. According to the possibility that there was never any initial point or first cause which began the process of the universe, then, as we discussed in the previous argument, the past (i.e., all of the time, or all of the causes and effects stretching back forever) must necessarily be unlimited. If, however, the past were truly unlimited, then how could the process of time have only reached its present stage now? Shouldn’t the process of time already be finished if the past were really unlimited? As an illustration, try to imagine time as a “giant highway,” with the present moment as a single “hotel” at one point alongside of it. The proprietor of the Present Moment Hotel is standing outside, on the edge of the highway, when Father Time comes walking up the road. He asks Father Time, “Where are you going?” Father Time answers, “To the Next Moment Hotel.” “Father Time, how long have you been traveling?” He responds, “For an unlimited time.” The proprietor considers this and then replies to him, “That is impossible. If you had really been traveling for an unlimited time, then you would have already arrived at the Next Moment Hotel. How much more time do you need to reach the next moment — no limit plus one more moment?!” Stated differently, we see that time has covered the entire past, and has now reached the present. However, at this present moment, it certainly does not encompass the future. “Unlimited” means, very simply, no limits whatsoever. This inability of the past time to also encompass the future is a basic contradiction to it being unlimited. And, while the past time will certainly continue to grow (i.e., as the present keeps moving forward), this fundamental limitation of the past time not also encompassing the future will always remain. This shows us that anything which is a development or a process must necessarily be limited, and must also have some beginning point. A very simple way to appreciate this is to consider the following: It is impossible to traverse (cross over from one end to the other) an unlimited distance. This is because, by definition, fully traversing any distance clearly demonstrates that it is limited (i.e., it has two definite ends). The fact that time has actually made it up until the present moment means that it has completely traversed the past. The past must, therefore, be limited. Final Arguments: If there was never any one beginning point in the universe, and the past time up until now was truly unlimited, then what is it that would be happening as time continues moving forward? Would the past then become “unlimited” plus 10 years, “unlimited” plus 20 years, and so on? If, on the other hand, the claim is that the past would still be unlimited, we run into two difficulties:

1. “Unlimited” is constantly increasing. 2. We now have one “unlimited” which is bigger than a second “unlimited”.

Both possibilities are clearly absurd. An additional difficulty with the past being unlimited is the fact that it is made up of separate parts. What would happen if we removed one of the parts (or imagined the entire past, besides this one piece) — for example, the time from 1950–1960. Would the remainder then be considered limited or unlimited? If the remainder would still be unlimited, then when the piece was replaced, “unlimited” would increase, an obvious contradiction in terms. If, when the piece was first removed, the remainder had become limited, then when the piece was replaced, we would have one limited quantity plus a second limited quantity, which would clearly now equal a larger limited quantity. And this would mean that the past time must really have been limited all along. The point is that “unlimited” is logically incompatible with the existence of separate parts. Therefore, since we see that the past time is entirely made up of separate parts, it cannot be truly unlimited. The clearer our understanding is of the concept of “unlimited,” the easier it is to see that it is absolutely incompatible with the nature of time. “Unlimited” is all-inclusive. If the past were truly unlimited, it would include all moments — past, present and future. (Which means, of course, that what we call the past would then cease truly being the “past.”) And the possibility of a next second would never even be able to exist. Conclusion: 1). Since we see that it is not possible for the chain of past causes and effects to stretch back without limitation (i.e., for everything in our universe to have simply existed forever), then it must be that there was one beginning point, or first cause, which set the whole system of the universe into motion initially. It is remarkable that this idea of the universe having a fixed starting point is exactly the prevalent view within science today. Most physicists and theorists in this field completely accept the necessity of a single first cause; they simply call it the “Big Bang.” In a cover story on the Big Bang theory, National Geographic gave the following summary.

“We have reached beyond Einstein and pioneered physics that traces the universe back almost to its very instant of origin. Our universe, astrophysicists have concluded, was born in an explosion of space, called the big bang…  Astonishingly, scientists now calculate that everything in this vast universe grew out of a region many billions of times smaller than a single proton, one of the atom’s basic particles… Two central observations: On a large scale, every part of the expanding universe is receding from every other part, a fact first recognized in the 1920s by Edwin Hubble. A corollary is that all the parts were once much closer — in fact, packed into an ultra dense, ultra small clump. The second observation, first made in 1964, is that a telltale radiation at three degrees above absolute zero on the Kelvin scale (3K) pervades all space in every direction; it is interpreted as the fading glow of the ultra hot expansion that brought into being space and time, matter and energy. Conclusion:  Our observable Universe began at a finite time in the past in a hot explosion — the Big Bang.”

What caused the Big Bang to happen when it happened, and what was the source for all of the material of our Universe, are, of course, theological questions which science can have no answer for. 2). Now if, in fact, there was one First Cause which brought everything in our universe into existence, and which set the whole system of cause and effect into motion, then this entity itself must necessarily be outside the system of cause and effect. Otherwise, the question could always be asked, “What caused the First Cause?” And then, of course, it would no longer be the true First Cause. By definition then, the First Cause could not itself have had or needed a previous cause. This can additionally be demonstrated by simple logic. The First Cause created the whole system of cause and effect. “Before” this system of cause and effect existed, the First Cause did exist. However, without this system of cause and effect, it would have been absolutely meaningless to have asked, “What caused the First Cause?” Now, if the existence of an eternal “uncaused” First Cause is perfectly reasonable “before” our cause and effect Universe was created, then what would have changed “after” the system of cause and effect came into being? Does it make sense that the First Cause which, up until this point, had no need for a previous cause itself, would suddenly develop such a need, and would then retroactively require having had one all along? Stated differently — what is the logic of the First Cause being bound or limited by the very system that it itself created? 3). Any attempt to describe this First Cause can only be done in terms of what the First Cause is not. It must be absolute (i.e., unchanging), eternal (out of time), spiritual (not physical), and completely independent and unlimited. And this eternal, absolute, independent, unlimited and spiritual entity is what brought every parameter and dimension of our physical, cause and effect universe into existence at a single definite point in the past. These characteristics of the First Cause are all essential aspects of the Jewish concept of G-d. 4). Final objection — Is it possible that the universe could have created itself? In other words, even if the universe did begin at a single point in the past, maybe some process of spontaneous self-generation occurred with no independent entity involved at all. There are two theoretical ways to imagine that this could have happened –

1. Either the universe created itself before it existed; or 2. The universe created itself after it existed.

Both possibilities are obviously absurd.

Any questions or comments? Please email Rabbi Resnick!

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