Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation 32.1 (March 1980) 5-13.

[American Scientific Affiliation, Copyright 1980;  cited with permission]

 

Philosophical and Scientific Pointers

to Creatio ex Nihilo

 

William Lane Craig

Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

Deerfield, IL 60015

 

To answer Leibniz's question of why something exists rather than

nothing, we must posit three alternatives: the universe either had a

beginning or had no beginning; if it had a beginning, this was either

caused or uncaused; if caused, the cause was either personal or not

personal. Four lines of evidence, two philosophical and two

scientific, point to a beginning of the universe. If the universe had a

beginning, it is inconceivable that it could have sprung uncaused out

of absolute nothingness. Finally, the cause of the universe must be

personal in order to have a temporal effect produced by an eternal

cause. This confirms the biblical doctrine of creatio ex nihilo.

 

". . . The first question which should rightly be asked,"

Wrote Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, is "Why is there some-

thing rather than nothing?"1 I want you to think about

that for a moment. Why does anything exist at all, rather

than nothing? Why does the universe, or matter, or any-

thing at all exist, instead of just nothing, instead of just

empty space?

Many great minds have been puzzled by this problem.

For example, in his biography of the renowned philoso-

pher Ludwig Wittgenstein, Norman Malcolm reports,

 

. . . he said that he sometimes had a certain experience which could

best be described by saying that 'when I have it, I wonder at the

existence of the world. I am then inclined to use such phrases as

"How extraordinary that anything "should exist!" or "How ex-

traordinary that the world should exist!"'2

5a



CREATIO EX NIHILO 5b

 

Similarly, the English philosopher J. J. C. Smart has said,

". . . my mind often seems to reel under the immense

significance this question has for me. That anything exists

at all does seem to me a matter for the deepest awe."3

Why does something exist instead of nothing? Unless

We are prepared to believe that the universe simply

popped into existence uncaused out of nothing, then the

answer must be: something exists because there is an

eternal, uncaused being for which no further explanation

is possible. But who or what is this eternal, uncaused

being? Leibniz identified it with God. But many modern

philosophers have identified it with the universe itself.

Now this is exactly the position of the atheist: the universe

itself is uncaused and eternal; as Russell remarks, ". . . the

universe is just there, and that's all."4 But this means, of

course, that all we are left with is futility and despair,

for man's life would then be without ultimate significance,

value, or purpose. Indeed, Russell himself acknowledges

that it is only upon the "firm foundation of unyielding

despair" that life can be faced.5 But are there reasons to

think that the universe is not eternal and uncaused, that

there is something more? I think that there are. For we

can consider the universe by means of a series of logical

alternatives:

Universe

 

 

beginning no beginning

 

 


caused not caused

 

 


personal not personal

 

 



WILLIAM LANE CRAIG 6a

 

By proceeding through these alternatives, I think we can

demonstrate that it is reasonable to believe that the uni-

verse is not eternal, but that it had a beginning and was

caused by a personal being, and that therefore a personal

Creator of the universe exists.

 

Did the Universe Begin?

The first and most crucial step to be considered in this

argument is the first: that the universe began to exist.

There are four reasons why I think it is more reasonable

to believe that the universe had a beginning. First, I shall

expound two philosophical arguments and, second, two

scientific confirmations.

 

The first philosophical argument:

1. An actual infinite cannot exist.

2. A beginningless series of events in time is an actual infinite.

3. Therefore, a beginningless series of events in time cannot exist.

 

A collection of things is said to be actually infinite only

if a part of it is equal to the whole of it. For example, which

is greater? 1, 2, 3, . . . or 0, 1, 2, 3, . . . According to prevailing

mathematical thought, the answer is that they are equiva-

lent because they are both actually infinite. This seems

strange because there is an extra number in one series

that cannot be found in the other. But this only goes to

show that in an actually infinite collection, a part of the

collection is equal to the whole of the collection. For the

same reason, mathematicians state that the series of even

numbers is the same size as the series of all natural num-

bers, even though the series of all natural numbers con-

tains all the even numbers plus an infinite number of odd

numbers as well. So a collection is actually infinite if a part

of it is equal to the whole of it.

Now the concept of an actual infinite needs to be

sharply distinguished from the concept of a potential

infinite. A potential infinite is a collection that is increasing



WILLIAM LANE CRAIG 6b

 

without limit but is at all times finite. The concept of

potential infinity usually comes into play when we add

to or subtract from something without stopping. Thus,

a finite distance may be said to contain a potentially in-

finite number of smaller finite distances. This does not

mean that there actually are an infinite number of parts

in a finite distance, but rather it means that one can keep

on dividing endlessly. But one will never reach an "infi-

nitieth" division. Infinity merely serves as the limit to

which the process approaches. Thus, a potential infinite

is not truly infinite--it is simply indefinite. It is at all points

finite but always increasing.

To sharpen the distinction between an actual and a

potential infinite, we can draw some comparisons be-

tween them. The concept of actual infinity is used in set

theory to designate a set which has an actually infinite

number of members in it. But the concept of potential

infinity finds no place in set theory. This is because the

members of a set must be definite, whereas a potential

infinite is indefinite--it acquires new members as it grows.

Thus, set theory has only either finite or actually infinite

sets. The proper place for the concept of the potential

infinite is found in mathematical analysis, as in infini-

tesimal calculus. There a process may be said to increase

or diminish to infinity, in the sense that the process can be

continued endlessly with infinity as its terminus.6 The

concept of actual infinity does not pertain in these opera-

tions because an infinite number of operations is never

actually made. According to the great German mathe-

matician David Hilbert, the chief difference between

an actual and a potential infinite is that a potential infinite

is always something growing toward a limit of infinity,

while an actual infinite is a completed totality with an

actually infinite number of things.7 A good example con-

trasting these two types of infinity is the series of past,

present, and future events. For if the universe is eternal,

as the atheist claims, then there have occurred in the past



WILLIAM LANE CRAIG 6c

 

an actually infinite number of events. But from any point

in the series of events, the number of future events is

potentially infinite. Thus, if we pick 1845, the birthyear

of Georg Cantor, who discovered infinite sets, as our point

of departure, we can see that past events constitute an

actual infinity while future events constitute a potential

infinity. This is because the past is realized and complete,

whereas the future is never fully actualized, but is always

finite and always increasing. In the following discussion,

it is exceedingly important to keep the concepts of actual

infinity and potential infinity distinct and not to confuse

them.

A second clarification that I must make concerns the

word "exist." When I say that an actual infinite cannot

exist, I mean "exist in the real world" or "exist outside

the mind." I am not in any way questioning the legitimacy

of using the concept of actual infinity in the realm of

mathematics, for this is a realm of thought only. What I

am arguing is that an actual infinite cannot exist in the

real world of stars and planets and rocks and men. What

I will argue in no way threatens the use of the actual in-

finite as a concept in mathematics. But I do think it is

absurd that an actual infinite could exist in the real world.

I think that probably the best way to show this is to use

examples to illustrate the absurdities that would result

if an actual infinite could exist in reality. For suppose we

have a library that has an actually infinite number of books,

on its shelves. Imagine furthermore that there are only

two colors, black and red, and these are placed on the

shelves alternately: black, red, black, red, and so forth.

Now if somebody told us that the number of black books

and the number of red books is the same, we would prob-

ably not be too surprised. But would we believe someone

who told us that the number of black books is the same

as the number of black books plus red books? For in this

latter collection there are all the black books plus an in-

finite number of red books as well. Or imagine there are



WILLIAM LANE CRAIG 6d

 

three colors of books or four or five or a hundred. Would

you believe someone if he told you that there are as many

books in a single color as there are in the whole collection?

Or imagine that there are an infinite number of colors

of books. I'll bet you would think that there would be

one book per color in the infinite collection. You would

be wrong. If the collection is actually infinite then ac-

cording to mathematicians, there could be for each of

the infinite colors an infinite number of books. So you

would have an infinity of infinities. And yet it would still

be true that if you took all the books of all the colors and

 

 



CREATIO EX NIHILO 7a

 

added them together, you wouldn't have any more books

than if you had taken just the books of a single color.

Suppose each book had a number printed on its spine.

Because the collection is actually infinite, that means

that every possible number is printed on some book.

Now this means that we could not add another book to

the library. For what number would we give to it? All

the numbers have been used up! Thus, the new book

could not have a number. But this is absurd, since objects

in reality can be numbered. So if an infinite library could

exist, it would be impossible to add another book to it.

But this conclusion is obviously false, for all we have to

do is tear out a page from each of the first hundred books,

add a title page, stick them together, and put this new

book on the shelf. It would be easy to add to the library.

So the only answer must be that an actually infinite library

could not exist.

But suppose we could add to the library. Suppose I

put a book on the shelf. According to the mathematicians,

the number of books in the whole collection is the same

as before. But how can this be? If I put the book on the

shelf, there is one more book in the collection. If I take

it off the shelf, there is one less book. I can see myself

add and remove the book. Am I really to believe that

when I add the book there are no more books in the col-

lection and when I remove it there are no less books?

Suppose I add an infinity of books to the collection. Am I

seriously to believe there are no more books in the col-

lection than before? Suppose I add an infinity of infinities

of books to the collection. Is there not now one single book

more in the collection than before? I find this hard to

believe.

But now let's reverse the process. Suppose we decide

to loan out some of the books. Suppose we loan out book

number 1. Isn't there now one less book in the collection?

Suppose we loan out all the odd-numbered books. We

have loaned out an infinite number of books, and yet



CREATIO EX NIHILO 7b

 

mathematicians would say there are no less books in the

collection. Now when we loaned out all these books, that

left an awful lot of gaps on the shelves. Suppose we push

all the books together again and close the gaps. All these

gaps added together would add up to an infinite distance.

But, according to mathematicians, after you pushed the

books together, the shelves will still be full, the same as

before you loaned any out! Now suppose once more we

loaned out every other book. There would still be no less

books in the collection than before. And if we pushed all

the books together again, the shelves would still be full.

In fact, we could do this an infinite number of times,

and there would never be one less book in the collection

and the shelves would always remain full. But suppose we

loaned out book numbers 4, 5, 6, . . . out to infinity. At

a single stroke, the collection would be virtually wiped

out, the shelves emptied, and the infinite library reduced

to finitude. And yet, we have removed exactly the same

number of books this time as when we first loaned out all

the odd numbered books! Can anybody believe such

a library could exist in reality?

These examples serve to illustrate that an actual infi-

nate cannot exist in the real world. Again I want to under-

line the fact that what I have argued in no way attempts

to undermine the theoretical system bequeathed by Can-

tor to modern mathematics. Indeed, some of the most

eager enthusiasts of trans-finite mathematics, such as

David Hilbert, are only too ready to agree that the concept

of actual infinite is an idea only and has no relation to the

real world. So we can conclude the first step: an actual

infinite cannot exist.

The second step is: a beginningless series of events in

time is an actual infinite. By "event" I mean something

that happens. Thus, this step is concerned with change,

and it holds that if the series of past events or changes just

goes back and back and never had a beginning, then, con-

sidered all together, these events constitute an actually



CREATIO EX NIHILO 7c

 

infinite collection. Let me provide an example. Suppose

we ask someone where a certain star came from. He re-

plies that it came from an explosion in a star that existed

before it. Suppose we ask again, where did that star come

from? Well, it came from another star before it. And

where did that star come from?--from another star before

it; and so on and so on. This series of stars would be an ex-

ample of a beginningless series of events in time. Now if

the universe has existed forever, then the series of all past

events taken together constitutes an actual infinite. This is

because for every event in the past, there was an event

before it. Thus, the series of past events would be infinite.

Nor could it be potentially infinite only, for we have seen

that the past is completed and actual; only the future can

be described as a potential infinite. Therefore, it seems

pretty obvious that a beginningless series of events in time

is an actual infinite.

But that leads us to our conclusion: therefore, a begin-

ningless series of events in time cannot exist. We have seen

that an actual infinite cannot exist in reality. Since a be-

ginningless series of events in time is an actual infinite,

such a series cannot exist. That means the series of all past

events must be finite and have a beginning. But because

the universe is the series of all events, this means that the

universe must have had a beginning.

Let me give a few examples to make the point clear. We

have seen that if an actual infinite could exist in reality, it

would be impossible to add to it. But the series of events in

time is being added to every day. Or at least so it appears.

If the series were actually infinite, then the number of

events that have occurred up to the present moment is no

greater than the number of events up to, say, 1789. In fact,

you can pick any point in the past. The number of events

that have occurred up to the present moment would be no

greater than the number of events up to that point, no

matter how long ago it might be.

Or take another example. Suppose Earth and Jupiter



CREATIO EX NIHILO 7d

 

have been orbiting the sun from eternity. Suppose that it

takes the Earth one year to complete one orbit, and that it

takes Jupiter three years to complete one orbit. Thus for

every one orbit Jupiter completes, Earth completes three.

Now here is the question: if they have been orbiting from

eternity, which has completed more orbits? The answer is:

they are equal. But this seems absurd, since the longer they

went, the farther and farther Jupiter got behind, since every

time Jupiter went around the sun once, Earth went around

three times. How then could they possibly be equal?



WILLIAM LANE CRAIG 8a

 

Or, finally, suppose we meet a man who claims to have

been counting from eternity, and now he is finishing: -5, -4,

-3, -2, -1, 0. Now this is impossible. For, we may ask, why

didn't he finish counting yesterday or the day before or the

year before? By then an infinity of time had already

elapsed, so that he should have finished. The fact is we

could never find anyone completing such a task because at

any previous point he would have already finished. But

what this means is that there could never be a point in the

past at which he finished counting. In fact we could never

find him counting at all. For he would have already fin-

ished. But if no matter how far back in time we go, we

never find him counting, then it cannot be true that he has

been counting from eternity. This shows once more that

the series of past events cannot be beginningless. For if

you could not count numbers from eternity, neither could

you have events from eternity.

These examples underline the absurdity of a beginning-

less series of events in time. Because such a series is an

actual infinite, and an actual infinite cannot exist, a begin-

ningless series of events in time cannot exist. This means

that the universe began to exist, which is the point that we

set out to prove.

The second philosophical argument:

1. The series of events in time is a collection formed by adding one

member after another.

2. A collection formed by adding one member after another can-

not be actually infinite.

3. Therefore, the series of events in time cannot be actually in-

finite.

 

This argument does not argue that an actual infinite cannot

exist. But it does argue that an actual infinite cannot come

to exist by the members of a collection being added one

after the other.

The series of events in time is a collection formed by



WILLIAM LANE CRAIG 8b

 

adding one member after another. This point is pretty

obvious. When we consider the collection of all past

events, it is obvious that those events did not exist simul-

taneously--all at once--but they existed one after another

in time: we have one event, then another after that, then

another, then another, and so on. So when we talk about

the collection of "all past events," we are talking about a

collection that has been formed by adding one member

after another.

The second step is the crucial one: a collection formed

by adding one member after another cannot be actually

infinite. Why?--because no matter how many members a

person added to the collection, he could always add one

more. Therefore, he would never arrive at infinity. Some-

times this is called the impossibility of counting to infinity.

For no matter how many numbers you had counted, you

could always count one more. You would never arrive at

infinity. Or sometimes this is called the impossibility of

traversing the infinite. For you could never cross an infin-

ite distance. Imagine a man running up a flight of stairs.

Suppose every time his foot strikes the top step, another

step appears above it. It is clear that the man could run for-

ever, but he would never cross all the steps because you

could always add one more step.

Now notice that this impossibility has nothing to do with

the amount of time available. It is of the very nature of the

infinite that it cannot be formed by adding one member

after another, regardless of the amount of time available.

Thus, the only way an infinite collection could come to

exist in the real world would be by having all the members

created simultaneously. For example, if our library of in-

finite books were to exist in the real world, it would have

to be created instantaneously by God. God would say:

"Let there be. . . !" and the library would come into exis-

tence all at once. But it would be impossible to form the

library by adding one book at a time, for you would never

arrive at infinity.



WILLIAM LANE CRAIG 8c

 

Therefore, our conclusion must be: the series of events

in time cannot be actually infinite. Suppose there were, for

example, an infinite number of days prior to today. Then

today would never arrive. For it is impossible to cross an

infinite number of days to reach today. But obviously,

today has arrived. Therefore, we know that prior to today

there cannot have been an infinite number of days. That

means that the number of days is finite and therefore the

universe had a beginning. Contemporary philosophers

have shown themselves to be impotent to refute this

reasoning.9 Thus, one of them asks,

 

If an infinite series of events has preceded the present moment,

how did we get to the present moment? How could we get to the

present moment--where we obviously are now--if the present

moment was preceded by an infinite series of events?10

 

Concluding that this difficulty has not been overcome and

that the issue is still in dispute, Hospers passes on to an-

other subject, leaving the argument unrefuted. Similarly

another philosopher comments rather weakly, "It is dif-

ficult to show exactly what is wrong with this argument,"

and with that remark moves on without further ado.11

Therefore, since the series of events in time is a collec-

tion formed by adding one member after another, and

since such a collection cannot be actually infinite, the

series of events in time cannot be actually infinite. And

once more, since the universe is nothing else than the series

of events, the universe must have had a beginning, which

is precisely the point we wanted to prove.

The first scientific confirmation: the evidence from the

expansion of the universe. Prior to the 1920's, scientists

assumed that the universe as a whole was a stationary ob-

ject--it was not going anywhere. But in 1929 an astrono-

mer named Edwin Hubble contended that this was not

true. Hubble observed that the light from distant galaxies

appeared to be redder than it should be. He explained this



WILLIAM LANE CRAIG 8d

 

by proposing that the universe is expanding. Therefore,

the light from the stars is affected since they are moving

away from us. But this is the interesting part: Hubble not

only showed that the universe is expanding, but that it is

expanding the same in all directions. To get a picture of

this, imagine a balloon with dots painted on it. As you

blow up the balloon, the dots get further and further apart.

Now those dots are just like the galaxies in space. Every-

thing in the universe is expanding outward. Thus, the rela-

tions in the universe do not change, only the distances.

Now the staggering implication of this is that this means

that at some point in the past, the entire known universe



CREATIO EX NIHILO 9a

 

was contracted down to a single point, from which it has

been expanding ever since. The farther back one goes in

the past, the smaller the universe becomes, so that one

finally reaches a point of infinite density from which the

universe began to expand. That initial event has come

to be known as the "big bang."

How long ago did the big bang occur? Only during

the 1970's have accurate estimates become available. In

a very important series of six articles published in 1974

and 1975, Allan Sandage and G. A. Tammann estimate

that the big bang occurred about 15 billion years ago.12

Therefore, according to the big bang model, the universe

began to exist with a great explosion from a state of in-

finite density about 15 billion years ago. Four of the

world's most prominent astronomers describe that event

in these words.

 

The universe began from a state of infinite density. Space and

time were created in that event and so was all the matter in the

universe. It is not meaningful to ask what happened before the big

bang; it is somewhat like asking what is north of the north pole.

Similarly, it is not sensible to ask where the big bang took place.

The point-universe was not an object isolated in space; it was the

entire universe, and so the only answer can be that the big bang

happened everywhere.13

 

This event that marked the beginning of the universe

becomes all the more amazing when one reflects on the

fact that a state of "infinite density" is synonymous to

"nothing." There can be no object that possesses infinite

density, for if it had any mass at all, it would not be in-

finitely dense. Therefore, as astronomer Fred Hoyle

points out, the big bang theory requires the creation of

matter from nothing. This is because as one goes back

in time, he reaches a point at which, in Hoyle's words,

the universe was "shrunk down to nothing at all."14 Thus,

what the big bang model requires is that the universe had

a beginning and was created out of nothing.



CREATIO EX NIHILO 9b

 

Now some people are bothered with the idea that the

universe began from nothing. This is too close to the Chris-

ian doctrine of creation to allow atheistic minds to be

comfortable. But if one rejects the big bang model, he

has apparently only two alternatives: the steady state

model or the oscillating model. Let's examine each of

these.

The steady state model holds that the universe never

had a beginning but has always existed in the same state.

Ever since this model was first proposed in 1948, it has

never been very convincing. According to S. L. Jaki, this

theory never secured "a single piece of experimental veri-

fication."15 It always seemed to be trying to explain away

the facts rather than explain them. According to Jaki, the

proponents of this model were actually motivated by

"openly anti-theological, or rather anti-Christian motiva-

tions.16 A second strike against this theory is the fact that

a count of galaxies emitting radio waves indicates that

there were once more radio sources in the past than there

are today. Therefore, the universe is not in a steady state

after all. But the real nails in the coffin for the steady state

theory came in 1965, when A. A. Penzlas and R. W. Wilson.

discovered that the entire universe is bathed with a back-

ground of microwave radiation. This radiation back-

ground indicates that the universe was once in a very hot

and very dense state. In the steady state model no such

state could have existed, since the universe was supposed

to be the same from eternity. Therefore, the steady state

model has been abandoned by virtually everyone. Ac-

cording to Ivan King, "The steady-state theory has now

been laid to rest, as a result of clear-cut observations of

how things have changed with time."17

But what of the oscillating model of the universe? John

Gribbin describes this model,

 

The biggest problem with the big bang theory of the origin of

the universe is philosophical--perhaps even theological--what



CREATIO EX NIHILO 9c

 

was there before the bang? This problem alone was sufficient to

give a great initial impetus to the steady state theory, but with that

theory now sadly in conflict with the observations the best way

around this initial difficulty is provided by a model in which the

universe expands, collapses back again, and repeats the cycle

indefinitely.18

 

According to this model, the universe is sort of like a

spring, expanding and contracting from eternity. It is only

in the last three or four years that this model has been dis-

credited. The key question here is whether the universe

is "open" or "closed." If it is "closed," then the expansion

will reach a certain point, and then the force of gravity

will pull everything together again. But if the universe

is "open," then the expansion will never stop, but will

just go on and on forever. Now clearly, if the universe is

open, then the oscillating model is false. For if the universe

is open, it will never contract again.

Scientific evidence seems to indicate that the universe

is open. The crucial factor here is the density of the uni-

verse. Scientists have estimated that if there are more than

about three hydrogen atoms per cubic meter on the aver-

age throughout the universe, then the universe would be

closed. That may not sound like very much, but remember

that most of the universe is just empty space. I shall not

go into all the technicalities of how scientists measure

the density of the universe,19 but let me simply report

their conclusions. According to the evidence, the universe

would have to be at least ten times denser than it is for

the universe to be closed.20 Therefore, the universe is

open by a wide margin. Let me share with you the con-

clusion of Alan Sandage: (1) the universe is open, (2) the

expansion will not reverse, and (3) the universe has hap-

pened only once and the expansion will never stop.21

The evidence therefore appears to rule out the oscil-

lating model, since it requires a closed universe. But just

to drive the point home, let me add that the oscillating



CREATIO EX NIHILO 9d

 

model of the universe is only a theoretical possibility, not

a real possibility. As Dr. Tinsley of Yale observes, in os-

cillating models

 

. . . even though the mathematics says that the universe

oscillates, there is no known physics to reverse the collapse and

bounce back to a new expansion. The physics seems to say that

those models start from the big bang, expand, collapse, then end.22

 

Hence, it would be impossible for the universe to be os-

cillating from eternity. Therefore, this model is doubly

impossible.

The second scientific confirmation: the evidence from

thermodynamics. According to the second law of thermo-

dynamics, processes taking place in a closed system al-

ways tend toward a state of equilibrium. In other words,



WILLIAM LANE CRAIG 10a

 

unless energy is constantly being fed into a system, the

processes in the system will tend to run down and quit.

For example, if I had a bottle that was a sealed vacuum

inside, and I introduced into it some molecules of gas, the

gas would spread itself out evenly inside the bottle. It

is virtually impossible for the molecules to retreat, for

example, into one corner of the bottle and remain. This

is why when you walk into a room, the air in the room

never separates suddenly into oxygen at one end and

nitrogen at the other. It is also why when you step into

your bath you may be confident that it will be pleasantly

warm instead of frozen solid at one end and boiling at the

other. It is clear that life would not be possible in a world

in which the second law of thermodynamics did not

operate.

Now our interest in the law is what happens when it is

applied to the universe as a whole. The universe is a gi-

gantic closed system, since it is everything there is and

there is nothing outside it.23 What this seems to imply

then is that, given enough time, the universe and all its

processes will run down and the entire universe will slowly

grind to a halt. This is known as the heat death of the uni-

verse. Once the universe reaches this state, no further

change is possible. The universe is dead.

There are two possible types of heat death for the uni-

verse. If the universe is "closed," then it will die a hot

death. Tinsley describes such a state:

 

If the average density of matter in the universe is great enough,

the mutual gravitational attraction between bodies will eventually

slow the expansion to a halt. The universe will then contract and

collapse into a hot fireball. There is no known physical mechanism

that could reverse a catastrophic big crunch. Apparently, if the

universe becomes dense enough, it is in for a hot death.24

 

If the universe is closed, it is in for a fiery death from

which it will never re-emerge. But suppose, as is more



WILLIAM LANE CRAIG 10b

 

likely, the universe is "open." Tinsley describes the final

state of this universe:

 

If the universe has a low density, its death will be cold. It will ex-

pand forever, at a slower and "lower rate. Galaxies will turn all

of their gas into stars, and the stars will burn out. Our own sun will

become a cold, dead remnant, floating among the corpses of

other stars in an increasingly isolated milky way.25

 

Eventually, equilibrium will prevail throughout, and the

entire universe will reach its final state from which no

change will occur.

Now the question that needs to be asked is this: If given

enough time, the universe will reach heat death, then

why is it not in a state of heat death now if it has existed

forever, from eternity? If the universe did not begin to

exist, then it should now be in a state of equilibrium. Its

energy should be all used up. For example, I have a very

loud wind-up alarm clock. If I hear that the clock is ticking

--which is no problem, believe me--then I know that at

some point in the recent past, it was wound up and has

been running down since then. It is the same with the

universe. Since it has not yet run down, this means, in

the words of one baffled scientist, "In some way the uni-

verse must have been wound up."26

Some scientists have tried to escape this conclusion

by arguing that the universe oscillates back and forth

from eternity and so never reaches a final state of equilib-

rium. I have already observed that such a model of the

universe is a physical impossibility. But suppose it were

possible. The fact is that the thermodynamic properties

of this model imply the very beginning of the universe

that its proponents seek to avoid. For as several scientists

have pointed out, each time the model universe expands

it would expand a little further than before. Therefore

if you traced the expansions back in time they would

get smaller and smaller and smaller. Therefore, in the



WILLIAM LANE CRAIG 10c

 

words of one scientific team, "The multicycle model

has an infinite future, but only a finite past."27 As yet

another writer points out, this implies that the oscillating

model of the universe still requires an origin of the uni-

verse prior to the smallest cycle.28

Traditionally, two objections have been urged against

the thermodynamic argument.29 First, the argument does

not work if the universe is infinite. I have two replies to

this. (a) The universe is not, in fact, infinite. An actually

spatially infinite universe would involve all the absurdities

entailed in the existence of an actual infinite. But if the

universe is torus-shaped, then it may be both open and

finite. The objection is therefore irrelevant (b) Even if the

universe were infinite, it would still come to equilibrium.

As one scientist explained in a letter to me, if every finite

region of the universe came to equilibrium, then the whole

universe would come to equilibrium.30 This would be

true even if it had an infinite number of finite regions

This is like saying that if every part of a fence is green,

then the whole fence is green, even if there are an infinite

number of pickets in the fence. Since every single finite

region of the universe would suffer heat death, so would

the whole universe. Therefore, the objection is invalid.

The second objection is that maybe the present state

of the universe is just a fluctuation in an overall state of

equilibrium. In other words, the present energy is sort of

like just the ripple on the surface of a still pond. But this

objection loses all sense of proportion. Fluctuations are

so tiny, they are important only in systems where you

have a few atoms. In a universe at equilibrium, fluc-

tuations would be imperceptible.31 A chart showing

fluctuations in such a universe would be simply a straight

line. Therefore, since the present universe is in disequilib-

rium, what are we to conclude? According to the English

scientist P. C. W. Davies, the universe must have been

created a finite time ago and is in the process of winding

down.32 He says the present disequilibrium cannot be



WILLIAM LANE CRAIG 10d

 

a fluctuation from a prior state of equilibrium, because

prior to this creation event the universe simply did not

exist. Thus, Davies concludes, even though we may not

like it, we must conclude that the universe's energy "was

simply 'put in' at the creation as an initial condition."33

Thus, we have two philosophical arguments and two

scientific confirmations of the point we set out to defend:

the universe began to exist. In light of these four reasons,

I think we are amply justified in affirming the first alter-

native of our first disjunction: the universe had a begin-

ning.

 

Was the Beginning Caused?

Having concluded that the evidence points to a be-

ginning of the universe, let's now turn to our second set



CREATIO EX NIHILO 11a

 

of alternatives: the beginning of the universe was either

caused or not caused. I am not going to give a lengthy

defense of the point that the beginning of the universe

must have been caused. I do not think I need to. For

probably no one in his right mind sincerely believes that

the universe could pop into existence uncaused out of

nothing. Even the famous sceptic David Hume admitted

that it is preposterous to think anything could come into

existence without a cause.34 This is doubly true with

regard to the entire universe. As the English philosopher

C. D. Broad confessed, "I cannot really believe in any-

thing beginning to exist without being caused by some-

thing else which existed before and up to the moment

when the thing in question began to exist."35 As still an-

other philosopher has said, "It seems quite inconceivable

that our universe could have sprung from an absolute

void. If there is anything we find inconceivable it is that

something could arise from nothing,"36 The old principle

that "out of nothing nothing comes" is so manifestly true

that a sincere denial of this point is practically impossible.

This puts the atheist on the spot. For as Anthony Kenny

explains, "A proponent of (the big bang) theory, at least

if he is an atheist, must believe that the matter of the

universe came from nothing and by nothing."37 That is

a pretty hard pill to swallow. In terms of sheer "believ-

ability," I find it intellectually easier to believe in a God

who is the cause of the universe than in the universe's

popping into existence uncaused out of nothing or in the

universe's having existed for infinite time without a be-

ginning. For me these last two positions are intellectually

inconceivable, and it would take more faith for me to

believe in them than to believe that God exists. But at

any rate, we are not dependent upon just "believability,"

for we have already seen that both philosophical and

empirical reasoning points to a beginning for the universe,

So the alternatives are only two: either the universe was

caused to exist or it sprang into existence wholly uncaused



CREATIO EX NIHILO 11b

 

out of nothing about fifteen billion years ago. The first

alternative is eminently more plausible.

It is interesting to examine the attitude of scientists

toward the philosophical and theological implications

of their own big bang model. It is evident that there are

such implications, for as one scientist remarks, "The

problem of the origin (of the universe) involves a certain

metaphysical aspect which may be either appealing or

revolting."38 Unfortunately, the man of science is, as

Albert Einstein once observed, "a poor philosopher,"39

For these implications seem either to escape or not to

interest most scientists. Since no empirical information

is available about what preceded the big bang, scientists

simply ignore the issue. Thus, Hoyle, after explaining

that the big bang model cannot inform us as to where

the matter came from or why the big bang occurred,

comments, "It is not usual in present day cosmological

discussions to seek an answer to this question; the question

and its answer are taken to be outside the range of scien-

tific discussion."40 But while this attitude may satisfy

the scientist, it can never satisfy the philosopher. For as

one scientist admits, the big bang model only describes

the initial conditions of the universe, but it cannot explain

them.41 As yet another astronomer concludes, "So the

question 'How was the matter created in the first place?'

is left unanswered."42 Thus, science begs off answering

the really ultimate question or where the universe came

from. Scientific evidence points to a beginning of the

universe; as rigorous scientists we may stop there and

bar further inquiry, but as thinking men must we not

inquire further until we come to the cause of the beginning

of the universe?

Either the universe was caused to exist or it just came

into existence out of nothing by nothing. Scientists refuse

to discuss the question; but philosophers admit that it

is impossible to believe in something's coming to exist

uncaused out of nothing. Therefore, I think that an unprej-



CREATIO EX NIHILO 11c

 

udiced inquirer will have to agree that the beginning of

the universe was caused, which is the second point we

set out to prove: the universe was caused to exist.

Now this is a truly remarkable conclusion. For this

means that the universe was caused to exist by something

beyond it and greater than it. Think of what that means!

This ought to fill us with awe, for it is no secret that the

Bible begins with these words, "In the beginning God

created the heavens and the earth."

 

Personal or Impersonal Creator?

I think there is good reason to believe that the cause

of the universe is a personal creator. This is our third set

of alternatives: personal or not personal.

The first event in the series of past events was, as we

have seen, the beginning of the universe. Furthermore,

we have argued that the event was caused. Now the

question is: If the cause of the universe is eternal, then

why isn't the universe also eternal, since it is the effect

of the cause? Let me illustrate what I mean. Suppose

we say the cause of water's freezing is the temperature's

falling below 0 degrees. Whenever the temperature is

below 0 degrees, the water is frozen. Therefore, if the

temperature is always below 0 degrees, the water is

always frozen. Once the cause is given, the effect must

follow. So if the cause were there from eternity, the effect

would also be there from eternity. If the temperature

were below 0 degrees from eternity, then any water

around would be frozen from eternity. But this seems

to imply that if the cause of the universe existed from

eternity then the universe would have to exist from eter-

nity. And this we have seen to be false.

One might say that the cause came to exist just before

the first event. But this will not work, for then the cause's

coming into existence would be the first event, and we

must ask all over again for its cause. But this cannot go

on forever, for we have seen that a beginningless series



CREATIO EX NIHILO 11d

 

of events cannot exist. So there must be an absolutely

first event, before which there was no change, no previous

event. We have seen that this first event was caused. But

the question then is: how can a first event come to exist

if the cause of that event is always there? Why isn't the

effect as eternal as the cause? It seems to me that there

is only one way out of this dilemma. That is to say that

the cause of the universe is personal and chooses to create

the universe in time. In this way God could exist change-

lessly from eternity, but choose to create the world in

time. By "choose" I do not mean God changes his mind.

I mean God intends from eternity to create a world in

time. Thus, the cause is eternal, but the effect is not. God

chooses from eternity to create a world with a beginning;

 



WILLIAM LANE CRAIG 12a

 

therefore, a world with a beginning comes to exist. Hence,

it seems to me that the only way a universe can come

to exist is if a Personal Creator of the universe exists. And

I think we are justified in calling a personal creator of

the universe by the name "God."

I would just like to make a few concluding remarks on

God's relationship to time. Many people say God is out-

side time. But this is not what the Bible says. According

to James Barr in his book Biblical Words for Time, the

Bible does not make it clear whether God is eternal in

the sense that he is outside time or whether he is eternal

in the sense of being everlasting throughout all time.43

Thus, the issue must be decided philosophically. It seems

to me that prior to creation God is outside time, or rather

there is no time at all. For time cannot exist unless there

is change. And prior to creation God would have to be

changeless. Otherwise, you would get an infinite series

of past events in God's life, and we have seen such an

infinite series is impossible. So God would be changeless

and, hence, timeless prior to creation. I think that the

doctrine of the Trinity can help us to understand this.

Before creation, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit existed

in a perfect and changeless love relationship. God was

not lonely before creation. In the tri-unity of his own

being, he had full and perfect personal relationships. So

what was God doing before creation? Someone has said,

"He was preparing hell for those who pry into mysteries."

Not at all He was enjoying the fullness of divine personal

relationships with an eternal plan for the creation and

salvation of human persons. The Bible says Christ "had

been chosen by God before the creation of the world, and

was revealed in these last days for your sake."44 Nor was

this plan decided on several eons ago. It is an eternal plan:

The Bible says, "God did this according to his eternal

purpose which he achieved through Christ Jesus our

Lord."45 Why did God do this? Not because he needed

us, but simply out of his grace and love.



WILLIAM LANE CRAIG 12b

 

So in my opinion, God was timeless prior to creation,

and He created time along with the world. From that

point on God places Himself within time so that He can

interact with the world He has created. And someday

God will be done with this creation. The universe will

not, in fact, suffer cold death, for God will have done with

it by then. The Bible says,

 

You, Lord, in the beginning created the earth,

and with your own hands you made the heavens.

They will all disappear, but you will remain;

they will all grow old like clothes.

You will fold them up like a coat,

and they will be changed like clothes.

But you are always the same,

and you will never grow old.46

 

We have thus concluded to a personal Creator of the

universe who exists changelessly and independently

prior to creation and in time subsequent to creation. This

is the central idea of what theists mean by "God."

 

REFERENCES

1G. W. Leibniz, "The Principles of Nature and of Grace, Based on

Reason," in Leibniz Selections, ed. Philip P. Wiener, The

Modern Student's Library (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons,

1951), p. 527.

2Norman Malcolm, Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir (London: Oxford

University Press,1958), p. 70.

3J. J. C. Smart, "The Existence of God," Church Quarterly Review

156 (1955): 194.

4Bertrand Russell and F. C. Copleston, "The Existence of God," in

Existence of God, ed. with an Introduction by John Hick,

Problems of Philosophy Series (New York: Macmillan & Co.,

1964), pp. 174, 176.

5Bertrand Russell, "A Free Man's Worship," in Why I Am Not a

Christian. ed. Paul Edwards (New York: Simon & Schuster,

1957), p. 107.



WILLIAM LANE CRAIG 12c

 

6See Abraham A. Fraenkel, Abstract Set Theory, 2d rev. ed.

(Amsterdam: North-Holland Publlshmg Co., 1961), pp. 5-6.

7David Hilbert, "On the Infinite," in Philosophy of Mathematics, ed.

with an Introduction by Paul Benacerraf and Hilary Putnam

(Englewood: Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1964), pp. 139, 141.

8Ibid., p. 151.

9For an in-depth discussion of this see my forth-coming book with

Macmillan, The Kalam Cosmological Argument, Appendixes 1

and 2.

10John Hospers, An Introduction to Philosophical Analysis, 2d ed.

(London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1967), p. 434.

11William L. Rowe, The Cosmological Argument (Princeton, N.J.:

Princeton University Press, 1975), p. 122.

12Allan Sandage and G. A. Tammann, "Steps Toward the Hubble

Constant. I-VI," Astrophysical Journal 190 (1974): 525-38;

191 (1974) 603-21; 194 (1974): 223-43, 559-68; 196 (1975):

313-28; 197 (1975): 265-80.

13J. Richard Gott III, James E. Gunn, David N. Schramm, Beatrice

M. Tinsley, "Will the Universe Expand Forever?" Scientific

American, March 1976, p. 65. This article is a popular rewrite

of their article, "An Unbound Universe?" Astrophysical Journal

194 (1974): 543-53.

14Fred Hoyle, Astronomy and Cosmology: A Modern Course (San

Francisco: W. H. Freeman & Co., 1975), p. 658.

15Stanley L. Jaki, Science and Creation (Edinburgh and London:

Scottish Academic Press, 1974), p. 347.

16Ibid.

17Ivan R. King, The Universe Unfolding (San Francisco: W. H.

Freeman & Co. 1976), p. 462.

18John Gribbin, "Oscillating Universe Bounces Rack," Nature 259

(1976) 15.

19See Gott, et. al. for a good synopsis.

20J. Richard Gott III and Martin J. Rees, "A Theory of Galaxy

Formation and Clustering," Astronomy and Astrophysics 45

(1975): 365-76; S. Michael Small, "The Scale of Galaxy

Clustering and the Mean Matter Density of the Universe,"

Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

172 (1975): 23p-26p.



WILLIAM LANE CRAIG 12d

 

21Sandage and Tammann "Steps Toward the Hubble Constant. VI.,"

276; Allan Sandage, "The Redshift Distance Relation. VIII.,"

Astrophysical Journal 202 (1975): 563-82.

22Beatrice M. Tinsley, personal letter.

23In saying the universe is a closed system, I do not mean it is closed

in the sense that its expansion will eventually contract. I rather mean that there is no energy being put into it. Thus, in the

thermodynamic sense the universe is closed, but in the sense of

its density the universe is open. One must not confuse "open"

and "closed" in thermodynamics with "open" and "closed" in expansion models.

24Beatrice M. Tinsley, "From Big Bang to Eternity?" Natural History

Magazine, October 1975, p. 103.

25Ibid., p. 185.

26Richard Schlegel, "Time and Thermodynamics," in The Voices of

Time, ed. J. T. Fraser (London: Penguin Press, 1968), p. 511.

27I. D. Novikov and Ya. B. Zel'dovich, "Physical Processes Near

Cosmological Singularities," Annual Review of Astronomy and

Astrophysics 11 (1973): 401-02. See also P. C. W. Davies, The

Physics of Time Asymmetry (London: Surrey University Press,

1974), p. 188. These findings are also confirmed by P. T.

Landsberg and D. Park, "Entropy in an Oscillating Universe,"

Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, A 346 (1975):

485-95.

28Gribbin, "Oscillating Universe," p. 16.

29R. G. Swinburne, Space and Time (London: Macmillan, 1968), p.

304; Adolf Grunbaum, Philosophical Problems of Space and

Time, 2d ed. Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science, vol.

12 (Dordrecht, Holland and Boston: D. Reidel Publishing Co.,

1973), p. 262.

30P. C. W. Davies, personal letter.

31P. J. Zwart, About Time (Amsterdam and Oxford: North Holland

Publishing Co., 1976), pp. 117-19.



CREATIO EX NIHILO 13a

 

32Davies, Physics, p. 104.

33Ibid.

34David Hume to John Stewart, February 1754, in The Letters of

David Hume, 2 vols., ed. J. Y. T. Greig (Oxford: Clarendon

Press, 1932), 1:187.

35D. Broad, "Kant's Mathematical Antinomies," Proceedings of the

Aristotelian Society 55 (1955): 10.

36Zwart, Time, p. 240.

37Anthony Kenny, The Five Ways: St. Thomas Aquinas' Proofs of

God's Existence (New York: Schocken Books, 1969), p. 66.

38Hubert Reeves, Jean Audouze, William A. Fowler, and David N.

Schramm, "On the Origin of Light Elements," Astrophysical

Journal 179 (1973): 909-30.

39Albert Einstein, Out of My Later Years (New York: Philosophical

Library, 1950), p. 58.

40Fred Hoyle, Astronomy Today (London: Heinemann, 1975), p. 166.

41Adrian Webster, "The Cosmic Background Radiation," Scientific

American, August 1974, p. 31.

42J. V. Narlikar, "Singularity and Matter Creation in Cosmological

Models," Nature: Physical Science 242 (1973): 136.

43James Barr, Biblical Words for Time (London: SCM Press, 1962),

pp. 80, 145-47.

441 Peter 1:20. (TEV)

45Ephesians 3:11. (TEV)

46Hebrews 1:10-12. (TEV)

 

 

 

This material is cited with gracious permission from:

ASA

P.O. Box 668

Ipswich, MA 01938

http://www.asa3.org/

 

Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at: thildebrandt@gordon.edu