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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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-
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
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
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
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
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-
. . . 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
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
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-
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."
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 (
1951), p. 527.
Malcolm, Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir (
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 (
1964), pp. 174, 176.
5Bertrand Russell, "A Free Man's Worship," in Why I Am Not a
Paul Edwards (
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
10John Hospers, An Introduction to Philosophical Analysis, 2d ed.
(London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1967), p. 434.
Rowe, The Cosmological Argument (
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.
Jaki, Science and Creation (
Scottish Academic Press, 1974), p. 347.
King, The Universe Unfolding (
Freeman & Co. 1976), p. 462.
18John Gribbin, "Oscillating Universe Bounces Rack," Nature 259
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 (
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
28Gribbin, "Oscillating Universe," p. 16.
29R. G. Swinburne, Space and Time (London: Macmillan, 1968), p.
304; Adolf Grunbaum, Philosophical Problems of Space and
1973), p. 262.
30P. C. W. Davies, personal letter.
Zwart, About Time (
Publishing Co., 1976), pp. 117-19.
CREATIO EX NIHILO 13a
32Davies, Physics, p. 104.
34David Hume to John Stewart, February 1754, in The Letters of
David Hume, 2
vols., ed. J. Y. T. Greig (
Press, 1932), 1:187.
35D. Broad, "Kant's Mathematical Antinomies," Proceedings of the
Aristotelian Society 55 (1955): 10.
36Zwart, Time, p. 240.
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.
Einstein, Out of My Later Years (
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 . (TEV)
46Hebrews -12. (TEV)
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