Events in the natural world are determined to have temporal cause and a temporal effect.

One temporal event is the cause of another temporal event which is the effect of that temporal cause and forms a chain, and this is considered natural. Considering the premise that there is a beginning to time, it logically follows that this event had no natural cause: natural causes and their effects are temporal in nature and there was no time before the beginning of time.

Does this paradox mean that the only explanation of the cause of this first event, the beginning of time, had to have a non temporal non natural cause or rather a supernatural cause, despite any evidence of a supernatural cause having any natural effect in the natural world since this first event? Is there thus no other explanation of the premise that there was a beginning of time other than it had a supernatural cause, or natural events can happen without natural or supernatural causes ?


5 Answers 5


Events in the natural world are determined to have temporal cause and a temporal effect.

That may have been tenable pre-quantum mechanics, but we have evidence and supporting theory to suggest that not all events have a cause (e.g., fission of a particular radionuclide) even within time, let alone in the extremely rarefied, completely unrelatable "beginning of time". It's a huge stretch to take classical intuition and move it to a region where none of that holds.

Let's assume for sake of argument that there is no flavor of multiverse and we are not some vacuum fluctuation in a pre-existing, empty spacetime.

The fact that there is a "T=0" means there is no temporal antecedent to the big bang, and we are not allowing ourselves the easy out of "cosmic matryoshka doll"-style models.

So where does that leave us? Science doesn't have a theory for what things were like at T=0. It gets closer and closer but is not quite there. However, if we don't do some kind of embedding argument (multiverse/fluctuation) then we have a situation where all of reality is temporally bounded from below. There truly was a beginning of everything and asking "what happened before this" is just contradictory with "the beginning of time" and the normal use of "before".

One conclusion is that we accept the boundedness of our universe and the concepts we used to describe it. The moment at the beginning is timeless, and perhaps literally so if we take a block-universe eternalism view. The beginning of an expanding universe is as much a "where" as a "when" if taken to its literal extreme of infinite density (which may not hold up if/when we get a consistent quantum theory of gravity -- or we invent something completely new).

Or....we say that T=0 was an uncaused cause and therefore this moment is God (albeit a very deflationary and unappealing one from a theological viewpoint). It could be that time and reality/existence may be inextricably linked and so one cannot have timeless existence. In such a case, T=0 is a necessary, uncaused event.

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    +1 for the judgement of the last passage. - But what does mean "per Kalam"?
    – Jo Wehler
    Commented Oct 25, 2023 at 16:08
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    @JoWehler kalam cosmological argument -- the argument that there needs to be an uncaused cause and that cause is God.
    – Annika
    Commented Oct 25, 2023 at 16:09
  • @JoWehler removed it as I it's not value-added to the sentence.
    – Annika
    Commented Oct 26, 2023 at 21:21
  • Does he use of temporarily bounded mean there is a boundary of time such that there is a beginning and an end to time ? There is either no begining to time and no end of time, no begining to time and an end to time,a begining to time and no end of time, or a beginingg to time and an end of time? and how can time be below? to me below is the relative position between two objects in space and no object is either below or above on the right side or left side or the front or the back, to another object in space?
    – 8Mad0Manc8
    Commented Oct 27, 2023 at 9:30
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    @8Mad0Manc8 correct -- perhaps my math background showing up lol. Clearly was not a helpful term for some.
    – Annika
    Commented Oct 27, 2023 at 13:58

Annika is right, if we handle time in the "classical" sense then the universe is bounded from below i.e., there exists a hard boundary condition on time.

But this is not the only possibility for how the universe was structured at time "almost zero". Decades ago Stephen Hawking devised a consistent mathematical model in which you still get a big bang (hence furnishing us with a universe in which such things can be pondered) despite having no boundary conditions at T=0. I am not a professional mathematician so I do not know how he came up with such an artful contrivance but I do know that the big bang would have erased any evidence of it by the time physicists, pencils, and paper had evolved, rendering the hypothesis untestable.

Currently in the physics world there is a lot of activity around devising mathematical models in which three-dimensional space is an emergent property of time, which changes the fundamental idea of what a boundary condition even means. See Smolin's book Time Reborn, chapter 15 for useful details about this.

  • @nielsnielsen For the book of Smolin "Time reborn" see his presentation and talk youtube.com/watch?v=ATxi0_-7HqQ
    – Jo Wehler
    Commented Oct 25, 2023 at 18:06
  • Do you have an opinion on the trustworthiness of Smolin's conclusions? I found Time Reborn useful but lack the expertise to properly judge or recommend it.
    – g s
    Commented Oct 25, 2023 at 19:42
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    @gs, i am in the same boat as you. -NN Commented Oct 25, 2023 at 21:44
  • @8Mad0Manc8: Oh, it's even worse than that. Your entire premise is bunk, as there are models of reality, particularly conformal cyclic models, where there is no earliest time. Instead, what we perceive as the beginning of time is merely the beginning of the current inflationary regime within our locally observable universe. The universe could be expanding forever, without beginning or end, giving rise to physics as energy self-interacts across expanding spacetime.
    – Corbin
    Commented Oct 26, 2023 at 18:51
  • Yes Roger Penrose (I think) proposed that but simply put it is the proposition that time does have a beginning and it also does not have a beginning. However, I point you to temporal finitism, and the proposition that If time had no beginning how do we get to the present by succesive addition from an infinite past.
    – 8Mad0Manc8
    Commented Oct 26, 2023 at 20:47

Your question, let’s call it the problem of beginning, intrigues philosophers and scientists since time immemorial.

The problem of beginning exists

  • in a local version each time when one decides to initiate a chain of actions
  • and in a global version when one asks for the beginning of the whole world.

Kant in his “Critique of pure Peason (CpR)” names the local version the human capability “to initiate causal chains of itself without prior grounds”. Then he deals with the follower problem to make compatible the two domains of natural causality and human freedom. The problem is related to the problem of Free Will.

Kant also deals with the global problem. He dismisses the alternative “Either the world has a beginning or the world does not have a beginning” as the first antinomy of pure reason (CpR B 452). He shows that the antinomy cannot be resolved. Hence one has to dismiss the question. More precisely, one has to finish with statements about the world as a whole. Here we reach, according to Kant, a limit of human reason.

IMO the local question, the question of Free Will, can be solved. One has to show how to make compatible objective causality and the subjective feeling of free will. But that’s a whole different problem. Referring to this you find several questions in this blog.

IMO the global question is presently unsolved. Science, in particular astrophysics, has no explanation of the beginning. I would even question that we already have the right concepts to pose the question.

Nevertheless, science gives a good explanation for the time after the first fractions of a second after the beginning - if there exists a beginning. On the other hand, the religious attempt to answer the global question by a “deus ex machina” seems to be no more than to explain the obscure by the more obscure.

Also for the global problem there are several questions in this blog.

  • I like the local vs global idea and Kant's view on this as an unresolvable truth (either a or not a but we cannot decide a). If everything literally started at T=0 (so there is a beginning) but there is no "further back" (time stops) and we take this as a brute fact, backed by the reasoning that there is no world where T<0 exists (necessarily) [at least the ordinary/phenomenological time T]), then couldn't we say the world is eternal (exists for all time) and was also the first "local cause" (per your local question)?
    – Annika
    Commented Oct 25, 2023 at 19:55
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    @Annika Big Bang is a limit point in the mathematical sense and a proper singularity of the standard cosmological model with inflation. The theory is silent about nature at the singularity. Hence the expression “T<0” is an undefined notion like asking: What is less than “minus infinity”? - That the world is eternal without beginning means “If we could measure time with physical clocks, an infinite amount of time has passed until today”. And that’s different from considering Big Bang as a limit point: The limit point is reached after about 13.6 billions of years when going back in time.
    – Jo Wehler
    Commented Oct 25, 2023 at 20:30
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    @Annika I am not sure that we use the terms local and global above in the same sense. Smolin in his lecture about his book referenced by NilsNielsen in his answer of the OP's question emphasizes: In the global case of the universe we cannot change the initial conditions and run the experiment again and again. That's different in the local context which happens over and over again.
    – Jo Wehler
    Commented Oct 25, 2023 at 21:01
  • Thanks for clarifying— limit point makes sense to me!
    – Annika
    Commented Oct 25, 2023 at 21:07

The mental models we humans have made of the world around us, for hundreds of thousands of years until about 100 years ago, only reflect reality at our scale of time, space, mass and energy. A centimeter up to a few kilometers, a split second up to a human life span, a milligram up to a few tons, a few microjoule to a few kilojoule. For us, the Earth is flat, there is no conservation of momentum (because a bouncing super-ball simply jumps up after falling, completely reversing momentum) and no conservation of energy (because all movement eventually comes to a standstill unless there is some propulsion). Masses, obviously, do not attract each other.

Gradually, through machine-assisted measurements, observations and theoretical consolidation we came to the conclusion that these supposedly self-evident tenets do not hold. Specifically, Albert Einstein showed in his 1905 paper Zur Elektrodynamik bewegter Körper that there is no absolute order of points in time. In other words, the implicit concept of a universal time in your question is more than 118 years old. While there is a concept of causality in Relativity Theory, it is strange and I have no qualified idea how spacetime is supposed to behave around the big bang, which is super strange.

And then consider that it would be very surprising if our current knowledge were close to the "bottom of reality"; if all that's left to do was to connect a few loose ends, sweep up the remaining crumbs, close down the physics departments and call it a day.

Among other things, perhaps there wasn't a big bang at all — all kinds of ad-hoc things have to be invented to explain it.

Bottom line: I think it is pointless to do serious philosophy about physics. For example, most non-physicists writing about quantum physics are esoteric loonies. In my layman's opinion, even many physicists do not have a "proper" understanding of fundamental matters (they merely know which formula to apply and are able to do the math, but do not "understand" what it "means"), or there are several of those understandings competing (for example, Einstein, who should really know, was always unhappy about the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics). There is really no room for laymen.


We don't know what happened before start of time. If we apply common sense reasoning, we conclude that there must have been a cause for the start of time, and the cause must have operated before the start of time, which then leads us into a muddle because the phrase 'before the start of time' is self-contradictory, rather as the concept of being 'outside space' implies a contradiction.

Given that, what are the possible options? Here are some:

  1. Time is circular in some way, so that it doesn't have a beginning or an end.
  2. Time stretches infinitely backwards, so it doesn't have a beginning, even if the Universe did- there was infinite time before the Big Bang.
  3. Time and the Universe sprang up at random from nothing (I find that a very unconvincing suggestion).
  4. There is a wider context outside our Universe that we have no access to, and possibly will never be able to imagine and grasp because of inherent limitations to human mental ability.
  5. There was a creator of the sort envisaged by theist religions.

If I had to put my money on one of those, it would be 4).

  • Yes I think our minds lack the capacity to think non temporally as our language is developed upon us experiencing time, space and the objects within in it and we use that language to describe our experience of it and to navigate through it.
    – 8Mad0Manc8
    Commented Oct 26, 2023 at 14:28
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    I would suggest that 5 could be "as 4, but we can infer some aspects of it by making and confirming/disconfirming predictions about our own universe that follow from certain hypotheses about the wider context", with subcategories for scholarly theisms and physics-oriented approaches.
    – g s
    Commented Oct 26, 2023 at 16:16
  • @gs thanks, yes, I agree- 5) is really a subset of 4). I felt I ought to list them separately because of the point I made in my final sentence- I wouldn't put my money on the idea of god. Commented Oct 26, 2023 at 18:19

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