William Lane Craig argues that everything that begins to exist has a cause. But what about the reverse? Do things that don’t begin to exist not have a cause? Do things that exist past eternally require a cause? What about things that exist “outside of time”?

One of the arguments for this may be the fact that cause A always precedes effect B. If B is past eternal, then there can be no moment A which precedes B. Hence, B must have no cause.

At the same time, suppose I observe C, and this C has a beginning. I then make the conclusion that C has a cause, and in its causal history, there must be a first cause that is eternal.

Now, intuitively, it may make less sense to postulate a very complex first cause than a simple first cause. But if the first cause is by definition uncaused, what possible principle could serve to differentiate between these two kinds of first causes? Without this principle, it seems that I now have free license to propose any kind of eternal object to explain something that begins to exist, and then use the fact of it not having a beginning to not have to explain why it is the way it is.

  • For a similar question see philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/50913/…
    – Jo Wehler
    Nov 10, 2023 at 8:59
  • Does this answer your question? How can one not believe in god as the root cause of the universe?
    – Meanach
    Nov 10, 2023 at 10:43
  • That objection that you linked to only works if your premise is “Everything that exists has a cause”, not “Everything that begins to exist has a cause.” As such, the objection is unfounded with respect to Craig’s Kalam argument @JoWehler Nov 10, 2023 at 11:05
  • In the totality of existence, concepts like time, sequence and cause have no meaning. Turn the telescope around, you are trying to use it as a microscope.
    – Scott Rowe
    Dec 16, 2023 at 13:45
  • no, "things" don't "exist"! "things persist"! (potaytoh-potahto;p) ... still, since "existence" and "persistence" are "of the same kind"..and both "sort of eternal" : "cause" (which is also "no thing") doesn't need "cause" ... ("cause" rather needs "things" (and "no things")!?;)
    – xerx593
    Dec 17, 2023 at 17:39

4 Answers 4


Agreed. Isn't that what various religions do with god? You claim something has been there forever without a cause in order to explain the existence of things that have not been around for ever. You are indeed free to play that game yourself. In other answers I have posited that the Giant Pink Bong Rabbit- an ineffable entity existing outside of space and time- might have been responsible for the creation of the Universe (and, for all we know, more besides), and as far as I know, that idea is irrefutable.

  • 1
    Casting this ineffable entity as an ineffable process makes your conjecture more credible. It would make understandable that some process could lead to the emergence of a person's consciousness. Maybe another level of process—like quantum theory—suggests how the raw material of the cosmos could come about. The significant change is shifting from static 'entity' to dynamic 'process'. Nov 11, 2023 at 14:49
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    God was very upset that his pet, the Giant Pink Bong Rabbit, beat him to it!!
    – 8Mad0Manc8
    Dec 16, 2023 at 14:37
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    @ChrisDegnen - See, Marco? You need to come up with even wilder and more unfounded assertions! Try harder!
    – Scott Rowe
    Dec 16, 2023 at 15:03
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    @ScottRowe Perhaps we exist as harmonic vibrations of the giant eternal cosmic Bonnnnng! Dec 16, 2023 at 15:20
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    @ChrisDegnen I heard that sound once. It was so beautiful.
    – Scott Rowe
    Dec 16, 2023 at 15:31

In accordance with @Marco Ocram's answer, I will reference the specific way in which an ancient Greek philosopher, Parmenides - who is the father of ontology - thinks related to your question.

He begins by saying that the correct way of thinking starts with the principle that A is necessarily A; A cannot be A and B at the same time.

The basic foundation of his philosophy is the conept of "being", which is eternal, unchangeable and inseperable. His way of thinking regarding the first priciple - eternal - is like this:

The being could not have been created, because if that was the case, then before it's creation it would be a non-being, which means that it didn't exist. And if something doen't exist then it is not a being. Thus the being is eternal.

Another similar way of thinking of his is this:

  • The being is eternal, it was never born.
  • The being cannot be created from the non-being.
  • The being either exists or it doesn't exist, there cannot be a trird option.

(The translations are mine. I do not know if related material exists in the English language.)

  • I wonder who the mother of ontology is? Mothers seem rather more important than fathers (no one ever asks who the mother is in the delivery room) but they don't get much attention in the literature.
    – Scott Rowe
    Dec 16, 2023 at 13:55

OP: "if the first cause is by definition uncaused, what possible principle could serve to differentiate between these two kinds of first causes?"

This can be explained from a phenomenological point of view. Beings—as things that are—objectively exist as "the copula of a judgement", by cognition joining concepts with predicates, i.e. from Kant's Critique of Pure Reason A598/B626, original here:

Being is evidently not a real predicate, that is, a conception of something which is added to the conception of some other thing. It is merely the positing of a thing, or of certain determinations in it. Logically, it is merely the copula of a judgement.

So, for example, humans make a judgement on the moon and its existence begins, notwithstanding its obvious age.

On the other hand, the judge, a subjective being as in Dasein, is of a higher order of existence, temporal and conscious.

Let us suppose these beings come from Being. In line with the principle of non-contradiction, for beings to come from being, being must not have the characteristics of beings. If Being is the foundation of beings it cannot itself be like a being, otherwise the thing founded would be in its own foundation.

Being, as the basic theme of philosophy, is no class or genus of entities; yet it pertains to every entity. Its 'universality' is to be sought higher up. Being and the structure of Being lie beyond every entity and every possible character which an entity may possess. Being is the transcendens pure and simple. (Heidegger, Being & Time, H.38)

So human Dasein-existence and consciousness, the "I am", emerges from something called Being, which is distinctly different from a being. E.g. a dynamic process of emergence rather than a static concept, although Heidegger is more philosophically idealist and does not admit any determination of Being. From Pathmarks:-

[p.97] The nothing is the "not" of beings, and is thus being, experienced from the perspective of beings.

[p.253] But the clearing itself is being.

The clearing is the noumenal abstraction from which Dasein—amid the twofold concealment of refusal or obstruction—discerns its objects, correctly or mistakenly.

The principle the OP quotes "that everything that begins to exist has a cause" is the principle of sufficient reason. Every being is predicated as having a reason, but Being itself is not a being and is therefore exempted from the principle. Derrida refers to Being as transcendental signified.

Since reason is part of making things intelligible to consciousness reason has some consonance and involvement in Being. So rather than there being a reason for being, rather reason is itself being-like.

The following quotes from Heidegger's The Principal of Reason (1957) sketch out the progression from the principle of reason to its alignment with Being.

Being itself is left as a mystery. More can be said about what it is not than what it is, not that it actually is in the normal sense. It is deduced from "beings come from Being" and Being must be completely different to a being. It is a conclusion of philosophical rigour to which I would be interested to hear objections.

[p.11] In its short formulation [Leibniz's 1686] principle of reason reads: Nihil est sine ratione; nothing is without reason. ... Therefore, according to what the principle itself tells us, it is the sort of thing that must have a reason. What is the reason for the principle of reason?

[p.12] But what are we getting ourselves into if we take the principle of reason at its word and move towards the reason of reasons? Does not the reason of reasons press forward beyond itself to the reason of reason of reasons? If we persist in this sort of questioning, where can we find a respite and a perspective on reason? If thinking takes this path to reason, then surely it can't help but fall intractably into groundlessness.

[p.44] "Nihil est sine ratione": "Nothing is without reason." Every being has a reason. The subject of the principle of reason is not reason, rather: "Every being"; this is predicated as having a reason. The principle of reason is, according to the ordinary way of understanding it, not a statement about reason, but about beings, insofar as there are beings.

[p.49] "Nothing," that is, no being whatsoever "is—without reason."

[p.50–51] [Finally] we hear the principle of reason in a different tonality. Instead of "Nothing is without reason," it now sounds like this: "Nothing is without reason." The pitch has shifted from the "nothing" to the "is" and from the "without" to the "reason". The word "is" in one fashion or another invariably names being. This shift in pitch lets us hear an accord between being and reason. Heard in the new tonality, the principle of reason says that to being there belongs something like ground/reason. The principal now speaks of being. What the principal now says, however, easily falls pray to a misinterpretation. "Ground/reason belongs to being"—one might be inclined to understand this in the sense of "being has a reason," that is, "being is grounded." The popularly understood and presumably valid principium rationis never speaks of this. According to the principal of reason, only beings are ever grounded. On the contrary, "ground/reason belongs to being" is tantamount to saying: being qua being grounds. Consequently, only beings ever have their grounds.

The new tonality reveals the principle of reason as a principle of being. Correspondingly, if we now discuss the principle in the new tonality, we move in the realm of what one can, with a general term, call the "question of being."

  • Now this makes a little more sense. But it is like one long koan. Just watch out when all those copulas get together!
    – Scott Rowe
    Dec 16, 2023 at 13:52

There are problems in the theistic reasoning here, that your question is trying to drive to light, but the answer is a bit more complex than your assumption of a missing "principle".

Causation itself is not a "principle" that can be justified logically. It is a highly useful assumption, that philosophers, scientists, and pretty much all pragmatic humans, find immensely useful. IF we assume that things or situations are caused, then we can try to investigate our causation theories, and confirm or modify them until the modifications are confirmed. Projecting the confirmed theories to other cases is often immensely useful to make predictions about for other related things and situations. This pragmatic rationale to assume causation is not itself logically justified or necessary.

One can, of course, also ask "what caused THAT" for all prior situations and theorized causal circumstances. This leads to an infinite regress of causal rationales needed to develop a complete causal theory of our world, and such an infinite series is -- never completable. The problem of applying "why is that the case" infinitely is called the Munchausen Trilemma, and all of the answers to it are considered fallacies: Is the Münchhausen trilemma really a trilemma?

One can, of course, continue to ask "and why is THAT the case" even for an assertion of a being, or phenomenon "out of time". Asking this question, even if the answer, would not be part of a "time sequence" of causation, is entirely appropriate. A theist asserting an uncaused God caused our universe, and this whole sequenced of causation since, to start -- is just to seize upon one of the legs of the trilemma, and assert a "brute fact" that has no justifications as the answer to "why is that the case". Anti-theists have very appropriately pointed out that one can just assume our physical universe is itself a brute fact. The postulated alternate creators vs. the assumption of a theistic God of the Book, of say the Spaghetti Monster, etc. also are based on this principle that if one postulates an unjustified "brute fact" there are all sorts of different brute facts one can assume, aside from a religious one.

The more philosophically competent theists who have written on this point have attempted to provide just such a justification. One sees this in Aquinas's 5 proofs of God's existence. Aquinas attempted to show how a perfect being out of time is both necessary itself, and would, based on necessary principles, be a creator of this universe. These rationales would not hold up for the spaghetti monster, who is not a "perfection", but instead a specific particularity, and as such is contingent, not necessary.

The consensus of philosophic opinion is that these efforts to show a particular theist presumption is necessary, and that our universe is also necessary, have failed. One particular feature of our universe that is used in other theist arguments, the Fine Tuning argument that its physics constants are peculiarly tuned to support life, explicitly admits that our universe is not "necessary" but could have had all sorts of different properties, and it is therefore entirely contingent. This shows that at least some theist rationales are flawed, and sometimes self-contradictory. But this effort at least was attempted, and your question would benefit from admitting that. This is part of the principle of "steel-manning" rather than "straw-manning" the arguments one is engaging with.

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