In both Christian and Islamic thought the universe is created and this is taken to mean that the universe had a definite beginning. Philosophically we can justify this position by arguing that were we to trace time back it can only go back a finite amount of time.

But suppose that the universe was eternal. It exists now and it has always existed. Putting aside the problem of time, that is, how can an infinite amount of time pass which is perhaps partially resolved by postulating a cyclical universe, we can still ask whether a God could create an eternal universe. Or, in other words, does the notion of an eternal universe dispense with the notion of creation altogether?

Let us examine time in the simple-minded analogy of geometry:

For the usual notion of a created universe, we make a point on the ground, right here, to mark the origin. As time passes we trace a straight line right off that point. This line stretches on. Geometrically we get a half-infinite line stretching in some direction, say, to the East. Now for the eternal universe we have no origin to get us started as we did before, but having the power of the imagination at hand, we simply posit an infinite line.

We stand outside of that line looking at this line that represents the eternal universe.

It seems then plausible that an eternal universe doesn't necessarily dispense with the notion of creation. It appears that it can even more mark the fact that, if creation did happen, it must have happened outside of time, space and causality.

One notes that an eternal universe could be created. Noting that there is a present time, the universe appears then to be created in media res.

  • 1
    "Time" itself is created and has a beginning! Apr 10, 2014 at 6:48
  • Sure, but what kind of beginning? Apr 10, 2014 at 6:54
  • not a timely beginning. but an existing beginning. Apr 10, 2014 at 13:24
  • 1
    Eternal can mean infinite in the future, but not the past, no?
    – rus9384
    Jul 26, 2018 at 16:52
  • 1
    Whatever is created cannot be eternal. The eternal is the uncreated. Hence in large areas of philosophy the word 'created' means emergent, reducible or (metaphysically) unreal, such that a fundamental theory must extend beyond the created world.
    – user20253
    Jul 27, 2018 at 11:35

6 Answers 6


Let's restrict ourselves to these definitions of create and eternal:

Create: bring (something) into existence.

Eternal: lasting or existing forever; without end or beginning.

Then the answer is no.

You can not bring something eternal into existence because that presupposes that it did not exist before it was created. By definition anything that once did not exist and now does exist is not eternal.

This is perhaps just babble in semantics but it is what your questions asks.

However, to not kill the fun of the question, perhaps we can think of eternal as relative to something. It may be possible that something is eternal in relation to one thing but not in relation to something else.

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    That's cool. Like infinity starting ... NOW!
    – dgo
    Apr 17, 2014 at 15:27

The greek word for nature, physis (ϕύσις), was defined by Aristotle as "a kind of being (ούςία). Specifically ... the production of itself, from out of itself, unto itself."

So, in this manner of speaking, the universe is creating itself all the time.

Reference quotation:-

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From Thomas Sheehan's translation of Martin Heidegger's, "On the Essence and Concept of Physis in Aristotle’s Physics B, 1", PDF page 33.

In section: "translations, 1998" : http://religiousstudies.stanford.edu/people/tom-sheehan/publications/


Creation is a concept of the Abrahamic religions but the concept does not exist in Eastern religions or philosophy.

I always find it amusing that philosophers (and scientists) in the West want to divorce their philosophical musings and scientific cosmologies from religion but they find it hard to get rid of the concept of creation. The universe, or universes, are "projected" out of the Godhead which is neither existence nor non-existence, since it is impossible to 'create' something out of nothing.

What we see as the universe is simply a cycle in the eternal projection. What the Abrahamic religions see as the creation of the universe is seen by the East as the start of a cycle. A cycle ebbs and flows, expanding and contracting. Once it contracts, there is a period of quiescence, after which a new cycle of expansion begins. The projection is eternal. It always was and always will be.

Even without a Godhead, why not an eternal universe that ebbs and flows throughout eternity? Outside of the sensual universe there is no time, hence eternal.

Apologies to Dawkins and Hawking, but I find their logic lacking for a creation out of nothing. Their minds are still caught up in their childhood education that there was a creation at all.

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    Fair enough - but that is why I said in both Christian and Islamic thought. Apr 15, 2014 at 16:09
  • There are also certain schools in Islamic & Christian thought that see the world as projections or enamations - for example Suhrawardis illuminationist philosophy. Apr 17, 2014 at 19:47
  • Dawkins and Hawking doubtless were talking about the Big Bang, which can be reasonably said to have created our Universe. There is a very large body of empirical evidence that the Big Bang happened. It's really hard for physicists to reason about what may have caused the Big Bang. Jul 27, 2018 at 21:43
  • @DavidThornley I am not contesting the Big Bang. The Big Bang is the start of a new cycle. This cycle will end after billions of years and after a cycle of rest, there will another Big Bang. There have been an infinite number of cycles previously, and an infinite number of cycles in the future. This is the philosophical ground of all Hindu and Buddhist scripture. Aug 2, 2018 at 4:36

Here's a very brief proof that Universe had a definite beginning.

1) There are well-known physical limits on the amount of information (aka states of matter) in finite volume. Similarly, there are limits on computation (aka events). Combine with the bounds on accessible Universe and conclude that the total number of events that ever happened in the Universe is finite. Huge, but finite.

2) Any set can be well-ordered, and any finite well-ordered set has a minimal element. Construct partial ordering for events that are in relative time-like position, construct well-ordering for time-like events relative to yourself, and identify the minimal element. That minimal element corresponds to the event that preceded all other events of the time relative to you. Call this event "the beginning of the Universe."

3) Finally, notice that for any two observers in communication with each other "the beginning of the Universe" events must coincide because their ability to communicate makes their well-ordering of their pasts compatible.

Therefore, as far as you and I are concerned, there was a definite "beginning of the Universe". It's conceivable that there are other people inside a black hole or beyond observable Universe horizon who have a different opinion on what was the event from which Universe begun, but as far as all inhabitants of Earth are concerned, there was a unique "beginning of the Universe" event, and that was the event when time begun.

  • The observable Universe is clearly finite and had a beginning. There may be infinite other such Universes that stretch eternally into the past and future. There is no known scientific way to contact any such, but if we could communicate we could come to the conclusion that the overall Universe is eternal. Jul 27, 2018 at 21:47

The OP asks, "...does the notion of an eternal universe dispense with the notion of creation altogether?"

As the OP mentions, answering the question in the process, there does not seem to be anything about an eternal universe that would stop it from being also a created, eternal universe. Creation could happen as in Occasionalism. The universe's beginning and ending, its creation, could be constantly going on. There need be no problem with letting such creation occur as long as there is a creator to perform it.

The conflict underlying an eternal universe or a created one is not how long the universe has been around, but the presence of an agent capable of creating the universe.

A half-way point between an eternal, non-created universe and an agent created, eternal-or-not one is what happens with emanation. Here is what Wikipedia says about emanation:

Emanationism is an idea in the cosmology or cosmogony of certain religious or philosophical systems. Emanation, from the Latin emanare meaning "to flow from" or "to pour forth or out of", is the mode by which all things are derived from the first reality, or principle. All things are derived from the first reality or perfect God by steps of degradation to lesser degrees of the first reality or God, and at every step the emanating beings are less pure, less perfect, less divine. Emanationism is a transcendent principle from which everything is derived, and is opposed to both creationism (wherein the universe is created by a sentient God who is separate from creation) and materialism (which posits no underlying subjective and/or ontological nature behind phenomena being immanent).

With emanation our universe would be eternal or not depending on whether whatever emanates us, law of nature or Platonic form or other transcendent reality, is itself eternal or not. These emanating realities, if they exist, need not make a choice and so the mindless act of emanation is not an act of creation requiring an active agent.

The two other positions, creationism or materialism take solid stands on the issue of agency. To see the significance of agency consider some thoughts about the big bang, one from a religious perspective and one from a materialist perspective.

From the religious perspective, consider William Lane Craig's reference to al-Ghazali in Theism, Atheism, and Big Bang Cosmology, page 66:

Why did the universe begin to exist when it did instead of existing from eternity? The answer to Kant's conundrum was carefully explained by al-Ghazali and enshrined in the Islamic principle of determination. According to that principle, when two different states of affairs are equally possible and one results, this realization of one rather than the other must be the result of the action of a personal agent who freely chooses one rather than the other.

What creation provides is the existence of a personal agent who makes choices, one of them being whether to create the universe now or at all. If the universe is not eternal, that just reinforces the belief in the existence of such an agent making a choice.

From the materialist perspective, consider this quote from the Epilogue of Lawrence Krauss A Universe From Nothing, page 181:

As I have argued, one person's dream is another person's nightmare. A universe without purpose or guidance may seem, for some, to make life itself meaningless. For others, including me, such a universe is invigorating.

Note the "without purpose or guidance". It is important for the materialist to emphasize the lack of agency, the lack of choice, in getting our universe from nothing just as it is important for the religious person to emphasize the likelihood of agency.

Let's return to the question: does an eternal universe make a created universe unlikely? The word "eternal" suggests what is important is an issue of time. The word "created" suggests that the important issue is one of agency.


Craig, W. L., & Smith, Q. (1993). Theism, atheism, and big bang cosmology.

Krauss, L. M. (2012). A universe from nothing: Why there is something rather than nothing. Simon and Schuster.

Lee, Sukjae, "Occasionalism", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2016/entries/occasionalism/>.

Wikipedia contributors. (2019, March 27). Emanationism. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 22:13, April 13, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Emanationism&oldid=889763838


You must distinguish the universe (reality, realm, dream or whatever) from the existence. Like it or not , logically it is 100% possible that a creator (God?) created the universe. But the assumption that God created the existence, leads to the conclusion that God origins from beyond the existence, so if you agree that God does not make part of the existence then you must also agree that God does not exist.

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