Bertrand Rusell writes in his essay "Why I Am Not A Christian":

There is no reason why the world could not have come into being without a cause; [...]

Warren Rachelle, however, states in his response:

To simply state that "there is no reason why the world could not have come into being without first cause" without defending this assertion is an inadequate argument against the notion of the Prime Mover.

My question is very simple: Is it, as Russell seems to imply, possible for something to have no cause and why?

  • A further potential refinement here might ask instead after philosophical sources for the idea rather than simply asking if it is 'possible.'
    – Joseph Weissman
    Commented Sep 9, 2011 at 0:13
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    Of course it's possible. It's not only possible, it must be the case. While all theories of a prime mover a bound to be false, assuming a prime mover nec. implies that there is no cause for the prime mover itself. Q.E.D.
    – Rom
    Commented Sep 21, 2011 at 0:49
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    Yes. Why do I say "yes"? Because, ... well, ... there is no because. (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)
    – Jas 3.1
    Commented Jul 16, 2012 at 3:44
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    @Rom This age-old objection to the idea of an unmoved mover is horribly misunderstood. It is possible for something to not have a cause, but that thing would have to have no potential (never change), which is the definition of a deity. That deity cannot change in any way. The physical world, however, constantly changes, so it must have had an agent cause. This whole question presupposes that the deity in question is changeable, and therefore fallible, and bound to time. Because of this, the mover you talk about is indeed not necessary, but you're misunderstanding the definition of said deity. Commented Jul 9, 2017 at 17:40
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    Lao Tsu tells us that the laws of Heaven and Earth are as they are 'Tao being what it is'. In this way the non-dual doctrine avoids the First Cause problem. Another approach, although it's the same in the end, its to question whether causal phenomena really exist or are in some sense illusory. .
    – user20253
    Commented Oct 20, 2018 at 10:59

8 Answers 8


Both positions are equally unverifiable, and thus equally unfulfilling in this timeless debate. I wanted to clarify somethings that other answers missed.

First, in terms of "who is correct", both positions face the same drawback: they are unable to provide a reason or explanation for how something could occur without being caused.

  • Russell asserts that something (the universe) could have come about without a cause.
  • Rachelle asserts that something (the universe) must have had a cause, but the thing that did the causing (The Prime Mover) was itself uncaused.

Both positions assert there is something that was uncaused which started everything. Only through parsimony (which is not logical argument, but a general heuristic) can we say that Russell's position is more rational to hold, because it requires a lot more evidence to prove a Prime Mover that in turn caused the universe as opposed to stating the universe simply caused itself. Both, however, are rather unsatisfying because neither really provide any evidence either way; they are merely assertions.

Second, other replies have noted that there is nothing technically inconsistent for a change to occur which would appear uncaused in a deterministic system based on pure observation.

there is no apparent inconsistency introduced merely by supposing that some events are uncaused.

and more specifically:

You have a closed machine that is itself a white ball that works without inputs that every 5 seconds produces a ball. It has produced 1 million balls in its lifetime. Every one of those 1 million balls has been white. And each of these balls produces balls and all of them have been white. Is it possible that the next ball it creates will be black? We know why all of the child balls create only white balls and that they can only create white balls. Does this change the yes or no possibility of the parent machine's ability to produce a black ball?

We can not actually answer that question.

This is true, but it only applies to systems of determinism which are arrived at solely through observation (inductive theories). For example, we see the Sun rise 1000 times from the East, we suppose very strongly that it will rise on the 1001th time from the East as well. But there is nothing intrinsically logically contradictory that would suggest it could not rise from the West (astrophysics aside). However, in a system which by its very nature must necessarily be deterministic, such as the one Kant puts forth (1)(2)(3), there is something very inconsistent introduced by supposing that some events are uncaused. Inductive theories of determinism don't assert that the universe is universally deterministic, only that it seems that way. Kant's formulation is deductive, meaning that it not only seems that way, but it necessarily must be so. Thus, if you knew everything about a system, it would be very inconsistent (impossible) for something unexpected to occur (i.e. white ball produce a black ball).

Note that in a deterministic system that is necessarily deterministic, it is still possible for unexpected things to occur because it is essentially impossible to "know everything" about any sufficiently complex system.

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    Very good summary of the previous responses :) Thanks!
    – eflorico
    Commented Sep 13, 2011 at 13:17

The thesis of a Prime Mover assumes that there is something with no cause: for instance, the Prime Mover itself. Assuming the presence of a Prime Mover not only fails to eliminate the existence of causeless events, but also supposes an additional (uncaused) object whose only logical purpose is otherwise to give causes (by an unspecified mechanism) to events that might not otherwise have any.

However, more to the point is this: there is no apparent inconsistency introduced merely by supposing that some events are uncaused. It is outside of our experience, but this is not the same as being logically impossible. Indeed, it's trivial to come up with all sorts of logically consistent stories in which something happened without a cause; the traditional formulation of the Big Bang theory is one such theory. (You could ask how the universe came from nowhere: but the answer would be in that case that "it just happened", without there being any particular reason — that's what it means to be "uncaused".)

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    Great answer, +1. I'd only add that the whole notion of causality is far more complex than some might initially suspect; Hume is the canonical reference in this regard. But regardless, Rachelle's attempted rebuttal of this point falls flat. Commented Sep 8, 2011 at 19:28
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    @Chad: this is only a question of parsimonious models of the world: you feel that it is not parsimonious to suppose that the future will be much different than the past. If you do consider it more simpler to suppose that every effect has a cause, then it may be more satisfying to you to suppose that there is an infinite regress of causes and effects, which is also not logically impossible (and the only alternative to there being uncaused causes, barring a deep conceptual advance in mathematics). So you have a choice between uncaused causes, and infinite regress. Commented Sep 8, 2011 at 21:15
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    @codebolt: as for advocates of the Big Bang who say "it just sort of happened", you should make a distinction between those who say that it happened for no reason and that's final, and those who say it happened for no reason that we have figured out yet; those who are dogmatically asserting that nothing can have caused it, and those who are merely reporting that the simplest model consistent with observation is the one in which it happened "for no reason (that we know of)". In any case, if you like Tegmark's proposal, what do you care for "causes" anyway? Commented Sep 8, 2011 at 21:18
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    @Chad: why do you think that infinite regress needs a "solution"? It's perfectly comprehensible, and has no apparent contradictions in it. In any case, I'm no cosmologist, and am not defending the Big Bang model: It's just a well-known example which can be found outside of religion. (I accept it, provisionally, myself, but then I try to accept almost everything provisionally at most.) I'm just making the point that saying that "it is natural for something to exist" just pushes the exact same question of origins vs. regress back one level. Commented Sep 9, 2011 at 14:05
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    @codebolt: w.r.t to the idea that the multiverse cannot possibly be any other way -- indeed, is that so? And w.r.t. Platonism, you should be aware that you're speaking to a formalist and fictionalist, which I suppose would be to Platonism as Bertrand Russell is to St. Augustine on matters of logic and religion. Commented Sep 9, 2011 at 23:04

If there was a first state, it had no cause. To ask for something's cause is necessarily to ask about something prior to that thing. If there was a first state, there could not have been anything prior to it, so it was necessarily uncaused.

So far as we know, the only two possibilities is that there was a first state or that there was an infinite number of past states. The problem with an infinite number of past states is that you cannot, in actual physical reality, complete an infinite number and then continue on to do more.

So I think either there was a first, uncaused state, or the origin is something we are presently incapable of imagining.

The reason it is possible for something to have no cause is simply that we know of no reason it is impossible, and the only alternative we know of does seem to be impossible. However, it's also possible the reality is something we do not know, and does not require anything to be uncaused. So the evidence is not conclusive that there can be an uncaused condition.


Rachel does not assert the 'uncaused cause' as "asserted" by the answer marked as correct. You need to be ignorant of the existence of Thomas Aquinas's Five Ways to reach that conclusion.

To summarize the Five ways in a paragraph, they are

1) The First Way: Argument from Motion 2) The Second Way: Argument from Efficient Causes 3) The Third Way: Argument from Possibility and Necessity (Reductio argument) 4) The Fourth Way: Argument from Gradation of Being 5) The Fifth Way: Argument from Design

You'll find a succinct explanation of these Five ways here

It is expounding on these five ways that Aquinas is able to demonstrate that all reality - that involves change or possibility, design or degrees of being - when traced back to their causes needs to stop at a first cause that is uncaused, otherwise it would fall into infinite regress. It is simply not true that the uncaused First cause is merely asserted. Rather Aquinas reaches this conclusion precisely because of the empirical observations in the Five Ways. Later Thomists have tried to defend the view to an array of disagreements from Hume to modern day opponents. But just to comment on the infinite regress problem.

The problem with infinite regress is itself debated on this stackexchange thread. But I'd like to quote the answer currently on top provided by Niel de Beaudrap:

We must first distinguish between what is physically possible — what it is possible to actually occur — and what is imaginable, or logically possible under certain premises.

So the problem with Infinite Regress is that in regard to the universe, we are not talking of some prime number problem but a real world of physical entities called the universe. As we don't doubt that we all truly exist, to then make do with the idea that there's no uncaused first cause and an infinite regress is an "ok" kind of a solution would be to move from the real (us, our society, family and the world) to the abstract (like a series of numbers). The Uncaused First cause is not religion or some hypothesis, it simply tries to understand reality as we know it. Which is why when talking of who or what truly created this world, it doesn't help to suddenly take a leap from the real world of causation to the abstract world of logic/imagination

Uncaused First Cause is not - as @StoicFury (answer marked correct) says - just an assertion( without an explanation). It is rather due the demonstration of the Five Ways of Aquinas that we are lead to understand that there must be an Uncaused Cause. To refute the uncaused First cause, you would have to take on the Five Ways and not merely state the assertion of an uncaused Cause as incorrect or lacking evidence.

You'll find Edward Fesser's book on the Five Proofs that explain some of Ways of Thomas Aquinas as a well received book very coherently elaborated to get to the Uncaused First Cause.

  • I made an edit which you may roll back or continue editing. Welcome to this SE! Commented Oct 20, 2018 at 10:27
  • I didn't recognize you made an edit and I may have mistaken rolled it back. Sorry Frank, you can put back your edit if you have the time.
    – veritas
    Commented Oct 20, 2018 at 11:09
  • No problem. I mainly make the edits to show new users what is possible here. Again, welcome. Commented Oct 20, 2018 at 11:43

You have a closed machine that is itself a white ball that works without inputs that every 5 seconds produces a ball. It has produced 1 million balls in its lifetime. Every one of those 1 million balls has been white. And each of these balls produces balls and all of them have been white. Is it possible that the next ball it creates will be black? We know why all of the child balls create only white balls and that they can only create white balls. Does this change the yes or no possibility of the parent machine's ability to produce a black ball?

We can not actually answer that question. But is it reasonable to expect that when those things that it spawns produce in a way that seems consistent to the way that it produces that it is more likely that it is not possible for the parent to produce a black ball than that it is.

In the universe everything we know has a cause. Certain things are consistent throughout the universe. One of them is that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. The very essence of everything, matter, has anti matter that cancels it out. So is it reasonable to believe that though everything else has a cause that there is a finite solution that has no cause. And that the finite solution that has no cause is the Universe of Existence?

It may be possible to get outside of the universe of existence. But then if we are outside of it the definition of something would fall apart as something is included in existence. So within the subset that is existence as inferred by the wording of the question, it is not reasonable to expect that the Universe of Existence has no cause.

So while I cannot know for certain that there is a cause, until such time as something else is demonstrated to also not have a cause, I can see no valid argument for the belief that the universe is a unique outlier despite a 100% inclusion of its parts.

And my point is that just because we can not rule it out does not mean that it is actually possible. Take a variable X. X is set to 1. It is never changed. X has the potential to be 0 but it has been set to 1 and never changed so it is not possible for it to be 0 unless it is changed. So while everything has the potential to be uncaused nothing actually is. So if nothing is uncaused then it is not possible for something to be uncaused. Our inability to prove this does not change the actuality.

  • Interesting that you choose an example of white balls and black balls; it's reminiscent of the "black swan problem", where people wondered how they could be certain that there were no black swans: before, of course, it was discovered that black swans actually do exist. — Are you quite sure that everything we've observed (including the particular results of quantum measurements) have causes? In any case, you are still left answering the reason why there exists something rather than nothing ("because it's natural to" begs the question). Commented Sep 9, 2011 at 16:35
  • Your point is not bad - however, my question was referring to the possibility of the existence of something without cause, not the probability. Russell, too, doesn't believe this - he merely states that it is a possibility.
    – eflorico
    Commented Sep 13, 2011 at 13:13
  • @eWolf - I have updated my answer to show that I do not think that is possible.
    – Chad
    Commented Sep 13, 2011 at 13:24
  • @Chad I don't agree with your added point. First of all, we don't know that nothing is uncaused. We know however, that we only know a small part of the universe. Hence, the probability that there is something without cause even inside of our universe is not negligible. Second, by stating that X cannot possibly be 0 just because it never was you simply reiterate your previous point, this time simply replacing probability by possibility. But isn't your potential the same as possibility?
    – eflorico
    Commented Sep 13, 2011 at 13:36
  • @eWolf - No. Possiblitiy says that 1 in x number of times this is likely to be the state. In the example above it is never the state. So while it is possible to set the state to 0 the state is never set to 0 so it is not possible to ever actually be 0. And that is my point. Just because we do not know does not mean it is possible. We have been looking for a long time (10k+ years) for causes and every thing we have found has a cause. As such until such time as can be proved otherwise we can reasonably assume that everything has a cause.
    – Chad
    Commented Sep 13, 2011 at 13:44

If it's not off topic, I would like to mention some insights from physics. Our concepts of causality are deeply linked to our picture of time.

It has long been recognised, since general relativity described time as a dimension along with those of space, and pointed towards our origins in a big bang, that time as we know it did not exist before any singularity, assuming there was one (it could have started at a given size, eg Planck scale). A common view among physicists is that the singularity could have occured from a quantum fluctuation, and be essentially random, and just one of infinite possible outcomes of the fundamental constants which could have 'crystalised' out. It is widely suspected the energy, angular momentum, and other variables, of the universe as a whole cancel out, which would seem to support this.

In the Wheeler-DeWitt equation, which is our best attempt to describe the relativistic quantum evolution of the universe as a whole, time drops out. And with quantum systems in general like electron orbitals, we deal with state spaces and probabilities, rather than conventional time evolution. In loop quantum gravity, the main competitor to string theory, Carlo Rovelli describes probabilities 'crowding around' interactions, with time-ordering just the result of what is closest, which may point toward how to think of things happening without time.

Probably the deepest insight we have in accepted physics is called Noether's theorem - more people should know about this remarkable woman's profound contribution (https://www.sciencenews.org/article/emmy-noether-theorem-legacy-physics-math). Her insight is that conservation laws are directly equivalent to symmetries. You probably remember using a mirror to identify rotational, reflected, and translational symmetries of geometrical shapes. It turns out those have deep implications and for instance, frame invariance, not being able to tell from within a system that you are moving or spinning, are directly equivalent to conservation of linear and rotational momentum. So the principles we use to define causality, conservation of mass, energy, charge etc directly arise with the nature of the place in which things are experienced.

Susskind and others have used the idea of information conservation to resolve the black hole information paradox. This is basically that the old picture thought black holes could evaporate with no record left even in principle to record what went in. That could be viewed as a 'break' in causality, and the resolution like this, that even at any big bang singularity causality may hold, perhaps points toward an eternal universe rather than one created at finite-time. The bigger picture of information conservation points toward the Many Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, in which information is conserved from all quantum outcomes, but we only see some of them in our slice of the multiverse.

I don't know if that contributes to answering the question, except to suggest in deep ways, we don't know yet. Resolving the nature of time is arguably the biggest remaining problem in physics, and causality will follow it.


Our understanding is limited by its capacity, knowledge and our ability to link facts. Also our understanding is limited by what we consider logical (our logic system).

Some thing(s) can indeed happen for no cause (that is no cause known to us). Take for example cell chemistry interactions that happen inside the cell. The stone age man did not know the cell existed let alone its chemistry, but the reactions were working fine then.

Two concepts that are play here, it may not be correct to consider our reasoning to be the only valid reasoning and our knowledge to be complete knowledge. Hence, our ability to identify the cause and justify it is limited and may be wrong.

  • You are right that our understanding is limited. However I feel like you miss the point after that statement - there is a fundamental difference between something happening for no cause known to us and something happening for no cause at all!
    – eflorico
    Commented Sep 13, 2011 at 13:18


Link: Cosmological Argument

This argument may have perfected the argument that you know is: "because of the infinite backward search is not possible, then it will end to the earliest of Something" (cosmological argument), where I made perfection by abolishing the reasons relied on "the consequences of infinity", and by looking at what happens if the idea of ​​infinity in this argument is sustained, then observe the consequences.

A Causal Chain

New creation asserts a causal chain: If there is a new creation, therefore we can trace backward to previous cause

----- Your Objection: There is no evidence for new creation, just conservation of energy.

The Law of Conservation of Energy: Related to your objection, new creation is new conversion from one form of energy to another form energy and from the current form of energy we can trace back to something that has ability to make a new appearance of new form of energy. And if this tracing is ended at one thing, which is energy itself, this huge energy must be considered as the first cause or if we disagree with it then we must accept there is possibility to trace back to the source of energy that doesn't relate to the law of conservation energy.

And this energy as the first cause must be considered as the uncaused conscious energy, and if we disagree with it then we have to accept that human (that has consciousness) is not coming from energy (this open new perspective as a causal chain that has no relation with your objection). -----

Infinite Backward

Infinite backward asserts new creation: If an infinite backward asserts there is no creation then there will be an ended point as an uncaused cause, therefore we try another assertion to assert the consequences

----- Your objection: no logical support for infinite backward causality.

Infinite backward can be considered as our trial to push our logical to the farthest extent and see where is it going to? To make us clear that any possibilities thinking on something (even the impossible one) always assert finite backward causality. And eventually forcing any kind of thinking will lead us to conclusion to finite causality. That's one point. The second point: your statement asserts there is finite backward causality. -----

Opposite Direction of Causal Chain

Infinite backward asserts a causal chain: If infinite backward asserts new creation, then there is a causal chain at forward direction closer to current

The Intersection of The Two Opposite Directions of The Causal Chain

Backward direction and forward direction of causal chain are ended at the uncaused cause: The two points close together assert consequences that each of the two points must be an uncaused cause or both of the two points as uncaused causes, therefore for the last consequence if there is no one as a cause for the other then it asserts there is a creation that exist from nowhere which is an uncaused cause itself.


  1. New creation (new form or new function) asserts a causal chain

  2. Infinite backward asserts new creation (new form or new function)

    • therefore, infinite backward asserts a causal chain, and further, backward direction and forward direction of causal chain are ended at the uncaused cause


  • Axiom: Something (without additional assertions) can't transcend beyond something itself.

    From one liter water (without additional assertions) can't be poured as much as 1 gallon water. Meaning: All existences (without additional assertions) can not transcend beyond all existences (their self)

  • All Existences are Fixed (or aren't fixed):

    If the number of all existences are not fixed, then, the number of all existences (without additional assertions) transcend beyond all existences (their self). It against axiom.

    • Therefore: The number of all existences are fixed. It asserts there is finite regression. In other words, there is an uncause caused (there is only finite backward)

Is it possible for something to have no cause?: YES, FOR SURE!

  • we have to agree that causality has to stop somewhere, it’s not because we think there is missing links and that we should make our own completion behind the infinite to create reasoning by linking it to something to create completion that it could be considered as “makes sense”, as classical understanding, but,

  • we have to agree that causality has to stop somewhere, because consequences of infinite itself (in any possible ways) insist us to go to the single pointer as “the earliest”.

For complete understanding, please refer to this.

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    If you have a revision to make, you should just update your answer. I'm not really sure what's going on here but it looks like you're having a conversation with yourself which is not really what comments are for. You might also consider revising your answer into a more compact, condensed version; right now it's rather unfocused and verbose, which is why it's probably not getting the attention you desire.
    – stoicfury
    Commented Jul 17, 2012 at 3:11

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