I don't have enough rep to comment or participate in the thread that prompted this post but I wanted to discuss the argument posted here:

How can you disbelieve in god?

The most popular answer at the moment seems to be the one from Phillip or Jo:

The alternative between existence and non-existence of a creator god cannot be decided by the argument of the first cause.

Whoever argues that a first cause is needed and that this first cause is god, has to answer the question:

What is the cause of the creator god?

My question might seem silly, but: why?

In the context of this particular question, why do people ask: "who created God?"

That leads to "who created the one that created God?", and so on, ad infinitum.

For example, when someone asks "why do objects fall to the ground" and someone answers: "gravity" - that's usually taken as a sufficient answer.

Or this for example:

Let's say a bunch of very advanced machinery was found on the dark side of the moon.

What would be the best explanation of this finding would be?

After learning that the machinery did not belong to any country that has space capability and after realizing this machinery was well beyond our technology - we'd likely conclude an advanced alien race left it there.

We'd obviously have lots of questions about them but those questions would not invalidate the answer. Even if we asked the question: "who created the aliens" it would not invalidate our previous answer.

So why to people require it here?

Please note I am not advocating for a particular belief system. I am advocating for a universe that is not random. I'm not inviting morality discussion here or anything like that. I'm just looking to know why we have to prove the one who created god before we can say there is a god who created the universe.

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    Perhaps because the first cause's existence is arrived at by a special pleading in the first place, and of the same nature. In the ordinary discourse there are no first causes, we can always ask the next why. So why should the chain of why-s come to an end this one time? (Even aside from the leap from a faceless first cause to the much more specific "creator god"). In contrast, gravity and aliens are arrived at by surmise from past experience, so the analogy fails.
    – Conifold
    Apr 12 '18 at 21:41
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    Short counter question: why not? Why do we have to satisfy our curiosity with the stupidly banal claim "the First Cause is the first, the only... because it just is". Not even a child's is satisfied by that kind of silliness. The question "what created the creator" is both justified (because the answer is so weak), and a little bit of fun... call it childish petulance if you will... because — intuitively — you know that the human mind is not capable of infinite regress, so sooner or later we have to say "I do not know what the cause of that is".
    – MichaelK
    Apr 13 '18 at 10:08
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    Saying "There is a First Cause and this is it" practically invites to a bit of half-serious, half-joking teasing... because that is as banal and simple to poke a hole in as the always used (and never convincing) parental argument "Because I said so!" .
    – MichaelK
    Apr 13 '18 at 10:10
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    And once we from deism to theism — that is to say the claim: "There is a First Cause; that First Cause is a God; it happens to be the God of the religion of my choice; I also happen to know the mind of that god; and because of that I know that what you are doing now is a sin — then we are way beyond silliness...
    – MichaelK
    Apr 13 '18 at 10:47
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    I think it's worth pointing out that scientists do not simply accept "gravity" as an answer. Many people are still hard at work figuring out how exactly gravity works, and a great many details about how gravity works are already none. It is thus entirely unlike the "God" answer in that it has genuine explanatory power. Apr 13 '18 at 14:06

11 Answers 11


If I correctly understand your question, you ask: Why do people, who are not satisfied with introducing a creator god as first cause, demand a cause of this creator god?

IMO that's obvious: If someone terminates the chain of cause - effect relations by postulating a creator god as first cause, then the question seems legitime: Why not terminating the chain one step earlier and just postulating, that the world exists as its own cause?

I consider this whole discussion about the cause of the world an overestimation of our capabilities to step behind the limits of our knowledge just by reasoning based on general principles. These principles have their value in explaining a lot of phenomena within our world. But questions concerning the cause of the world show the boundaries of our concepts and philosophical principles.

  • But, if the universe exists by its own right, and is responsible for the existence of everything and everything... Is that not one definition of a "god"? I have often encountered people who seem perfectly willing to accept that the universe was triggered by an event (i.e. a "first cause"), or that life was seeded on earth by an extra-terrestrial entity, so long as that initial cause/entity is not labeled "god" - and woe betide anyone who makes such an assertion. That just seems like pointless semantic quibbling to me - either it's "turtles all the way down", or something can be called "god". Apr 13 '18 at 15:23
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    @Chronocidal I think you're describing Pantheism. While I agree there's not a tremendous philosophical difference between this and an abstract entity God, I've found that in conversation people generally view this as a sort of cop-out. Most people wouldn't agree this fits their personal description of God Apr 13 '18 at 15:36
  • @LordFarquaad But, the "First Cause" argument is debating the question "Is there a god?", so you can't counter it by trying to disprove the different question "Does this specific god exist?". The problems are when people jump from one question to the other mid-answer - so "personal description" is largely irrelevant. After all, lots of people believe in a close-shaven white Jesus - as a Jew in 1st-century Judea, both traits are highly unlikely. (This also means that "First cause" can't be used to argue that a specific god exists) Apr 13 '18 at 16:01
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    @Chronocidal I think a major reason for this is that commonly the word "God" is used to mean a lot more than just "an entity that created the world". At least in western culture, the word "God" is commonly understood to describe some variation of the Abrahamic God. Clearly this definition carries a lot of extra meaning beyond just "an entity that created the world", and I conjecture that it's mainly this extra meaning that people commonly are not willing to accept.
    – SamYonnou
    Apr 13 '18 at 16:06
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    "or that life was seeded on earth by an extra-terrestrial entity, so long as that initial cause/entity is not labeled "god"" this doesn't stop us from asking where the extra-terrestrial entities came from.
    – RonJohn
    Apr 14 '18 at 2:36

A different perspective here, from a more physics based background.

First: We can see debris from the big bang, and rough periods when this happened, which is why it is the currently accepted theory. approx 13.7 billion years ago. This is likely when our concept of how time works started occurring.

If God created the universe then he exists outside it.

The universe is the set of dimensions we currently exist in which includes time and space (which seem to be linked in normal space). Outside this, time would not exist (or at least as we would be able to perceive it).

So if God exists then it always existed at least from our perspective within the universe. Who created what and how is only relevant within our universe, as that is how our universe seems to function.

So for god entities that post-date the universe (Grecian and Roman Pantheon etc.) this could be considered a relevant question. But for god entities that predate the universe, it is an irrelevant question.

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    If I create a simulation, I can plausibly affect it even if I'm outside though
    – JollyJoker
    Apr 13 '18 at 10:55
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    I do not understand the meaning of the term "outside it [the universe]" in your answer. Whoever answers, it just means "not inside the universe" has to show first, that objects can exist outside the universe and what the meaning of such statement is.
    – Jo Wehler
    Apr 13 '18 at 16:16
  • The Big Bang is not the beginning of the universe, it's only the beginning of the universe as we know it. The theory and the evidence say absolutely nothing about what happened before and nothing about whether there was a before or not. The only science and evidence based answer to "what happened before the big bang" is "we don't know". It has been hypothesized that time might have begun 13.7 billion years ago leaving the question of what happened before meaningless, but there is no evidence to support this hypothesis. It's just a neat guess. Apr 13 '18 at 18:07
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    Keep in mind that the claim people are taking issue with is not "God created the universe" or "God exists outside the universe", but rather the argument, "Everything must have a cause. Therefore God is that cause. But God doesn't count as part of 'everything' for the purposes of the first statement". The first-cause argument is flawed even if everything you say is true.
    – Ray
    Apr 13 '18 at 21:54
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    @HarryJohnston Not only is there no evidence about those energy levels, those small scales, or a theory of quantum gravity; nothing about the model implies that there is no time. There's just a mathematical singularity in the model and so our model cannot predict what happens before that point because all the math blows up into undefined values. But this implies at that point the model is wrong, not that there is no time. Now, it could be that there is no time before this point, but that's not implied by any evidence, and the fact that our model can't go before then doesn't mean reality can't. Apr 15 '18 at 2:57

Advocating a universe that is not random is advocating for an orderly universe. Order can come from either event causation or agent causation. It does not come from randomness.

It was argued in some of the answers that claiming God does not need a cause because God is eternal is a kind of “special pleading”. However, it is hard to see how that argument makes sense. The Rational Wiki “Special Pleading” article might provide some clues. It has this:

In the Thomistic cosmological argument for the existence of God, everything requires a cause. However, proponents of the argument then create a special case where God doesn't need a cause, but they can't say why in any particularly rigorous fashion.

But this is not how those promoting the kalam argument phrase their first premise. That premise goes like this:

Everything that begins to exist has a cause of its existence.

See William Lane Craig and Quentin Smith, Theism, Atheism, and Big Bang Cosmology, page 4.

That first premise does not say that everything requires a cause. If some reality never began to exist, it would not require a cause. That could be either because it does not actually exist or because it is eternal. The universe could have been in the category of reality that does not need a cause if it were not for the Big Bang or perhaps some philosophical argument for the finitude of the universe. So, the charge of special pleading does not hold.

One could say that those who claim that the Big Bang is causeless are themselves engaging in special pleading if they insist that other events require a cause but not this particular, special, one. They would need to provide an argument in a “particularly rigorous fashion”, according to Rational Wiki, why that special event needs to be handled specially.

Now they could say that no event needs a cause. That is one way out of the special pleading charge and they might have some justification for that with the indeterminism in quantum collapses. However, that would mean giving up on determinism.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Further comments will be removed.
    – user2953
    Apr 13 '18 at 17:10

Your analogy of comparing aliens or gravity to the first cause is extremely flawed and is basically comparing apples to the event horizons of black-holes. We would never ask, "Who created the aliens?", we would ask "What caused them the develop?". We would assume that it was evolution or something similar to evolution since we know that is what happened on Earth and we have precedent for making that assumption.

There is no precedent for the creation of our universe and as far as we know it's only happened once. This is why making analogies to reality, no matter if you believe in god or not, when talking about the first cause is misleading. By definition the first cause cannot have precedent so is therefore beyond explanation.

The big difference between the materialistic and spiritualistic first causes is that in the materialistic view, it is simple energy that has always existed. In the spiritualistic world view, that energy is conscious in some form.

So why do we have to prove the one who created god before we can say there is a god who created the universe? You don't. This is a misunderstanding caused by miscommunication between theists and atheists. The key point in this argument that needs proving is why it's more reasonable to assume that the first cause was a sentient and human-like creature of energy rather than just plain old energy itself.

  • "What caused the aliens to develop?" seems less likely a question than the simpler "where did the aliens come from?". (And, if we already have aliens, then the answer might just be "older aliens created them", but then you ask "where did those aliens come from?") Similarly, if you have a non-sentient, non-human-like, plain-old-energy first cause, then why can't that be labelled as "god"? It is, after all, the creator, even if not by active decision/choice. Apr 13 '18 at 15:46
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    @Chronocidal If "god" is a good enough label why not "Unicorn" or "Mug" for "non-human-like, plain-old-energy"? Because of the association and preconceived notions of what usage of "god" brings. Apr 13 '18 at 16:58
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    "There is no precedent for the creation of our universe and as far as we know it's only happened once." Assuming it was created at all and hasn't just been here forever into the infinite past. Apr 13 '18 at 18:12
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    @Chronocidal, while I agree somewhat with the rest of your point, the energy can't be "god" simply because the term "god" carries with it certain connotations. To qualify as a "god", it must at the very least be self aware in some form. We could probably term it the creator or the first cause, but it could never count as a "god" simply because of the way that term is percived by humans Apr 14 '18 at 1:19

If everything that exists must have a creator, that means that everything is preceded by its creator, and this would logically also apply to the creator themselves, thus creating an infinite recursive chain of creation. An infinite resursive chain of creation inherently invalidates the idea that anything could definitively be the first.

Therefore, if you assume that the first cause argument is correct, you've inherently proven that nothing can ever be first. The argument defeats itself.

This is essentially similar to the mathematical proof that there are infinite integer numbers. The proof relies on the notion that for any integer number N, there exists a number N + 1.

So even if you assume that N is the largest known integer, then there is still an N + 1, which would logically then be the largest known integer.
But you can repeat that logic. For this N + 1, there must exist a (N + 1) + 1 which again must logically be the largest known integer.

The conclusion here is that this chain goes on infinitely, and therefore there are infinite positive integers.

Bringing it back on topic, the same happens here. The first cause is essentially:

If something exists, it must therefore be superceded by its creator.

But then the argument repeats itself:

If this creator then exists, they must therefore be superceded by their creator.

In other words, who is God's creator? (God's God, if you will). And this argument repeats ad infinitam.

This is not necessarily incorrect.

Just like how we accept the existence of an infinite series of integers, we could accept the existence of an infinite series of creators.
Just because we cannot ever definitively quantify it doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Oversimplified: even though a blind man will never see anything, that doesn't mean colors don't exist.

However, this inherently redefines our creator's omnipotence. If we assume that God is omnipotent (compared to us) because he is our creator; then it stands to reason that God's creator must be omnipotent (compared to God) because he is God's creator.

This clashes with the definition of omnipotent (all powerful). It inherently defines our creator as more powerful, but not all powerful, since his own creator must be more powerful than him. There's no reason to assume that every creator (in the infinite chain) is exactly as powerful as their own creator, but that somehow the buck stops with humans. Such a notion would implicitly suggest that we are a failed creation.

Furthermore, it invalidates the fact that God is the first cause, since, logically, God's creator became before God, and therefore God's creator is the first cause. But God's creator must have a creator in and of himself, who then becomes the first cause. And so on...

Though it's not impossible for an infinite series of creators to exist, the first cause argument ("it exists therefore it has a creator") defeats itself because it is used to argue the definitive root of creation, but it inherently creates an infinitely expanding hierarchy of creation (thus contradicting the assertion that there is a definitive root).

Bending the rule.

What if we modify the first cause argument?

Everything (except God himself) has a creator.

This would, at first glance, prevent the recursion while still arguing the existence of God.

But the problem with this assertion is that it becomes moot as to proving God's existence. The same argument can be used to assert that:

Everything (except the universe itself) has a creator.

And suddenly, we've shifted to an atheistic view of the world. The argument as to why God doesn't need to have a creator himself can also be used to argue that the universe doesn't need to be created by God in the first place.

This amended philosophy no longer hinges on the existence of an omnipotent creator, and therefore becomes useless if you're trying to prove the existence of an omnipotent creator.

  • I love the reliance of this argument on the implicit belief that the relation between God and the universe must be non-arbitrary. In short: "If the chain of causation doesn't infinitely regress, it must stop somewhere, and you're arbitrarily saying that it stops at 1 and not 0."
    – Wildcard
    Apr 14 '18 at 1:18
  • "There's no reason to assume that every creator (in the infinite chain) is exactly as powerful as their own creator, but that somehow the buck stops with humans." There's also no reason to assume that humans themselves are not potentially omnipotent. There's no reason to assume there is a universe at all, either. Except we agree there's a universe here. And there is no proof of that fact whatsoever except for our agreement. I mean, you want to talk about arbitrary assumptions....
    – Wildcard
    Apr 14 '18 at 1:21
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    @Wildcard I you can become omnipotent, then it stands to reason that God also had to become omnipotent. Before he became omnipotent, he was fallible. Which again opens the door to suggesting that we might be a failed creation by a God who is still fallible. Also, I don't quite agree that the universe's existence is arbitrary. The inherent definition of the universe is "things we undeniably know to exist", which means it's a collection of things whose existence is no longer a matter of convention but rather repeatedly and independently confirmable fact.
    – Flater
    Apr 14 '18 at 8:56
  • it really doesn’t stand to reason; you’ve got it backward. Also, fallible is an odd choice for an opposite of omnipotent. And I didn’t say the existence of the universe is arbitrary, I said there’s no reason to assume it exists.
    – Wildcard
    Apr 14 '18 at 9:06

I am surprised as to how the answers are about whether the argument (for God as first cause) is convincing, rather than whether it commits special pleading.

No, the argument does not commit special pleading.

Special pleading is a form of fallacious argument that involves an attempt to cite something as an exception to a generally accepted rule, principle, etc. without justifying the exception.

This is not special pleading as both sides to the argument concede that God, if he exists, is different from the Universe and material objects therein, for the discussion is about some form of a spiritual entity.

The objection is akin to arguing that if humans cannot regenerate their limbs, we should assume that Namekians (a race of green humanoids in Dragon Ball) cannot regenerate their limbs too.

Namekians are not Humans

This comes close to committing a form of category mistake.

Jo Wehler is just committing that, it looks, it is hard to say though, as he does not specify any reasoning in that answer.

  • I believe the OP is asking whether the answers to the linked question are committing the fallacy of special pleading. Your answer seems to be about whether the linked question is committing the fallacy of special pleading. Apr 14 '18 at 21:28
  • I should have been more careful when writing the answer. As I see it - the situation is - objectors to FCA claim that it commits special pleading. OP is criticising them by claiming they are committing special pleading. OP's counter-criticism, however, assumes that initial criticism of special pleading by objectors is wrong, which I think is the case, and hence by establishing that, OP's criticism is established as well. I skipped a few steps, I will fix it. Thanks for pointing it out.
    – IsThatTrue
    Apr 14 '18 at 21:48
  • The reason why it's special pleading is because there is no reason why a god can exist without a cause and no reason why the universe can't. Merely defining god into a separate category doesn't help, because for all you know, the universe is in the same category as this special property you assign it is an untestable metaphysical one. Apr 15 '18 at 3:00
  • Your analogy is not apt because in your analogy, it has not at all been proven that humans can't regenerate limbs. Apr 15 '18 at 3:01
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    First I explained how I understand the OP’s question. Argument 2nd section: I consider special pleading to postulate a creator god to terminate the chain of cause-effect. The new entity - only postulated to save the cause-effect rule - is excepted itself from the rule, without giving any argument for the exception. – Argument 3rd section: Since centuries the experts discuss the validity of the argument from the first cause without any agreement. This failure suggests: It could be impossible to answer the question of the origin of the world on the basis of our present cosmological knowledge.
    – Jo Wehler
    Apr 15 '18 at 19:25

First cause is invalid as the logic is erroneous. We try to limit God to our finite selves which is all we CAN do. I am sure He is amused that we are at least trying to figure Him out. (sorry to anyone offended by the male pronoun - I am not gonna type him/her/it/blah/blah/blah - you get my meaning).

There cannot be a "first cause" for God: that goes into the definition of an aspect of God which is infinite, like, you know, the Alpha and the Omega.

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    +1 I don't see the logic around the first cause itself as erroneous, but the logic is not able to encompass all that reality would be, nor is logic a substitute belief. I do think you make a good point about the limits of logic. A believer of whatever faith is closer to the reality than any philosopher who does not believe, but presents arguments. Apr 13 '18 at 19:29
  • There cannot be a first cause for the energy that created the universe from a materialistic point of view either. The difference between atheists and theists is that atheists don't believe that this original energy (which has always existed, just like you believe your god has) was a self aware and human like entity. Apr 14 '18 at 1:25
  • @BraedenOrchard, "there cannot be a first cause for the energy that created the universe...." There have been people in every age who were certain they understood the universe correctly in every way. The history of science shows that they have all been mistaken. Do you really believe that you have achieved the pinnacle of understanding, and that the "laws of conservation of energy" are immutable and shall never be overturned nor shown to have been a flawed model all along?
    – Wildcard
    Apr 14 '18 at 1:29
  • @Wildcard, I know that our current understanding is flawed and that laws like the conservation of energy will change and develop over time. What I doubt is that they will be shown to be so incredibly wrong that they will have to be thrown out completely. Apr 14 '18 at 1:45
  • @BraedenOrchard, of course not thrown out. But modified in the universalness of their applicability, certainly. Personally, I view the influence of mental factors (i.e. mental powers, which you can hardly call well understood in academic circles where there is not even a usable definition of "mind") as the most likely source of modifications.
    – Wildcard
    Apr 14 '18 at 1:51

Without advocating for either side:

Simply saying

What is the cause of the creator god?

Does nothing to prove that a creator did not initiate the Big Bang.

Similarly one could ask how did the Big Bang occur from absolutely nothing? I'm not an expert on Big Bang theory but when I research there usually is an explanation of something existing to create the Big Bang. Where's the origin of what existed to create the Big Bang?

The same argument can be made on both sides if it's about origin therefore I don't believe it invalidates either opinion.

If someone believes a creator initiated the Big Bang that opinion is as valid and logical although also impossible to prove. Although, it provides an opportunity for an interesting thought experiment.

Someone commented.

If I create a simulation, I can plausibly affect it even if I'm outside though

If we create a simulation of our world (lets ignore arguments against simulations for now) we could be having the exact same discussion, even though the creator outside the simulation knows the simulation is his own.

The creator in this thought experiment always existed before time (before the simulation was created) therefore the creator always existed (strictly speaking relative to the simulation).

Really it is plausible that a creator created the Big Bang. Who created the creator is something that can not be answered.

TLDR: Basically it can't be proven either way and it's not a good argument for either side. I do think its a much weaker argument to just say "What is the cause of the creator god?" which denies the possibility altogether. The possibility is there but can't be proven.


There is another problem:

We do not know what exactly causality is.

Causality cannot be perceived with senses or physical experiments, from an empirical standpoint causality is non-existent. This is not a small problem, I think entire libraries of dissertations must have been written about this topic.

Example: An oil drop which build ups over days from a indiscernible leakage in the container drops finally on the street. Minutes later a car with a family drives exactly over the drops and the curve in this location has so strong bending that the car spins out of control: Car goes over cliff, family is dead.

What "caused" the accident? The oil drop? The driver? The family? Everything could have avoided the accident. The driver could replace everything in his car regularly, the oil drop could have fallen a millisecond later, missing the position, the family could have driven with walking pace. All those measures are also kind of ridiculous because they open another ways to be killed.

"Cause" is either defined as a kind of intention with the capability to influence the environment (I call it intelligent cause: a murderer "caused" the death of a victim) or a very specific experimental observation (a rudimentary cause: a bound electron "caused" the deflection of an electron).

But from the standpoint of classical physics there only exist differential equations which predict the behavior, there is no such discernible thing as intelligent cause. Physical determinism states there is no freedom: The murderer has no choice to kill the victim, our brain simply leads us to believe that we have that choice. I let the question of the rightness of physical determinism open, but the important question is: How do we know that the "intelligent cause" and causality are real? Currently there a many unsolved questions in this regard.

The argument of first cause stealthily inserts several preconditions: that our world needs to be somehow "built" and a being which is capable of the kind of intelligent cause, a creator...without necessity. If "cause" is a doubtful concept, we do not need to accept that a "first cause" should exist or even behave as its believers would like to claim.


In Thomas Aquinas' five ways, he provides a foundation for his philosophical picture of God, so that he can show the God of reason is compatible with Christian revelation. The first three ways deal with different series that would appear to be an infinite regress unless a starting point is found.

The first way is that things change because something causes them to change, resulting in a series that logically must have a beginning. This first way demonstrates that at the beginning there must be something that can cause change, but does not itself change, otherwise it would need something to cause it to change. This forms a foundation for the idea that God is immutable. Rather than special pleading, Aquinas is showing us that reason leads to an immutable God, which is compatible with the Bible, which says God never changes (James 1:17).

The second way looks at a series of efficient causes, which would need to begin with something that does not require a cause, but is the cause of all that is. These properties lead us to the requirement that God be eternal because if his existence ever had a beginning, a cause for that beginning would be required. It also requires that God be omnipotent so that he can have the power to be the cause of all that exists.

The third way looks at contingent and necessary beings. If all things were contingent beings, Aquinas reasons that nothing would exist. Therefore, he reasons that there must be a necessary being, which is something that must exist. From this foundation, Aquinas builds his scheme of essence and existence, and that all contingent beings have an existence that is different from its existence, making it possible for it to not exist. However, God must be such that his essence is existence. God is existence itself. Only existence itself could be behind all contingent beings. Although these ideas are difficult to grasp, they form a significant philosophical advancement that fills in gaps in Aristotle's system. It also fits with the Biblical notion that God is pure existence. When Moses asked for God's name, he replied, "Say this to the sons of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.'" (Exodus 3:14).

If Aquinas is using special pleading, it is awfully convenient that the very traits that are required to solve these infinite regresses happen to be also traits of God as described in the Bible, which was written centuries before Aquinas. I think it is also significant that the argument from change was formulated centuries before Christianity by Aristotle, who had no religion that he was trying to prove. He was just seeking for an explanation of change (motion) and saw that there must be an unmoved mover at the beginning.


In Eastern philosophy there was (is) no creation, there is only projection. Buddhism and all sects of Hinduism are in agreement in this. There are several creation myths and stories, Shankara calls these 'likely stories'. Pick the one that best suits your own mind. From a creation standpoint there are only cycles, there was not one creation, the big bang so to speak occurs again and again, endlessly before and endlessly after this one. The universe is only illusion. Illusion only arises from within the illusion. From a Western philosophy standpoint read Plotinus's Six Enneads. Swami Vivekananda writes (Complete Works, Vol. 2, Soul, Nature, and God - http://www.advaitaashrama.org/cw/content.php:

The next thing to consider is whence all these things come. The answer is: What is meant by coming? If it means that something can be produced out of nothing, it is impossible. All this creation, manifestation, cannot be produced out of zero. Nothing can be produced without a cause, and the effect is but the cause reproduced. Here is a glass. Suppose we break it to pieces, and pulverise it, and by means of chemicals almost annihilate it. Will it go back to zero? Certainly not. The form will break, but the particles of which it is made will be there; they will go beyond our senses, but they remain, and it is quite possible that out of these materials another glass may be made. If this is true in one case, it will be so in every case. Something cannot be made out of nothing. Nor can something be made to go back to nothing. It may become finer and finer, and then again grosser and grosser. The raindrop is drawn from the ocean in the form of vapour, and drifts away through the air to the mountains; there it changes again into water and flows back through hundreds of miles down to the mother ocean. The seed produces the tree. The tree dies, leaving only the seed. Again it comes up as another tree, which again ends in the seed, and so on. Look at a bird, how from; the egg it springs, becomes a beautiful bird, lives its life and then dies, leaving only other eggs, containing germs of future birds. So with the animals; so with men. Everything begins, as it were, from certain seeds, certain rudiments, certain fine forms, and becomes grosser and grosser as it develops; and then again it goes back to that fine form and subsides. The whole universe is going on in this way. There comes a time when this whole universe melts down and becomes finer and at last disappears entirely, as it were, but remains as superfine matter. We know through modern science and astronomy that this earth is cooling down, and in course of time it will become very cold, and then it will break to pieces and become finer and finer until it becomes ether once more. Yet the particles will all remain to form the material out of which another earth will be projected. Again that will disappear, and another will come out. So this universe will go back to its causes, and again its materials will come together and take form, like the wave that goes down, rises again, and takes shape. The acts of going back to causes and coming out again, taking form, are called in Sanskrit Sankocha and Vikâsha, which mean shrinking and expanding. The whole universe, as it were, shrinks, and then it expands again. To use the more accepted words of modern science, they are involved and evolved. You hear about evolution, how all forms grow from lower ones, slowly growing up and up. This is very true, but each evolution presupposes an involution. We know that the sum total of energy that is displayed in the universe is the same at all times, and that matter is indestructible. By no means can you take away one particle of matter. You cannot take away a foot-pound of energy or add one. The sum total is the same always. Only the manifestation varies, being involved and evolved. So this cycle is the evolution out of the involution of the previous cycle, and this cycle will again be involved, getting finer and finer, and out of that will come the next cycle. The whole universe is going on in this fashion. Thus we find that there is no creation in the sense that something is created out of nothing. To use a better word, there is manifestation, and God is the manifester of the universe. The universe, as it were, is being breathed out of Him, and again it shrinks into Him, and again He throws it out. A most beautiful simile is given in the Vedas — "That eternal One breathes out this universe and breathes it in." Just as we can breathe out a little particle of dust and breathe it in again. That is all very good, but the question may be asked: How we, it at the first cycle? The answer is: What is the meaning of a first cycle? There was none. If you can give a beginning to time, the whole concept of time will be destroyed. Try to think of a limit where time began, you have to think of time beyond that limit. Try to think where space begins, you will have to think of space beyond that. Time and space are infinite, and therefore have neither beginning nor end. This is a better idea than that God created the universe in five minutes and then went to sleep, and since then has been sleeping. On the other hand, this idea will give us God as the Eternal Creator. Here is a series of waves rising and falling, and God is directing this eternal process. As the universe is without beginning and without end, so is God. We see that it must necessarily be so, because if we say there was a time when there was no creation, either in a gross or a fine form, then there was no God, because God is known to us as Sâkshi, the Witness of the universe. When the universe did not exist, neither did He. One concept follows the other. The idea of the cause we get from the idea of the effect, and if there is no effect, there will be no cause. It naturally follows that as the universe is eternal, God is eternal.

The soul must also be eternal. Why? In the first place we see that the soul is not matter. It is neither a gross body, nor a fine body, which we call mind or thought. It is neither a physical body, nor what in Christianity is called a spiritual body. It is the gross body and the spiritual body that are liable to change. The gross body is liable to change almost every minute and dies, but the spiritual body endures through long periods, until one becomes free, when it also falls away. When a man becomes free, the spiritual body disperses. The gross body disintegrates every time a man dies. The soul not being made of any particles must be indestructible. What do we mean by destruction? Destruction is disintegration of the materials out of which anything is composed. If this glass is broken into pieces, the materials will disintegrate, and that will be the destruction of the glass. Disintegration of particles is what we mean by destruction. It naturally follows that nothing that is not composed of particles can be destroyed, can ever be disintegrated. The soul is not composed of any materials. It is unity indivisible. Therefore it must be indestructible. For the same reasons it must also be without any beginning. So the soul is without any beginning and end.

We have three entities. Here is nature which is infinite, but changeful. The whole of nature is without beginning and end, but within it are multifarious changes. It is like a river that runs down to the sea for thousands of years. It is the same river always, but it is changing every minute, the particles of water are changing their position constantly. Then there is God, unchangeable, the ruler; and there is the soul unchangeable as God, eternal but under the ruler. One is the master, the other the servant, and the third one is nature.

God being the cause of the projection, the continuance, and the dissolution of the universe, the cause must be present to produce the effect. Not only so, the cause becomes the effect. Glass is produced out of certain materials and certain forces used by the manufacturer. In the glass there are those forces plus the materials. The forces used have become the force of adhesion, and if that force goes the glass will fall to pieces; the materials also are undoubtedly in the glass. Only their form is changed. The cause has become the effect. Wherever you see an effect you can always analyze it into a cause, the cause manifests itself as the effect. It follows, if God is the cause of the universe, and the universe is the effect, that God has become the universe. If souls are the effect, and God the cause, God has become the souls. Each soul, therefore, is a part of God. "As from a mass of fire an infinite number of sparks fly, even so from the Eternal One all this universe of souls has come out."

We have seen that there is the eternal God, and there is eternal nature. And there is also an infinite number of eternal souls. This is the first stage in religion, it is called dualism, the stage when man sees himself and God eternally separate, when God is a separate entity by Him, self and man is a separate entity by himself and nature is a separate entity by itself. This is dualism, which holds that the subject and the object are opposed to each other in everything. When man looks at nature, he is the subject and nature the object. He sees the dualism between subject and object. When he looks at God, he sees God as object and himself as the subject. They are entirely separate. This is the dualism between man and God. This is generally the first view of religion.

Then comes another view which I have just shown to you. Man begins to find out that if God is the cause of the universe and the universe the effect, God Himself must have become the universe and the souls, and he is but a particle of which God is the whole. We are but little beings, sparks of that mass of fire, and the whole universe is a manifestation of God Himself. This is the next step. In Sanskrit, it is called Vishishtâdvaita. Just as I have this body and this body covers the soul, and the soul is in and through this body, so this whole universe of infinite souls and nature forms, as it were, the body of God. When the period of involution comes, the universe becomes finer and finer, yet remains the body of God. When the gross manifestation comes, then also the universe remains the body of God. Just as the human soul is the soul of the human body and minds so God is the Soul of our souls. All of you have heard this expression in every religion, "Soul of our souls". That is what is meant by it. He, as it were, resides in them, guides them, is the ruler of them all. In the first view, that of dualism, each one of us is an individual, eternally separate from God and nature. In the second view, we are individuals, but not separate from God. We are like little particles floating in one mass, and that mass is God. We are individuals but one in God. We are all in Him. We are all parts of Him, and therefore we are One. And yet between man and man, man and God there is a strict individuality, separate and yet not separate.

Then comes a still finer question. The question is: Can infinity have parts? What is meant by parts of infinity? If you reason it out, you will find that it is impossible. Infinity cannot be divided, it always remains infinite. If it could be divided, each part would be infinite. And there cannot be two infinites. Suppose there were, one would limit the other, and both would be finite. Infinity can only be one, undivided. Thus the conclusion will be reached that the infinite is one and not many, and that one Infinite Soul is reflecting itself through thousands and thousands of mirrors, appearing as so many different souls. It is the same Infinite Soul, which is the background of the universe, that we call God. The same Infinite Soul also is the background of the human mind which we call the human soul.

For further reference, for Advaita Vedanta see Gaudapada's Karika (https://www.wisdomlib.org/hinduism/book/mandukya-upanishad-karika-bhashya) and Chapter 10, section entitled "Vedanta in Gaudapada" (http://consciouslivingfoundation.org/ebooks/13/CLF-HistoryOfIndianPhilosophy.pdf), and for Mahayana Buddhism, Nagarjuna's Mulamadhyamakakarika (https://www.wisdomlib.org/buddhism/book/m%C5%ABlamadhyamakak%C4%81rik%C4%81).

  • This post could profit from a bit of editing, pointing out the parts relevant for the question.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Apr 14 '18 at 14:59

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