QUESTION: I have heard Christians say that everything that exists must have a cause. They say that proves the universe must have a cause. But my question is why doesn't God need a cause? Why do Christians always make up rules and then break them when it is convenient for their own views? I attached a picture that I saw on Facebook I think you should take a look at.
RESPONSE: Thank you for the question. It is actually a rather easy one to answer because you and I actually start out in a place of agreement. We both reject the claim that "everything that exists must have a cause." There is nothing logically impossible about saying that something might exist which does not have a cause. You are right to point out that a Christian (or theist of any stripe) who says this has made a grave miscalculation because that would mean God must also have a cause, and that leads to an infinite regress. I will call this the infinite regression critique. It is effective in exposing the claim "everything that exists must have a cause." However, the phrase in question is actually a misrepresentation of the first premise in what is commonly called the cosmological argument for God's existence. That argument, properly stated goes like this; 1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause. 2. The universe began to exist. 3. Therefore, the universe has a cause. Obviously, I know that you don't believe in God, but I am sure that you still understand that the Christian understanding of God is that He did not begin to exist. The same could be said of an atheist understanding of the universe (or multiverse if you subscribe to such a view). Therefore, when the argument is properly phrased, the first premise should not be a point of contention. It simply states that things don't come from nothing (a total absence of properties). The real question is whether or not the second premise is true. Did the universe begin to exist? Presumably, you would argue that the second premise is false--the universe did not begin to exist, and therefore the conclusion that the universe has a cause, does not follow. However, by doing that, you would actually prove my point. You and I agree that if the universe did not begin to exist, then it would not need a cause. The same is true of God. Your contrary argument could be phrased as follows: 1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause. 2. The universe did not begin to exist. 3. Therefore, the universe does not have a cause. However, I could insert God in the place of the universe and the argument would still be valid. I write all of this out because I want to illustrate that I am not breaking any rules just to fit my own view (as you suggested Christians always do). Since God, by nature, did not begin to exist, and the cosmological argument is only addressing things that begin to exist, the infinite regression critique does not threaten the cosmological argument.
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