In recent online discussions about the Cosmological argument for the existence of God, there are two objections that got me thinking hard because they both touch upon key points of the classical argument that need new clarification, and because I realized that if I were an atheist or agnostic, I would consider these objections to be great stumbling blocks to becoming a believer.
The first objection, the “temporal realm” objection is that the terms exist and cause are not applicable beyond the temporal realm. Part of the problem has to do with the fact that these terms have more than one meaning or connotation. Exist has the technical meaning within our experience of “interact with like things in a temporal environment”. It also has the meaning of “having reality” as in the example of mathematical concepts such as the concept of a number having reality. Cause likewise has the technical meaning within our experience of “being part of a chain of causes and effects in a temporal environment”. But it also has the meaning of “explanation” as in the example of my scooter being black. It is black not because I painted it black, but because I purchased it black. “[P]ainted it black” has the first meaning of the term cause and “purchased it black” has the second meaning.
Beyond semantics, the term cause seems to require special further explanation, since we are dealing with the cosmological argument, the key concept of which is cause. I am impressed by two answers to the objection that cause is not applicable beyond the temporal realm. Consider the first “thing” that ever existed in the temporal realm. Since the first thing is clearly part of the temporal realm, it is appropriate to speak of its being a cause or having a cause. But as soon as I begin to think about the cause of the first temporal thing, I realize at once that it must have a cause, and that the cause cannot be temporal, since that would mean having a temporal thing before the first temporal thing. Therefore, if the first temporal thing is to have a cause, which it must, that cause must be eternal. But suppose we have instead an infinite chain of things (causes and effects)? In that case you cannot have a first thing, but you cannot have any present things either, since there would need to be an infinite number of previous things before the present things, in which case the present things never become present!
The second objection, the “ex nihilo” objection, states that since something cannot come from nothing, God cannot create something from nothing. If something coming from nothing is inconceivable, then it is inconceivable for God to create something from nothing. But God did not create something from nothing. God was there. And it is conceivable that God created the universe “ex notitia” (out of information – ideas contained in the mind of God). This would be in keeping with the gospel of John chapter 1:1-3, which it states, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” So now we have God creating out of information (ideas contained in the mind of God). Now those who believe in the transcendence of God (I am among them) might object that this reduces to pantheism, since it makes creation a part of God. Actually, it makes information (ideas contained in the mind of God) part of God’s creation. But God remains transcendent, since the mind is transcendent and independent of its ideas. Also, if information (ideas contained in the mind of God) is part of God’s creation, this is in keeping with Acts 17:28, where it states, “…in him we live and move and have our being.” And, Colossians 1:17 where it states, “…in Him all things hold together. Christians have always maintained that the universe could not and did not come from nothing, since God was there. This is the true understanding of creation “ex nihilo”.