5. First Cause
Why something infinite had to create the finite universe.
These concepts can also be logically verified by demonstrable proofs. Their veracity can be demonstrated from what we observe in nature and its phenomena. Through such scientific disciplines as physics and astronomy, certain basic principles can be derived, and on the basis of these, clear evidence for these concepts deduced. We will not occupy ourselves with this, however, but will rather set forth the well-known basic principles handed down by tradition. These we will present in an authentic framework, arranged in a comprehensive manner.
The Ramchal is telling us that one can use logical reasoning to arrive at the conclusion that there's an infinite source to finite existence, i.e. G-d. If we're going to use logic, let's start by abnegating the notion that G-d – a non-physical existence – can be "seen" or "felt" through our five physical senses. The first man in outer space was the Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin who, not surprisingly, was a staunch communist and proud atheist. As Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev later said, "Gagarin flew into space, but didn't see any G-d there."
We're going to try something more logically compelling. Maimonides, ibn Paquda, Rabbi Saadiah Gaon and other early Torah authorities all presented arguments centered around the idea of a First Cause.
Let's outline the basic flow of the argument and then examine it in detail:
- We know that all finite things have a prior cause that brought them into existence.
- When we trace this cause-and-effect process back to its origins, there are four seemingly logical possibilities:
- "Nothing" began the process.
- Something finite began the process.
- Something non-finite (i.e. an infinite entity) began the process.
- The process has no beginning – it has been going on eternally.
- Arguments a, b and d all have deep logical flaws, rendering them impossible.
- Therefore, something non-finite (i.e. an infinite entity) began the finite universe.
Let's have a closer look at each of these points:
1) We know that all finite things have a prior cause that brought them into existence.
This is a basic fact that we know from many sources: our experience, logic, intuition and science. Every item that we've encountered in the universe – whether a black hole, an apple, or a bus driver – had some prior existing object or force that brought about its existence. In the case of the bus driver, it's his parents. For the apple, it's a tree, which came from a prior existing seed, which came from a prior tree, etc. For a black hole, it's a star that experienced gravitational collapse.
The idea that something exists that was not generated by something else, that just "popped" into existence with no cause, seems absurd. It goes against our experience of nature and against our intuition. There's absolutely no evidence to support such a possibility.
The Ramchal mentions that our observation of nature is also a way of deducing G-d's existence. As King David says in the book of Psalms, "The Heavens declare G-d's glory, the skies tell of His handiwork" (19:2). Modern science also confirms for us a fact that matches our empirical observation of the universe – there is a universal law of cause and effect. In fact, the whole basis of science is to observe the phenomena of the universe and to seek to understand its causes.
2) When we trace back this cause-and-effect chain to its origins, there are four seemingly logical possibilities:
(a) "Nothing" began the process.
This possibility is the easiest to negate. In fact, it's the only option of the four that no philosophy or scientific theory subscribes to. It essentially says that something can come into existence even though no prior existence or force brought about its existence. It must have "created itself." In Duties of the Heart,1 Rabbi Bachya ibn Paquda summarily shows the logical flaw of this proposition:
When we say that something created itself, we have to ask: When did this act take place? Before it came into existence or after it came into existence? If before, there was nothing there, and from nothing, nothing can come. If after, then it doesn't need to create itself. It's already there!
Is it theoretically possible that there's an affect even though there's no cause? Can physical existence just pop out of nothing? There may be no way of actually disproving this possibility, but someone who believes in a theory that has no evidence and goes against intuition and everything in our experience, is taking an enormous, irrational leap of faith!
(b) Something finite began the process.
This argument is also easy to negate. It doesn't answer the question at all! Rather, it just pushes the question back one further step, reductio ad absurdum. If the response to "what created finite" is "something else that's finite," then the only logical retort is, "Well, what created that?" Which means that this answer has to inevitably lead to answers (c) or (d). [Option (a) has already been knocked out, if you're keeping score.]
(c) Something non-finite began the process.
This option suggests that a finite universe that exists in time and space must have something beyond these finite dimensions that created it. There must exist a realm that is not bound by any finite dimension (i.e. infinite), which created the finite. This is what the Ramchal referred to as a "first, primal, eternal cause" – i.e. G-d, a force beyond the dimension of time, unbound by the limitations of space and the laws of nature.
This option is clearly the idea behind the famous opening line of Genesis, "In the beginning G-d created the heavens and the earth." "The heavens," meaning the spiritual realms, and "the earth," the physical reality, were brought into being by a force. By necessity, that force must be above and beyond the physical and spiritual finite realities that it creates. This first line of Genesis is not an attempt to prove G-d's existence, but it does neatly define what we mean by G-d – a being that is unlimited in every possible way.
In our next segment, we'll examine the one remaining option:
(d) The process has no beginning – it has been going on eternally.
- Why can't we believe that the universe just came into being on it's own, with no prior cause?
- Why isn't it sufficient to believe that some flying spaghetti monster created the world?
- How can we conclude that the world has an infinite creator, when so many brilliant scientists reject this claim?
- Gate 1: God’s Unity; Chapter 5, Proposition 1