I’ve long heard it said that the universe must have had a cause. After all, the universality of cause and effect seems 1) so intuitively obvious and 2) is confirmed daily by all of us in case after case. It’s even one of the underlying lynchpins of a formal argument for the existence of God (see the Kalam cosmological argument). Most recently I saw an abbreviated form of this argument deployed by Dennis Prager in his discussion with Michael Shermer on Dave Rubin’s show (see here).
So I’ve been thinking about this particular argument for many years, and I always hit upon a central problem that none of its proponents appear to solidly address. The law of cause and effect (aka causality) does appear to be a central characteristic within our universe. Everything within our universe appears to be bound by it. I don’t think we have a choice but to grant that. But why do we assume that our universe itself must also be bound by this law? Could it apply to individual components of our universe, while not applying to the universe in its totality? Could this merely be yet another example of the Fallacy of Composition? For those unfamiliar with the Fallacy of Composition, a quick example might be helpful:
The cells that makes up your body are able to reproduce asexually (i.e. they clone themselves). But you are not able to reproduce asexually. What is true of the constituent parts of you is not necessarily true of you as a whole.
Could the same problem be occurring in our assumption that our universe has a cause? Causality almost certainly applies to the constituent parts of our universe, but does that mean that it must also apply to our universe in its totality? We have no means of investigating an answer to this question. We can only assume. And even if we were to assume that causality applies outside of our universe (whatever that means), how would it work? Would it work in the same way it works within our universe? From what little I’ve read in physics, our physicists have acknowledged that our universal constants* could have been different than they were. Could causality also vary depending on the context?
And if causality doesn’t necessarily apply outside of our universe the same way it applies within our universe (or at all), why should we assume that our universe itself had to have a cause?** How is this not just an argument from genuine and unavoidable ignorance?
*quick examples include the speed of light, the gravitational constant, the Planck constant, and the electric constant.
**In his defense of the Kalam Cosmological Argument, William Lane Craig argues that we would expect to see anything and everything randomly appearing into existence without a cause if all things didn’t have to have a cause. This seems a reasonable rebuttal at first look. But couldn’t an uncaused universe whose constituent parts operate by the laws of cause and effect fall under the category of “anything”?
Edited for clarity