Some critics say that even if there were evidence for the universe having a cause, God could not be the cause of a finite universe that began in the past like ours.
The late physicist Stephen Hawking said all causes occur before their effects, but the Big Bang has often been claimed to be the beginning of time itself—so there could have been no time before the Big Bang for any cause, even God, to bring the universe into existence.
You could put the objection this way: all causes occur before the effect but since time did not even exist “before” the Big Bang, there could not have been a cause for the effect of the universe’s beginning.
But the cause does not always have to occur before the effect. The eighteenth-century philosopher Immanuel Kant argued, for example, that “[T]he greater part of operating causes in nature are simultaneous with their effects . . . if the cause had but a moment before it ceased to be, the effect could not have arisen.”
To understand this, imagine a brick smashing a window. In this case, it is clear that the brick is thrown before the window breaks, and the window doesn’t break before the brick hits it. But notice that there is a brief overlap where the cause (the brick flying through the air) is simultaneous with the effect (the window breaking). If the brick disappeared even a microsecond before it touched the window, then the effect would never happen. So there has to be a moment where the cause and effect happen at the same time.
Likewise, God’s causing the universe to begin to exist, and the effect of the universe coming into existence, are simultaneous events. This objection does not negate the principle “out of nothing, nothing comes,” because there still needs to be an explanation for the beginning of time itself. Instead of saying that God existed before the universe existed (since there was no before), we say only that God existed timelessly without the universe. He then caused the universe to exist at the same moment time began to exist.
But how could God, who is timeless and changeless, engage in an act like “creating the world?”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes it clear that God did not have to create the world and it does not automatically emanate or proceed from him (CCC 295). The world is contingent, which means it depends on God in order to exist and it is possible it could have not existed if God had chosen not to create it. But God did choose to create the world, not in a temporal way as if he had to think about whether this was a good idea, but in a way that simply reflects his desire share his super abundant love with others. As Protestant pastor Richard Barcellos puts it, “Creation does not entail divine mutation, though it does entail divine revelation. No work of God changes God in any sense whatsoever. His external works reveal him.”
God is pure being itself, so he does not change in any way. In creating the world God is the same, the only thing that changes is how we are related to God. The philosopher Peter Geach, who perhaps most powerfully made the argument, calls this a “Cambridge change,” named after the Cambridge University philosophers to whom he was responding.
Here’s how it works: suppose a son grows up and ends up becoming taller than his father. This direct change is recognized by the father who says “my son is now taller than me,” but when the same father says “I am now shorter than my son,” he is recognizing a change not directly in himself, but in the difference between him and his son.
The same thing happens when we say God created the universe—nothing changes in God’s immutable nature, but the world around us is “changed” by becoming real in an act of being that is created from nothing.
Another argument against God creating the universe is that it seems like God has no reason to do this. Some atheists even say the idea of a perfect God creating the world leads to a contradiction. The atheist philosopher of religion, Theodore Drange, for example, says God would only have created the universe only because he lacked something, and if he lacked something then he would not be perfect. Such a being might be a very powerful supernatural creature or alien, but it wouldn’t be God.
But Drange is wrong in presuming that God would only have created the universe out of some imperfection, such as loneliness or boredom. If God is the perfection of virtues, including love and selflessness, then his creation is a logical result of his superabundant love and self-giving. He created the universe not for his good but for ours. The Baltimore Catechism puts it this way:
Question: Why did God make you?
Answer: God made me to know him, to love him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with him forever in heaven.
So, God’s creation of the universe does not contradict his perfection but in fact flows from it. Because God is perfect love, he gives being and life to his creation.