Faith & Science Icon Faith & Science
Physics, Earth & Space Icon Physics, Earth & Space

Can We Escape the Need for a Transcendent First Cause? R.C. Sproul Argues “Not a Chance”!

Casey Luskin

Sproul.jpgNoted seminary professor and Christian author R.C. Sproul, along with Keith Mathison (professor of systematic theology at Reformation Bible College), have recently released an updated and revised edition of Sproul’s book Not a Chance, first published in 1999.

This philosophically and theologically oriented book covers much of the same material that a Philosophy 101 or Logic 101 textbook might discuss. However, the parts that will interest our readers the most explore the evidence that the universe arose due to purposeful intelligent design, and a First Cause, rather than unguided chance processes.

Delving into physics and metaphysics, Sproul and Mathison argue that chance is not an explanation of anything. In fact, they argue, when we appeal to “chance,” that actually means we are ignorant of the true causes at work. As they write, “chance has no power to do anything” and “the chances of chance doing anything are nil.” Because chance can do nothing, and because it violates the law of non-contradiction to claim you “created yourself,” they conclude that it’s logically impossible that the universe simply popped into existence. Something cannot “be its own cause” because “it would have to have the causal power of being before it was.” (pp. 173, 174) They write:

In a world where a miracle-working God is deemed an anachronism, he is replaced by an even greater miracle worker: time or chance. I say these twin miracle workers are greater than God because they produce the same result with so much less, indeed infinitely less, to work with. … At least with God we have a potential miracle worker. With chance we have nothing with which to work the miracle. Chance offers us a rabbit without a hat and — what’s even more astonishing — without a magician. (pp. 28-29)

Later in the book they examine recent examples of scientists who promoted self-creation, such as Stephen Hawking:

I decided to ask my then-nine-year-old son if he could spot the error in the first sentence of the paragraph quoted above [by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow]. I read the sentence “Because there is a law like gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.” I asked my son if he noticed a problem. His immediate response? “Gravity is something, not nothing.”

I did not ask my son if he could spot the second self-contradiction in the sentence, but if I had pressed him, I’m sure he would have answered correctly. Not only is gravity (or a law like gravity) something rather than nothing, it is also contradictory to assert that “the universe can and will create itself from nothing.” As the preceding chapters have argued, a universe cannot create itself because in order to do so it would have to exist before it existed. Only something that exists can create, and if it exists it doesn’t need to be created. (pp. 212-213)

So how did the universe come to be? In a passage that is very helpful for framing the issue, they note that there are only four options for explaining the origin of the cosmos:

    • Option 1: The cosmos is an illusion; it doesn’t exist.
    • Option 2: The cosmos is self-existent (and eternal).
    • Option 3: The cosmos is self-created.
    • Option 4: The cosmos is created by something else that is self-existent. (p. 154)

Option 1, they argue, can be eliminated because, “if the cosmos is an illusion then we still have to account for the illusion.” So that illusion is either self-created, self-existent, or created by something else that is self-existent. But if nothing exists then “We have no question to answer because nothing exists.” (p. 155)

Option 3 can be eliminated because, as we have seen, you can’t create yourself — “it is formally false. It is contradictory and logically impossible.” They explain that this means that the answer is either option 2 or option 4, because, “if something exists then whatever exists is either ultimately self-existent or created by something that is self-existent.” They continue:

[I]n either case we encounter something that is self-existent. Now we begin to see that the concept of self-existent reality is not only logically possible but logically necessary. In shorthand form, the argument is this: If something exists, then something, somewhere, somehow, is self-existent. The only alternative to this is self-creation, which is logically impossible. (p. 155)

So which is it: Is the cosmos self-existent, or was it created by something else that is self-existent?

If we argue that it is not necessary to argue for a transcendent self-existent being but locate the power of that being or self-existence within the universe, we make a fatal conceptual error. We reveal a serious problem of linguistic confusion with respect to the meaning of the word transcendent. When theologians say that God is transcendent, they are not speaking in spatial or geographical terms.

They are not describing where God lives. Transcendence refers to God’s ontological status with respect to the world. God, by virtue of self-existence, is a higher order of being than that which is not self-existence.

If we argue that one part of the universe is self-existent and has the power of being within itself by which it can generate lesser levels of existent reality, then we have attributed to this mysterious being-within-the-universe the attributes of a transcendent God. A rose by any other name… (p. 157)

Thus, no matter how you answer this question, or what you call your answer, you can’t get away from the need for a first cause that sounds a lot like God. They further ask whether the universe itself can satisfy the requirements of a self-existing transcendent cause:

Is the point of singularity, which is thought to have exploded fifteen to seventeen billion years ago, the self-existent being we are looking for? Perhaps. But if this highly condensed piece of matter and energy preexisted the Big Bang for eternity, what caused it to explode? Did self-existent being suddenly disintegrate? Was this eternally inert “piece” of reality acted upon by an outside force, or did it defy the laws of inertia?

However we answer these questions, we are still left with the logically necessary idea of self-existence.

They later write, “reason demands that if something exists, either the world or God (or anything else), then something must be self-existent.” (p. 173) But can the world be self-existent? If so, what part of the world is self-existent? In fact we know of nothing in this world that is self-existent — everything physical we know of is contingent (i.e., it depends upon prior causes). They explain:

A self-existent being is both logically and ontologically necessary. It is in its purest sense ens necessarium, “necessary being.” We have labored the logical necessity of such being. Yet it is also necessary ontologically. An ontologically necessary being is a being who cannot not be. It is proven by the law of the impossibility of the contrary. A self-existent being, by its very nature, must be eternal. It has no antecedent cause, or else it would not be self-existent. It would be contingent. (p. 178)

This being has all of the attributes we normally ascribe to God. As Sproul and Mathison write, “From a scientific, metaphysical, or philosophical perspective it doesn’t matter what you call it. What matters is the concept or the reality, not the name or the word used to indicate it.” (p. 179) But if the being has all of the attributes we ascribe to God, who can protest if you use the name “God”?

They concisely conclude by explaining why materialist accounts of the origin of the universe always fail:

Why is there something rather than nothing? “In the beginning God created the heavens and earth” (Gen. 1:1). This is the answer revealed by the Creator himself. Those who deny God have suggested other alternative answers, but as we have seen, they reduce to self-contradictory nonsense. Gravity is not nothing. Space is not nothing. A multiverse is not nothing. Scientists may be able to show mathematically consistent ways in which the existence of any of these somethings could lead to other somethings. But what are the odds that something can come from absolutely nothing? There is not a chance. (p. 223)

Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



philosophyR.C. SproulViews