Is God the first cause?

God first cause
Question: "Is God the first cause?"

Answer:
The law of cause and effect makes it apparent there must be a “first cause.” If there were a never-ending chain of causality leading into the past, there would never have been a present. Sooner or later, there must be something that itself has no cause and that caused everything else. This reality is logically inescapable, though many people debate over what—or who—this first cause is. Some wonder if God is the first cause. On the other hand, the idea of a first cause is literally beyond doubt. In that sense, it almost makes more sense to ask, “Is the first cause God?”

Combining reason with observation not only leads us to the idea that there is a first cause, but it also gives us clues about what this first cause must be like. When we combine all of that information, we wind up with a description that’s identical to the God of the Bible. God is, in fact, philosophy’s “first cause”; the best fit for all we can deduce about the first cause is the Judeo-Christian God.

Logically, the first cause must be eternal. Since it is not itself “caused,” it cannot have a beginning. God, according to the Bible, fits this description, as the only thing in existence that was not “made.” John 1:3 makes a specific distinction between things that are made and things that are not made. God, as it stands, is the only “thing” that was not made. He is eternal, always existing (Psalm 90:2).

The first cause is also necessary. There are other terms used for this idea, such as noncontingent or basic. Without the first cause, nothing else can exist. So, the first cause must exist, and there can be no reality where it does not. Everything other than the first cause is said to be “contingent.” This simply means that everything that begins—or is caused—owes its origin to something else. The first cause, on the other hand, does not and cannot depend on anything else in order to exist, since it must exist. God, again, matches this description, as the One who simply “is” and must be (Exodus 3:14) and as the One who created—who caused—all other things (Genesis 1:1; Hebrews 1:3).

The first cause must also be changeless, since change is always triggered by some outside force or event. But since the first cause is the “first,” no other causes can affect it. This means the first cause must not only be changeless, but it must also be perfect—it is the standard of all other things, since all other things are caused by and secondary to it. Here, again, the God of the Bible matches this description: He is changeless (Malachi 3:6), perfect (Isaiah 6:3), and the source of all that is (Genesis 2:3).

Observation of the universe suggests additional details about the first cause. The first cause must be creative, since there is a great deal of diversity in the natural world (Psalm 147:4; Psalm 19:1). It must be phenomenally intelligent (Isaiah 55:8), since there is amazing structure and complexity in the universe. This first cause must also be incredibly powerful (Job 38:1–7) in order to create and sustain all of these things. Scripture speaks of exactly this kind of being.

Similarly, the existence of intelligent life in a universe finely tuned to make life possible suggests the first cause is personal. The same is true of “personal” concepts such as morality; the very notion that “what is” is a separate question from “what should be” implies something beyond the physical realm that governs those properties. Again, we are led to the idea of a single, transcendent, perfect standard—our first cause—which again is best matched by the biblical God (Deuteronomy 32:4).

Logic and observation also suggest that God, as a triune being, is easily the best explanation of the first cause. The universe exhibits both uniqueness and unity—different parts but a single system. For a property to be present in the effect, there has to be some origin for it in the cause—so, for the universe to exhibit both diversity and unity, it makes sense for that cause to be both diverse and unified, as is the Trinity.

All in all, the same logic and observations that lead us to conclude there is a “first cause” also point toward the God of the Bible. While the terminology might be different, depending on whether one approaches through philosophy, science, or theology, the end result is the same: God, as defined according to the Bible, is the first cause.

Recommended Resource: Knowing God by J.I. Packer

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