Looking for a first cause

Adam asked:

Everything needs a cause, right, or it couldn’t happen, right?

But, if everything needs a cause, how could anything happen?

Because the thing that would cause it to happen would also need a cause.

So does that means the universe can’t happen/could never get to now?

Or is time a cause in and of itself? And ‘drags’ things as time goes forward, like a replay in a video game? But then time would need a cause too, right?

Answer by Helier Robinson

Logically there are two possibilities, given your premise that everything needs a cause: either there is an infinite regress of causes, going back for ever, or else there was a first cause. I personally want nothing to do with infinity, on the ground that it is a weasel word: people use it when they don’t know the limits of something.

The first cause is usually called God, who is causa sui, or self caused; but it need not be: one could, like Leibniz, claim that the world that exists does so necessarily because it is the best of all possibles. That is, being the best includes its necessary existence as a predicate, so that it is self-caused. Leibniz was (and is still) much misunderstood on this. He was not referring to the empirical world that we perceive around us (which is clearly not the best of all possibles because there is so much evil in it), but to the world of underlying causes of empirical phenomena, the world that theoretical scientists say is described by theoretical science, an underlying mathematical structure.

Note that to say that the best possible being has necessary existence as a predicate is to invoke the ontological argument of St. Anselm. This is usually applied to God, but it can also be applied to the underlying world. The usual attempt to refute the ontological argument is to claim that existence is never a predicate (and this distinction is built into modern symbolic logic). But it is quite feasible to claim that existence is not a predicate except in the case of the best of all possibles. That is, the best of all possibles has, as part of its perfection, properties that nothing else has and one of these is intrinsic necessary existence. Another way of putting this is to argue that of all possible worlds, only one is actual. There must be a reason why this one is actual, rather than any other, and this reason cannot be extrinsic to this world, since nothing actual exists outside of it; so it is intrinsic necessary existence, which is part of its perfection. (If something has intrinsic necessary existence then it has to exist.)


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