Causality and the whole world

The laws of causality apply to the whole universe

A frequent objection against belief in a Creator arises from a restriction put on the laws of causality.

The principle of causality works within the universe. Yes, within the universe everything requires a causal explanation. However, the principle does not apply to the universe as such, to its totality. From the fact that every human being has a mother, it does not follow that the whole human race has a mother. Even if every soldier wears a helmet, the whole army does not wear one. The whole universe belongs to a different logical sphere.
B.RUSSELL, “Debate on the Existence of God”, in Why I Am Not A Christian, London 1957, pp. 144-168.

Yes, the universe does belong to another logical sphere. You are right in pointing out that causality within the universe is physical. This same kind of causality cannot cause the universe as a whole. Otherwise its physical cause would itself be part of the universe.

But, from another point of view, the objection as it stands is preposterous. It would imply that we are allowed to explore `the reasons why’ for things within the universe, but not for the universe as such. But this is precisely the most important question of all!

Moreover, this `ultimate’ question we are asking, concerns a different kind of causality, the causality of existence, of being. This is not the physical causality we know from our experience within the universe. Whatever is produced physically, emerges from previous energy, matter or space. We assert that the whole universe receives its being from a creative power, that it has been created out of nothing.

Physicists sometimes talk of fundamental particles being created out of nothing. This is improper use of language. The particles, usually in opposite positive and negative pairs, are in a different state of energy of the space-time continuum. Even a vacuum in space-time is not nothing.

There you go again! Talking about the whole universe. How do we know whether what applies to objects within the universe, applies to the totality as well? Can’t the universe have its own type of being?

No, it can’t. Remember that we are talking about existence and reality. Why do we exist? This question applies equally, if not more, to the totality of the universe.


Richard Taylor explains this in a thought experiment. Imagine, he says, that you find a large strange ball in the middle of a forest. You will not doubt that it needs an explanation for its existence. For, looking at it, you see that is not a necessary thing, it is contingent, which means that it is there but could also not be there: it needs an explanation.

Now suppose you annihilate the forest in your imagination; or even the entire world that surrounds the ball. Suppose the ball is the only thing that is left, that it constitutes the entire physical universe. It would still remain contingent. It would still require an explanation. Its existence has not suddenly been rendered self-explanatory.

Even if it is the only thing that has ever existed in all imaginary time, it would still require an explanation.

Again, it matters little whether the ball is large or small, complex or simple. It would still require an explanation. What is more, it would be absurd to say that it requires an explanation for its existence if it is six feet in diameter, but that if it were as vast and complex as our universe, it would not require an explanation for its existence. Chocolate remains chocolate whether you have just one bar, or galaxies full of it (see: R. TAYLOR, Metaphysics, Englewood Cliffs 1983, pp. 93-94.

In other words: the universe requires an explanation beyond itself for its existence.