Listen to this article: Using time to prove the existence of God
I want to share one of my favorite ways to argue for the existence of God. Before I start I must admit a few things about this argument. The first is that this argument is a bit deep and therefore requires more effort than other methods for proving the existence of God. The second is that because of the first fact, it is often not useful during conversation. The time it takes to set up is often not available. It doesn’t fit into a soundbite world. The third is that like many arguments for the existence of God, it does not tell us very much about the nature of God. This argument can only take us so far and we need other arguments to continue to learn about God. This argument uses the passage of time to demonstrate that a purely naturally occurring eternal universe is not logical.
Picture a number line in front of you. It is the same type of number lines you learned about in school. They typically have a line drawn across a paper or a whiteboard. It has a number of equally spaced markings across it. Zero is usually in the middle. Regardless what number is in the middle, the numbers to the right increase along each mark and the numbers to the left decrease with each mark. For our example, zero will be in the middle. The numbers 1, 2, 3, etc. are on the right of the zero. The numbers -1, -2, -3, etc. are on the left of zero.
According to Carol Sagan, “The cosmos is all there is or ever was or ever will be”. He explicitly by that statement is denying that the universe was created by supernatural means. If we think about his statement we can apply it to the number line. Suppose the number line represents the passage of time and zero represents this instant in time. Numbers to the left of zero represent the past and numbers to the right of it represent the future. Time moves across the number line from left to right. In order to make a number line match his statement that the universe is all there will ever be, we need to put an arrow at the end of the line on the right side. This represents numbers that will extend into infinity in the future.
In order to match his statement that the universe is all that ever was, we need to have an arrow to the left side of the number line. This demonstrates that time extends into the past to infinity. The left side of the number line is where his problem lies.
According to this number line with zero as this current instant, how much time would had to have passed in order to arrive at this instant in time? You might first wonder how much time each mark on the number line represents. It doesn’t matter. It could be whatever amount of time you like: second, a minute, an hour, year, a century, a millennia, or something else. The argument works equally well regardless of how much time each mark represents. Back to the question. It turns out the question is impossible to answer. If the numbers to the left, the negative numbers, extends to infinity, then infinity would have to have passed in order to arrive at zero. But it is impossible for infinity to pass, therefore it is impossible for us to be at this instant in time. This instant in time cannot exist.
A second question arises. At what point can we start to talk about existence? The answer is never. If this instant cannot be attained because it is impossible for an infinite amount of time to have passed, it is equally impossible for any instant in the past. It is like asking how much time would have to pass for us to be living in the future. We never live in the future, we always live in the present. The future is a moving target. Tomorrow is always a day away. But if the universe has always existed, the same is true for today and the same is true for yesterday. Sometimes it takes a little bit of time for this concept to sink in. But it effectively destroys the concept of an eternal universe that has always existed.
With this in mind we are drawn to the conclusion that time had to have a definite beginning. Once there is a beginning, current science thinks around 15 billion years ago, we know how much time would have to have passed in order to get to this instant. It would take 15 billion years. The number line would now have a dot at the left end instead of an arrow. Now time can move along the number line and it matches our reality.
But this leads us to another question. If time had a definite beginning, how did it begin? I want to divide any potential answers into two categories. The first is natural explanations. The other is supernatural explanations.
For time to start without a supernatural beginning, we would have to say that time started on its own for no reason. But this violates what we know about the rules of cause and effect. Things just don’t happen for no reason. Things don’t come into existence spontaneously. The person who believes this might just as well believe that a stage magician actually did create the rabbit that he pulled from a hat out of thin air. It was no slight of hand, the rabbit suddenly came into existence. The spontaneous creation of a rabbit is no more or less logical than the spontaneous creation of time. This would mean in order to remain an atheist, one would have to believe in magic. I have never met an atheist that I would pose these questions to who said that they do believe in magic.
Now let’s consider the supernatural category. If time exists within our natural order, then it had to be created by some force that is operating above our laws of nature. It was created by something that operates outside of time. While this seems abstract, it is also logical. Even if we don’t understand what it means to exist outside of time, we can see that a power that is not bound by the rules of nature and lives outside of time could have created time. To not be bound by the rules of nature is the definition of supernatural. Literally supernatural means above nature. Even if it is a hard argument to accept, if we are logically consistent and don’t believe in magic we should accept that time was created by a supernatural being.