The Qur’an provides an intuitive and powerful argument for God’s existence: “Or were they created by nothing? Or were they the creators [of themselves]? Or did they create the heavens and Earth? Rather, they are not certain.”
Although this argument refers to the human being, it can also be applied to anything that began to exist, or anything that emerged. The Qur’an uses the word khuliqu, which means created, made or originated. So it can refer to anything that came into being.
Now let’s break down the argument. The Qur’an mentions four possibilities to explain how something was created or came into being or existence:
- Created by nothing: “or were they created by nothing?”
- Self-created: “or were they the creators of themselves?”
- Created by something created: “or did they create the heavens and the Earth?”, which implies a created thing being ultimately created by something else created.
- Created by something uncreated: “Rather, they are not certain”, implying that the denial of God is baseless, and therefore the statement implies that there is an uncreated creator.
This argument can also be turned into a universal formula that does not require reference to scripture:
- The universe is finite.
- Finite things could have come from nothing, created themselves, been ultimately created by something created, or been created by something uncreated.
- They could not have come from nothing, created themselves, or have been ultimately created by something created.
- Therefore, they were created by something uncreated.
The universe is finite
A range of philosophical arguments shows the finitude of the universe. The most cogent and simplest of these arguments involves demonstrating that an actual physical infinite cannot exist. The type of actual infinite that I am addressing here is a differentiated type of infinite, which is an infinite made up of discrete parts, like physical things or objects. These physical things can include atoms, quarks, buses, giraffes and quantum fields. The undifferentiated type of infinite, however, is an infinite that is not made of discrete parts. This infinite is coherent and can exist. For instance, the infinity of God is an undifferentiated infinite, as He is not made up of discrete physical parts. In Islamic theology He is uniquely one and transcendent.
The most persuasive and intuitive arguments to substantiate the impossibility of an actual infinite come in the form of thought experiments. Now the concern here is with the impossibility of the physical infinite being actualised. This is different from mathematical infinites. Although logically coherent, these exist in the mathematical realm, which is usually based on axioms and assumptions. Our concern is whether the infinite can be realised in the real physical world.
Take the following examples into consideration:
- Bag of balls: Imagine you had an infinite number of balls in a bag. If you take two balls away, how many balls do you have left? Well, mathematically you still have an infinite number. However, practically you should have two less than what is in the bag. What if you added another two balls instead of removing them? How many balls are there now? There should be two more than what was in the bag. You should be able to count how many balls are in the bag, but you cannot because the infinite is just an idea and does not exist in the real world. This clearly shows you cannot have an actualised infinite made up of discrete physical parts or things. In light of this fact the famous German mathematician David Hilbert said, “The infinite is nowhere to be found in reality. It neither exists in nature nor provides a legitimate basis for rational thought… the role that remains for the infinite to play is solely that of an idea.”
- Stack of cubes with different sizes: Imagine you had a stack of cubes. Each cube is numbered. The first cube has a volume of 10cm3. The next cube on top of that has a volume of 5cm3 and the next cube is half of the previous cube. This goes on ad infinitum (again and again in the same way forever). Now go to the top of the stack and remove the cube at the top. You cannot. There is no cube to be found. Why? Because if there was a cube to be found at the top it would mean that the cubes did not reach infinity. However, since there is no cube at the top, it also shows—even though the mathematical infinite exists (with assumptions and axioms)—that you cannot have an actualised infinite in the real world. Since there is no end to the stack it shows the infinite—that is made up of discrete physical things (in this case the cubes)—cannot be physically realised.
Conceptually, the universe is no different to the bag of balls or the stack of cubes I have explained above. The universe is real. It is made up of discrete physical things. Since the differentiated infinite cannot exist in the real world, it follows that the universe cannot be infinite. This implies that the universe is finite, and since it is finite it must have had a beginning.
The scientific research that relates to the beginning of the universe has not been discussed here because the data is currently undetermined. Underdetermination is a “thesis explaining that for any scientifically based theory there will always be at least one rival theory that is also supported by the evidence given… ” There are around 17 competing models to explain the cosmological evidence. Some of these models conclude that the universe is finite and had a beginning and others argue that the universe is past eternal. The evidence is not conclusive, and the conclusions might change when new evidence is observed or new models are developed.
Now we are in a position to apply the four logical possibilities to explain the beginning of the universe and discuss each one.
Created from nothing?
Before I address this possibility, I need to define what is meant by ‘nothing’. Nothing is defined as the absence of all things. To illustrate this better, imagine if everything, all matter, energy and potential, were to vanish, that state would be described as nothing. This is not to be confused with the quantum vacuum or field, a concept I will explain later. Nothing also refers to the absence of any causal condition. A causal condition is any type of cause that produces an effect. This cause can be material or non-material.
Asserting that things can come from nothing means that things can come into being from no potential, no matter or nothing at all. To assert such a thing defies our intuitions and stands against reason.
So could the universe have come into existence from nothing? The obvious answer is no, because from nothing, nothing comes. Nothingness cannot produce anything. Something cannot arise from no causal conditions whatsoever. Another way of looking at it is by way of simple math. What is 0 + 0 + 0? It is not 3, it’s 0.
One of the reasons that this is so intuitive is because it is based on a rational (or metaphysical) principle: being cannot come from nonbeing. To assert the opposite is what I would call counter discourse. Anyone could claim anything. If someone can claim that the entire universe can come from nothing, then the implications would be absurd. They could assert that anything could come into being without any causal conditions at all.
For something to arise from nothing it must have at least some type of potential or causal conditions. Since nothing is the absence of all things, including any type of causal condition, then something could not arise from nothing. Maintaining that something can arise from nothing is logically equivalent that things can vanish, decay, annihilate or disappear without any causal conditions whatsoever. Those who argue that something can come from nothing must also maintain that something can vanish from no causal conditions at all. For example, if a building completely vanished, they should not be surprised at such an event; because if things can come from no causal conditions at all, then it logically implies that things can vanish by means of no causal conditions as well. However, they would never argue that things can just vanish without reference to any causal condition. To do so would be rationally absurd.
A common contention to this argument is that the universe could come from nothing because in the quantum vacuum particles pop into existence. This contention assumes that the quantum vacuum is nothing. However, this is not true. The quantum vacuum is something; it is not an absolute void and it obeys the laws of physics. The quantum vacuum is state of fleeting energy. So it is not nothing, it is something physical.
If you cannot have something from nothing, then how did God create from nothing?
This contention is false, as it implies that God is nothing. God is a unique agent with the potential to create and bring things into existence through His will and power. Therefore it is not the case of something coming from nothing. God’s will and power were the causal conditions to bring the universe into existence.
Something coming from nothing is impossible, because nothing implies non-being, no potential and no causal conditions. It is irrational to assert that something can emerge from an absolute void without any potential or prior causal activity. God provides that causal activity via His will and power. Even though the Islamic intellectual tradition refers to the God creating from nothing, this act of creation means that there was no material stuff. However, it does not assume that there were no causal conditions or potential. God’s will and power form the causal conditions to bring the universe into existence.
Could the universe have created itself? The term ‘created’ refers to something that emerged, and therefore it was once not in existence. Another way of speaking about something being created is that it was brought into being. All of these words imply something being finite, as all things that were created are finite. Understanding the concept of creation leads us to conclude that self-creation is a logical and practical impossibility. This is due to the fact that that self-creation implies that something was in existence and not in existence at the same time, which is impossible. Something that emerged means that it once was not in existence; however, to say that it created itself implies that it was in existence before it existed!
Consider the following question: was it possible for your mother to give birth to herself? To claim such a thing would suggest that she would have to be born before she was born. When something is created, it means it once did not exist, and therefore had no power to do anything. So to claim that it created itself is impossible, as it could not have any power before it was created in order to create itself. This applies to all finite things, and that includes the universe too.
Created by something else that was created?
For argument sake, let’s answer “yes” to the following question: Was the universe created by something else created? Will that satisfy the questioner? Obviously not. The contentious person will undoubtedly ask, “Then, what created that thing?” If we were to answer, “Another created thing”, what do you think he would say? Yes, you guessed right: “What created that thing?” If this ridiculous dialogue continued forever, then it would prove one thing: the need for an uncreated creator.
Why? Because we cannot have the case of a created thing, like the universe, being created by another created thing in an unlimited series going back forever (known as an infinite regress of causes). It simply does not make sense. Consider the following examples:
- Imagine that a sniper, who has acquired his designated target, radios through to HQ to get permission to shoot. HQ, however, tells the sniper to hold on while they seek permission from a higher-up. Subsequently, the higher-up seeks permission from the guy even higher up, and so on and so on. If this keeps going on forever, will the sniper ever get to shoot the target? Of course not! He will keep on waiting while someone else is waiting for a person higher up to give the order. There has to be a place or person from where the command is issued; a place where there is no one higher. Thus, our example illustrates the rational flaw in the idea of an infinite regress of causes. When we apply this to the universe we have to posit that it must have had an uncreated creator. The universe, which is a created thing, could not be created by another created thing, ad infinitum. If that were the case this universe would not exist. Since it exists, we can dismiss the idea of an infinite regress of causes as an irrational proposition.
- Imagine if a stock trader at the stock exchange was not able to buy or sell his stocks or bonds before asking permission from the investor. Once the stock trader asked his investor, he also had to check with his investor. Imagine if this went on forever. Would the stock trader ever buy or sell his stocks or bonds? The answer is no. There must be an investor who gives the permission without requiring any permission himself. In similar light, if we apply this to the universe, we would have to posit a creator for the universe that is uncreated.
Once the above examples are applied to the universe directly, it will highlight the absurdity of the idea that the universe ultimately was created by something created. Consider if this universe, U1, was created by a prior cause, U2, and U2 was created by another cause, U3, and this went on forever. We wouldn’t have universe U1 in the first place. Think about it this way, when does U1 come into being? Only after U2 has come into being. When does U2 come into being? Only after U3 has come into being. This same problem will continue even if we go on forever. If U1 depended on its coming into being on a forever chain of created universes, U1 would never exist.
Created by something uncreated?
So, what is the alternative? The alternative is a first cause. In other words, an uncaused cause or an uncreated creator. The 11th century theologian and philosopher Al-Ghazali summarised the existence of an uncaused cause or an uncreated creator in the following way: “The same can be said of the cause of the cause. Now this can either go on ad infinitum, which is absurd, or it will come to an end.”
What the above discussion is essentially saying is that something must have always existed. Now there are two obvious choices: God or the universe. Since the universe began and is dependent, it cannot have always existed. Therefore, something that always existed must be God. The philosopher Abraham Varghese, in the appendix to Professor Anthony Flew’s book There is a God, explains this conclusion in a simple yet forceful way. He writes: “Now, clearly, theists and atheists can agree on one thing: if anything at all exists, there must be something preceding it that always existed. How did this eternally existing reality come to be? The answer is that it never came to be. It always existed. Take your pick: God or universe. Something always existed.”
Thus, we can conclude that there exists an uncreated creator for everything that is created. The power of this argument is captured in the reaction of the companion of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ Jubayr ibn Mut’im. When he heard the relevant verses of the Qur’an addressing this argument he said that “my heart almost began to soar.” The scholar Al-Khattabi said that the reason Jubayr was so moved by these verses was because of “the strong evidence contained therein touched his sensitive nature, and with his intelligence understood it.”
What has been established so far is that there must be an uncreated creator. This does not imply the traditional concept of God. However, if we think carefully about the uncreated creator, we can form conclusions that lead to the traditional understanding of God.
Since this creator is uncreated, it means that it was always in existence. Something that did not begin has always existed, and something that has always existed is eternal. The Qur’an makes this very clear: “God, the Eternal Refuge. He neither begets nor is born.”
Who created God?
A typical response to the eternality of the Divine is the outdated atheist cliché: Who created God? This childish contention is a gross misrepresentation and misunderstanding of the argument I have been elucidating in this essay. There are two main responses to this objection.
Firstly, the third possibility that we discussed concerning how the universe came into being was: Could it be created by something created? We discussed that this was ultimately not possible because of the absurdity of the infinite regress of causes. The conclusion was simple: there must have been an uncreated creator. Being uncreated means God was not created. I have already presented a few examples to highlight this fact.
Secondly, once we have concluded that the best explanation for the emergence of the universe is the concept of God, it would be illogical to maintain that someone created Him. God created the universe and is not bound by its laws, He is by definition an uncreated Being, and He never came into existence. Something that never began cannot be created.
This uncreated creator cannot be part of creation. A useful example to illustrate this is when a carpenter makes a chair. In the process of designing and creating the chair, he does not become the chair. He is distinct from the chair. This applies to the uncreated creator as well. He created the universe and therefore is distinct from what He created. The theologian and scholar Ibn Taymiyya argued that the term created implied that something was distinct from God.
If the creator was part of creation it would make Him contingent or dependent with limited physical qualities. This in turn would mean that He would require an explanation for His existence, which would imply He cannot be God.
The Qur’an affirms the transcendence of God. It says, “There is nothing like unto Him.”
This uncreated creator must have knowledge because the universe that He created has established laws. These include the law of gravity, the weak and strong nuclear force, and the electromagnetic force. These laws imply there is a lawgiver, and a lawgiver implies knowledge. The Qur’an says, “Indeed God is, of all things, Knowing.”
This uncreated creator must be powerful because He created the universe, and the universe has immense energy, both usable and potential. Take, for instance, the number of atoms in the observable universe, which is around 1080. If you were to take just one of these atoms and split it, it would release an immense amount of energy—known as nuclear fission. A created thing with usable and potential energy could not have acquired that from itself. Ultimately, it came from the Creator, who in turn must be powerful.
If the creator did not have power, it means that He is unable, incapable and weak. Since the universe was created, it is a simple proof that He must have ability and power. Now just imagine the immense power of the Creator by reflecting on the universe and all that it contains. The Qur’an asserts the power of God:
“God creates what He wills for verily God has power over all things.”
This uncreated creator must have a will. Since this creator is eternal and brought into existence a finite universe, it must have chosen the universe to come into existence. This creator must have chosen the universe to come into existence when the universe was non-existent and could have remained so. Something that has a choice obviously has a will.
The Qur’an affirms the fact that God has a will: “Your Lord carries out whatever He wills.”
Although there are some objections to the argument presented in this essay, they do not qualify as defeaters. What this means is that even if these objections could not be responded to the argument would still maintain its rational force. Nevertheless, there are some questions that provide some form of challenge to this argument. These include: If the Creator of the universe is eternal, why did the universe begin to exist when it did instead of existing from eternity? If God is maximally perfect and transcendent, what caused Him to create at all? Does God require creation in order to possess attributes of perfection? These questions have been intelligently addressed in a paper entitled The Kalam Cosmological Argument and the Problem of Divine Creative Agency and Purpose.
In this essay we have seen that the Qur’an provides an intuitive and powerful argument for God’s existence. Since the universe is finite, it had a beginning. If it began, then it can be explained as coming from nothing, creating itself, being ultimately created by something created or being created by something uncreated. The rational answer is that it the universe was brought into being by an uncreated creator who is transcendent, knowing, powerful and has a will. This creator must also be uniquely one, which has been discussed in another essay.
Last updated 31 January 2017. Taken and adapted from my book “The Divine Reality: God, Islam & The Mirage of Atheism”. You can purchase the book here.
 The Qur’an, Chapter 52, Verses 35 and 36.
 Mohar, M. A. (2003) A word for word meaning of the Qur’ān. Vol III. Ipswich: JIMAS, p. 1713.
 This argument has been inspired by and adapted from Idris, J. (1994) The Contemporary Physicists and God’s Existence. Available at: http://www.jaafaridris.com/the-contemporary-physicists-and-gods-existence/ [Accessed 23rd November 2016].
 Hilbert, D. (1964) On the Infinite. In: P. Benacerraf and H. Putnam (eds), Philosophy of Mathematics: Selected Readings. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, p. 151.
 Quine: Terms explained. Available at: http://www.rit.edu/cla/philosophy/quine/underdetermination.html [Accessed 23rd October 2016].
 American Physical Society. (1998) Focus: The Force of Empty Space. Available at: http://physics.aps.org/story/v2/st28 [Accessed 23rd November 2016].
 This example has been taken from Green, A. R. The Man in the Red Underpants. 2nd Edition. London: One Reason, pp. 9-10.
 This example has been adapted from Idris, J. (2006) Contemporary Physicists and God’s Existence (part 2 of 3): A Series of Causes. Available at: http://www.islamreligion.com/articles/491/ [Accessed 2nd October 2016].
 Cited in Goodman, L. E. (1971) Ghazali’s Argument From Creation (I). International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol 2, Issue. 1, 83.
 Flew, A. (2007) There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind. New York: HarperOne. 2007, p. 165.
 Narrated by Bukhari.
 Cited in Al-Bayhaqi, A. (2006) Kitab al-Asma was-Sifat. Vol 2, p. 270.
 The Qur’an, Chapter 112, Verses 2 and 3.
 Hoover, J. (2004) Perpetual Creativity in the Perfection of God: Ibn Taymiyya’s Hadith Commentary on God’s Creation of this World. Journal of Islamic Studies 15(3): 296.
 The Qur’an, Chapter 42, Verse 11.
 The Qur’an, Chapter 58, Verse 7.
 This is an estimate based on the number of hydrogen atoms that are contained in the estimated total amount of stars in the observable universe. The number is higher if other atoms are included.
 The Qur’an, Chapter 24, Verse 45.
 The Qur’an, Chapter 11, Verse 107.
 Randhawa, S. (2011) The Kalam Cosmological Argument and the Problem of Divine Creative Agency and Purpose. Draft version. Available at: http://www.academia.edu/29016615/The_Kal%C4%81m_Cosmological_Argument_and_the_Problem_of_Divine_Creative_Agency_and_Purpose [Accessed 22nd October 2016].
 Tzortzis, H. (2017) Divine Singularity: The Oneness of God. Available at: http://www.hamzatzortzis.com/4075/divine-singularity-the-oneness-of-god/ [Accessed 17th January 2017].