There are four kinds of causation: physical, teleological, Aristotelian, and divine grounding causation. One way to track them is to observe that:
– a physical cause precedes its effect in time, as a billiard ball is in motion before it makes another ball move by striking it;
– a teleological cause is after its effect in time, as future expected utility causes a man to act;
– the 4 Aristotelian causes are concurrent with their effect — they answer the question “What makes an object exist right now?”; and
– the grounding cause is eternal and comprehends all time.
The term “efficient cause” has been grossly misused. The efficient cause is one of the Aristotelian 4 causes — which include also the material, final, and formal causes — and answers the question “How does this thing work?” It is a completely different animal from physical, teleological, and grounding causes. Therefore God cannot be called “first efficient cause” but is rather, as we will see, the first grounding cause.
Take the dresser in my bedroom. Consider now the entire universe, all that we can observe exists. For all we know at this stage of the argument, the universe is uncaused. But the universe, being simply “dresser + everything else” cannot cause the dresser, for then the dresser would be a (partial) cause of itself which is absurd.
On the other hand, there are numerous secondary causes of the dresser, such as the carpenter who made it, his tools, the tree from which its wood was taken, and so on. Then we ask, what made the carpenter? If it’s some X, Y, Z, we ask what made them. Eventually, since infinite regress is proscribed, we must arrive to some first cause F of the dresser.
(We can’t have infinite regress, because it’s unintelligible.)
Attend to the following crucial next step. F cannot have existed forever as part of the universe that also has existed forever, because then F would have lived for an infinite time somehow without causing X. But in infinite time, all genuine potentialities are sooner or later actualized, and an infinite number of times, too. If F failed to have caused X even once over an infinite time span, then it never really had the power to cause X at all. And then it couldn’t have caused X a finite amount of minutes or years ago, either.
The following situation then is impossible:
Dresser ← Carpenter ← X ← F → into infinite past.
Note that it is the nature of F as a real (as vs. ideal) thing to be causally efficacious, to have causal powers. It is inevitable that at some point F will cause some X. The argument then goes through. One interesting possibility is this: what if F is a rational agent, such as a man who has lived an actually infinite amount of time without ever wanting to cause X but at long last decided to cause X a finite amount of time, say, 5 years, ago? It seems to me, however, that an infinitely old man would have “been everywhere” and “done everything.” If he began to want X 5 years ago, then he would have desired to enjoy X if it were at all useful to him during the prior infinitude of time, as well.
Of course, if F had existed for a finite amount of time, then F itself began to exist. Now everything that begins to exist must have a cause. But F is uncaused and first.
Therefore F cannot be a physical cause prior to X. But neither is it teleological (which would be understood not as “first cause” but as “last end”) or Aristotelian (since we must explain not why X exists now but how it was generated in the first place). It must then be an eternal grounding cause. There is a grounding first cause of the dresser that is itself uncaused.
Our last move is to note that this argument can be applied to each individual object in the universe (however we carve the universe into objects), such as also my bed, desk, TV, and so on. But since the universe is “dresser + bed + … + everything else,” by demonstrating that all things have a first cause, we ipso facto show that the universe as a whole is not, after all, uncaused but also has a first grounding cause which I will call God.
The reasoning regarding the nature of the first cause of the universe is as follows.
If the universe has existed forever, then this cause cannot be physical, since nothing is prior in time to negative infinity (whatever “date” that may be). If the universe came to exist, then time itself came to exist alongside it, and it is senseless to wonder what was “before” it, since the very concepts of “before” and “after” arose together with the universe. Again we conclude that the cause cannot be physical.
Again F is neither teleological nor Aristotelian. Hence it must needs be an eternal grounding cause.
The final question is, “How can we describe this cause?” As stated, the grounding cause is eternal in nature, with “eternity” meaning “simultaneously-whole and perfect possession of interminable life.” One important consequence is that an eternal being cannot die or corrupt (go out of existence). Hence God, having created the universe, still exists now. I think that’s all the information on God that we can squeeze out of this argument. For example, proving the unity of God, specifically that there is only one first grounding cause of all things and the universe is a whole, may require a separate argument.