I was reading a book on Chinese medicine, and stumbled across this quote :
"Conceptions are not subsumed under one another but placed side by side in a pattern, and things influence one another not by acts of mechanical causation, but by a kind of 'inductance' ... The key-work in Chinese thought is Order and above all Pattern ... Things behave in particular ways not necessarily because of their prior actions or implusions of other things, but because their position in the ever-moving cyclical universe was such that they were endowed with intrinsic natures that made behaviour inevitable for them ... They were thus parts in existential dependence upon the whole organism."
-- Joseph Needham
This brought home to me something about the "proof" of God from the principle of first causes - specifically why I find it completely unconvincing, and at the same time perhaps why Aquinas found it extremely convincing.
Essentially, it is the role of intrinsic versus extrinsic causes for behaviour. The Chinese conception here demonstrates that change is coming from within the thing, whereas in Aquinas' thought, change always came from without. Speaking mechanically, every event has an antecedant, but today we see mechanical action as the playing out of the laws of physics, rather than the result of some particular cause.
In a philosophy which views all change as being extrinsic, one is led inevitably to a primal cause - God. A philosophy which is unable to grasp the conception of a universe consisting only of intrinsic properties is equally unable to entertain the notion that God does not exist. It is precisely this problem which continues to be confusing to many people considering the start of time. When you ask, "What came before time?", you are doing two things. The first is confusing temporal order with logical order. Time traced backwards to the origin of the universe follows a curve, not a straight line. A time traveller attempting to reach the origin of the universe would face the same problems now facing those who attempt to travel at the speed of light - those of relativity. The second is more forceful - by what right does the universe exist, and why are its' properties so? The conception of the universe surrounded by void is one which conjours up a multiverse of universes, some mental fantasy where they, in some sense of the word, are still present "in" something.
The Chinese philosophy is much more at home with the concept of the universe defining itself, and containing within it both laws by which actions are restricted, and actions by which change is made.