Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?

What feels like a life­time ago, I was intro­duced to the con­cept of lengthy lists of ques­tions intend­ed to catch mem­bers of an oppos­ing view­point or world­view off guard or get them think­ing about what they believe in per­haps a dif­fer­ent man­ner. The ear­li­est list I can recall was Hard Nuts for Catholic Apol­o­gists, a list by David Cloud of Way of Life Min­istries intend­ed to get Roman Catholics to come face-to-face with how unre­lat­ed to the Bible their faith seemed to be.

Over time, I encoun­tered dozens of such lists. Chris­tians wrote lists about Islam, Mus­lims wrote them about Chris­tians, athe­ists wrote them about Chris­tians, and so on. Pres­i­dent Bart­let on the tele­vi­sion show The West Wing got in on it with a list in rant form used to counter a claim about the Bible and homosexuality.

Lists of ques­tions nat­u­ral­ly invite answers, and because I don’t feel antag­o­nism toward my Chris­t­ian fel­low humans, I will be assum­ing good faith in these ques­tions, answer­ing them to the best of my abil­i­ty in kind­ness and hope for mutu­al learning.

As part of that, I won’t be push­ing my answers out all at once. Far too often it seems like these lists, rebut­tal lists, and lists of answers are meant to be over­whelm­ing. One or two ques­tions may not get your “oppo­nent” ques­tion­ing their views, but what if you ask them forty ques­tions at once and they begin ques­tion­ing things as a result of being over­whelmed?

I don’t want my answers to be over­whelm­ing. I’m not writ­ing “gotcha” mate­r­i­al here. Fur­ther, let me be clear: By trade, I am not a sci­en­tist, nor am I a philoso­pher. Con­se­quent­ly, if I don’t know an answer and can’t find one with which I am sat­is­fied, I’ll be hon­est about it.

So with­out fur­ther intro­duc­tion, my first set of ques­tions comes from Zac at Adher­ent Apolo­get­ics.

Why is there something rather than nothing?

Hon­est­ly, I don’t know. Maybe every­thing just always has been, exist­ing in an end­less cycle of Big Bang/​Big Crunch. Some sci­en­tists posit that the pri­mor­dial sin­gu­lar­i­ty which gave birth to the uni­verse itself sprang forth out of noth­ing, due to the insta­bil­i­ty of noth­ing­ness.

That’s inter­est­ing, isn’t it? A uni­verse from noth­ing. That reminds me of some­thing I believed as a young Earth cre­ation­ist many moons ago: cre­ation ex nihi­lo. In the Book of Gen­e­sis, the sto­ry goes that God spoke the uni­verse into exis­tence, one bit at a time, over the course of a few days.

From my point of view, that’s a great coin­ci­dence, that the author(s) of Gen­e­sis just hap­pened to come up with a cre­ation myth that would bear a pass­ing resem­blance to what may have occurred. I’ll write more about the dichoto­my of sci­ence and reli­gion some oth­er time, but I bring it up here because the ques­tion at hand — why is there some­thing rather than noth­ing? — is a devi­ous­ly tricky question.

Like a child who has dis­cov­ered the pow­er of the sim­ple ques­tion “Why?”, the moment we answer our ques­tion, it can be asked again about the answer. This is very eas­i­ly demon­strat­ed; the ques­tion was posed by a Chris­t­ian, so let’s apply it to Christianity:

Why is there some­thing rather than nothing?

Because God cre­at­ed the heav­ens and the earth.

Why is there a God rather than no god?

Because God is; indeed, he is the very fun­da­men­tal aspect of being.

But why?

And so on. At some point, the ques­tion hits a wall, with the answer being some­thing akin to “exis­tence for exis­tence’s sake.” Sci­en­tists will always try to ascer­tain fur­ther answers, but I’m fair­ly con­tent with the answer that the mat­ter in the uni­verse always has been, and well, I don’t know why.

Is there any evidence that suggests the universe is eternal?

No. In fact, we know with some degree of cer­tain­ty that the uni­verse began between 15 and 20 bil­lion years ago in the event known as the Big Bang. We sim­ply don’t know if what con­di­tions were like before the Bang, though it’s pos­si­ble that there was noth­ing (see above).

With that said, it may not be with­in our capa­bil­i­ties of ever learn­ing what came before the Big Bang, if there even was a “before” in any mean­ing­ful sense of the word. “Before” implies a pro­gres­sion of time, and I’m not sure it can even be said that there was time pri­or to the Big Bang.

I’m not so naïve as to notice the par­al­lel of a finite uni­verse spring­ing forth into exis­tence and the more fan­tas­ti­cal expla­na­tion giv­en in Gen­e­sis. “God said it and bang it hap­pened” isn’t so dif­fer­ent from “Bang it hap­pened” when one con­sid­ers that the “before” is impos­si­ble for us to know. Attempt­ing to fig­ure it out is not all too dis­sim­i­lar from a suf­fi­cient­ly advanced video game char­ac­ter attempt­ing to under­stand his uni­verse and what con­di­tions were like before the sys­tem was pow­ered on.

Maybe God or a God-type enti­ty was respon­si­ble, maybe not. Maybe an old uni­verse borne out of the Big Bang is the best pos­si­ble inter­pre­ta­tion for what hap­pened using sci­en­tif­ic rea­son­ing, and maybe only a divine­ly awak­ened mind can see the uni­verse as hav­ing been divine­ly created. 

Ulti­mate­ly, from a per­son­al stand­point, I’m not sure it mat­ters. If you want to believe the uni­verse was cre­at­ed mirac­u­lous­ly, you can, but don’t get in the way of sci­en­tists and those of us bound to sec­u­lar under­stand­ings; we must be able to make pre­dic­tions about the world around us, and in a world­view allow­ing it to be behold­en to an omnipo­tent yet unknow­able Oth­er, such pre­dic­tions aren’t possible.

If not, why do Atheists hold onto the idea and say you have debunked the Kalam Cosmological Argument?

The Kalām cos­mo­log­i­cal argu­ment goes a lit­tle some­thing like this:

  1. What­ev­er begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The uni­verse began to exist.
  3. There­fore, the uni­verse has a cause.

I don’t dis­agree with this. In fact, let’s make it short­er: Every effect must have a cause.

This requires that some­thing caused the Big Bang, and I am fine with that con­clu­sion and the bur­den of igno­rance car­ried in not know­ing what that cause might be. Maybe an unsta­ble noth­ing popped the uni­verse into exis­tence. Maybe a god spoke it into exis­tence. Maybe the uni­verse went back in time and acci­den­tal­ly became its own grand­pa. Frankly, you could put just about any idea before the Big Bang and they would have the same mer­its: We don’t know, so pick the best expla­na­tion you can. Maybe sci­en­tists will nar­row down the answers more in time. Maybe it’s a fron­tier that’ll nev­er be crossed. Maybe it’s a fron­tier which exists par­tic­u­lar­ly because of God’s hid­ing the truth from those who aren’t his peo­ple. Who can say? I sure can’t.

How­ev­er, it must also be point­ed out that assum­ing some­thing pri­or to the uni­verse means assum­ing yet anoth­er “effect” that must be “caused.”

If “in the begin­ning, God…”, then what caused God? And if God can be eter­nal­ly cause­less, why can not the uni­verse’s essen­tial being?

If so, why do the vast majority of scientists reject this idea?

Do the major­i­ty of sci­en­tists reject the idea that the uni­verse is eter­nal? From the out­dat­ed idea that the uni­verse is sta­t­ic to the idea that the uni­verse cycles through crunch­es and bangs, it seems that the idea that the uni­verse is eter­nal in some form or anoth­er isn’t all that uncommon. 

The idea that what­ev­er pre­ced­ed the Big Bang bub­bled out of an unsta­ble noth­ing is new and uncommon. 

Also, I don’t like lump­ing all sci­en­tists togeth­er like that. The major­i­ty of sci­en­tists are in fields that rarely touch upon some­thing as eso­teric as the ori­gins of the cos­mos, and gen­er­al­ly sci­en­tists only speak author­i­ta­tive­ly in the fields with­in which they are experts.

So What Then?

These were just the first of a few ques­tions asked of athe­ists by Zac Sech­ler, the young blog­ger behind Adher­ent Apolo­get­ics. His about page says he is nine­teen years old, though I’m not sure how much time has passed since he wrote that. 

When I was nine­teen, I was pub­lish­ing and dis­sem­i­nat­ing fun­da­men­tal­ist Bap­tist mate­r­i­al, mate­r­i­al strong­ly in sup­port of young Earth cre­ation­ism and crit­i­cal of evo­lu­tion. I under­stand the sure­ty of youth when it comes to want­i­ng to defend one’s faith. I also under­stand all too well that when athe­ists respond to Chris­tians’ lists, those respons­es are all too often insult­ing, ill-spir­it­ed, or are oth­er­wise not invit­ing of gen­uine conversation.

Not so long ago, I rev­eled in pro­duc­ing such, well, hate­ful mate­r­i­al. Mate­r­i­al which, while it felt good to me and was val­i­dat­ed by fel­low unbe­liev­ers, was doing noth­ing to ele­vate the con­ver­sa­tion between Chris­t­ian and athe­ist… was doing noth­ing to fos­ter growth and learn­ing on either side.

As for the first few ques­tions above: Does the uni­verse pro­vide evi­dence that there is a God? Well, that depends on your world­view, on the glass­es you’re using to view the evi­dence. Actu­al sci­ence will not ever con­clude that God did it, but should that ever hap­pen, the ques­tions sci­ence asks about the uni­verse would then be joined by ques­tions asked of God. To take a loose inter­pre­ta­tion of the phrase, though, God can­not be test­ed, mak­ing him, real or not, pret­ty use­less with­in the realm of science. 

I want to keep look­ing at the ques­tions on Zac’s web­site and those posed by oth­er believ­ers. Maybe, just maybe, we can grow in under­stand­ing on both sides of the aisle.

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