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 naive 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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