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.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Use your Gravatar-enabled email address while commenting to automatically enhance your comment with some of Gravatar's open profile data.

Comments must be made in accordance with the comment policy. This site uses Akismet to reduce spam; learn how your comment data is processed.

You may use Markdown to format your comments; additionally, these HTML tags and attributes may be used: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Rick Beckman