Why is there something rather than nothing? To put it another way, why did the universe begin to exist?
In the early 1900s, atheists felt that they could easily sidestep this question. As far as they were concerned, the universe was a static, unchanging place. It always existed, and would always exist.
The static view of the universe began to crumble after a series of remarkable discoveries. First, scientists realized that if the universe had been around forever, then the original stars would have burned out long ago. The fact that stars are still shining, and we are still here asking awkward questions, meant that the universe had a definite beginning.
Second, when Einstein began to model the universe with mathematics, he realized that gravity would force the universe to expand. He inserted a “fudge factor” into his equations to make the universe stand still. In later years, he called it his biggest blunder.
And third, astronomers peered into space and thought they saw the very motion that Einstein was trying to stop.
An intense debate broke out as scientists tried to match what they knew about physics with what they saw in the night sky. They settled on what we now know as the Big Bang theory. According to this view, the universe is in a constant state of expansion. Galaxies are moving further apart. If you could turn the clock back you would arrive at a moment where everything in the universe was packed into a super dense state. In other words, you would arrive at the beginning.
Today, as far as the scientific establishment is concerned, the Big Bang is the only game in town. It has its fair share of problems, which is why I am not a fan, but that hardly matters. My point is this: few atheists are willing to turn their backs on the Big Bang theory.
This means that the old idea of a static, beginningless universe is not a viable option. But we are still left with a puzzling question: If the universe began to exist, then what was at the beginning?
All or Nothing
The universe as we know it contains a lot of physical stuff: light, heat, gas, stars, planets and people. Even if matter and energy looked wildly different back in the Big Bang, there would have to be something that could expand into everything.
Theists—people like me who believe in God—feel pretty secure at this point in the discussion. Physical stuff is not a problem for us. Beginnings are not a problem for us. To believe in the God of theism is to believe in an eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing Creator who spoke the entire universe into existence.
By definition, atheists deny every bit of what I have just said. For these guys, there are only two options of any real interest:
Option A. The universe came from some physical stuff that has existed forever.
Option B. The universe came from nothing.
An Eternal Past
An atheist philosophy professor of mine was willing to “bite the bullet” (his words) on the first option.
He was in good company. In an old television series known as Cosmos, Carl Sagan blamed Genesis for making the origin of the universe harder than it should be. If we were all Hindus, the atheist astronomer suggested, we could easily imagine an infinite cycle of creations and destructions. The universe could have been making and unmaking itself forever.
The problem is this: all current models of an expanding universe show that galaxies are getting too far apart to collapse back in on themselves. There will never be a Big Crunch followed by a Big Bang. Sagan’s dreams of a forever expanding and contracting universe have gone nowhere.
People have come up with other suggestions for an eternal universe, but they all face a familiar problem: everything winds down over time without a fresh input of energy. This was the same problem confronting the old static universe idea. The fact that we have highly ordered things like stars, planets and people means that the universe cannot be eternal.
Something from Nothing
This brings us to Option B: the universe popped into existence out of nothing.
Seriously? Out of nothing?
Yes, and yes, but we need to read the fine print.
In a 1988 interview in Omni magazine, Alan Guth described the universe as “the ultimate free lunch.” But then he backed off and gave himself a bit of wiggle room. The universe, he said, might have emerged from nothing, or “almost nothing.”
This is where atheists get themselves into trouble. Either something exists, or it does not. If the universe started from an eternal something, then we are back to Option A. If it started from nothing, then how could that happen without God?
In 2010, Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow published The Grand Design. Here is what they wrote: “Because there is a law like gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.” You have to wonder how smart people can make so many mistakes in such a short amount of space. First, you cannot have a law of nature unless nature exists already. Second, the laws of nature cannot create anything. And third, something cannot be the cause of itself.
And then there is Lawrence Krauss who attracted a lot of attention for his book, A Universe from Nothing (2012). Krauss’ “nothing” turned out to be a quantum vacuum—a particle-free stretch of space. At first glance, that sounds a lot like nothing. So how could something come from nothing? Luckily for Krauss, there is a theory that allows particles to pop into existence when these areas of space rearrange themselves. And there you have it: something from nothing, right? Well, no.
Look, this stuff is all very fascinating in a geeky kind of way, except that Krauss cannot have a quantum vacuum without helping himself to time, space, quantum fields and the laws of quantum mechanics. So much for nothing. And, by the way, there is not a scrap of evidence that the universe ever did, or ever could, pop into existence from a quantum fluctuation.
Move Along, Nothing to See Here
Other atheists want to sidestep the entire question, and so they have come up with an escape clause, which goes something like this,
Option C. The universe is a brute fact that needs no explanation.
This has to be the most unsatisfying answer of all. But then I would say that, wouldn’t I, as someone who thinks the universe has a grand explanation in the form of a Creator God? But I venture that atheists should be unhappy with this response as well.
Atheists often pride themselves on pursuing the truth wherever it may lead. Where is their curiosity when it comes to the origin of the universe?
Atheists exalt science for its success at pushing back the boundaries of speculation and superstition. Why draw the line at the Big Bang?
Worst of all, Option C assumes what the atheists are trying to prove. It assumes that the universe needs no explanation because it just exists. An atheist, by definition, needs to prove that “just exists” is not another way of saying “God did it.”
Is there a God?
In answering the question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?,” I have tried to eliminate all the options that are obviously wrong. Option A will not work because there are no good candidates for physical stuff that can last forever. Option B will not work because there is no such thing in the physical world as a free lunch. And Option C will not work because it is no answer at all.
We need to find a cause for the universe that comes before space and time, that is not physical, that is not part of the universe, and that has the power to bring the universe into existence. As you can probably guess, I am going to say it is a Who, not a that.
Option D. An eternal Being, who we call God, caused the universe to begin.
Why insist on a Who? Before the beginning, there were no laws acting on physical things. There was no reason for the universe to begin, unless a rational being freely chose to bring it into existence.
Why insist that this is the God of theism? An eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing Being who exists before and outside of time and space is what theists call “God.”
Who Made God?
Richard Dawkins devotes a large part of his book, The God Delusion (2006), to this question. He thinks it is a showstopper for theists. It is not.
The answer is really very simple. To be a theist is to believe in a certain kind of God. This God does not depend on the physical world or anything else for His existence. As the apostle Paul explains it, the God he worships is not the kind of God who needs an earthly temple or sacrificial offerings (Acts 17:24-25).
Nor does He depend on other gods. When Moses went before the burning bush and asked God for a personal name, God said, “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14). It was a statement of self-existence that set the God of Israel apart from the gods of Egypt and Canaan. He is the wrong kind of “thing” that needs to be made.
This God existed in eternity before space and time.
Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. – Psalm 90:2
The universe began to exist, and so it needs a cause. But God is eternal. He did not begin to exist, and so He does not need a cause. The existence of an uncreated, uncaused, eternal God is the best explanation for why our universe began to exist at all.
Copyright © 2014 Trevor Major. All rights reserved.