Why is there Something rather than Nothing? by Michael Patton

A very interesting article originally posted at Parchment and Pen blog.  I have really enjoyed several items from their site this week and highly recommend it…enjoy, PS.

Why is There Something Rather than Nothing? The Only Six Options

Someone has once rightly said that this is the most basic philosophical question that there is: “Why is there something rather than nothing?”

As far as I can tell, there are only six options:

1. The universe is eternal and everything has always existed.

Everything has existed for eternity. As far back as  one can go into the past, there is still an infinite amount of time which preceded it. The sum total of the universe is inclusive of an infinite succession of events and moments going backward.

Why this is wrong

An infinite number of temporal events going into the past is a formal absurdity. Going backward, no matter how far you travel in time, you would always have an infinity to go. Going forward, we would never get to the present moment because we would have an infinite amount of time and causes and effects to traverse to get here. It would be like asking of a man who is jumping out of an infinitely deep hole, when would he get out? The answer is never. There is no starting point from which to jump.  Or, better, it would be like someone walking down the street and you heard him counting down… “negative 5, negative 4, negative 3, negative 2, negative 1, zero!” And you said, “What are you doing?” And he responds, “I just got done counting to zero from negative infinity!” That would be a logical absurdity.

Even most atheists, since the early 20th century, now believe that there was a singular moment when all things came into existence called the big bang. Some have even proposed a multi-verse theory where our universe came out of another universe. But this only pushes it back one level. Where did that universe come from unless it is transcendent?

2. Nothing exists and all is an illusion

Everything you hear, see, do, or think does not really exist. There is no reality. There is not something. There is only nothing.

Why this is wrong

This proposition, it should be obvious, is completely self-defeating. In order to even make such a proposition, the subject has to exist in some sense. If all is an illusion, where did the illusion come from? If another illusion produced the illusion, then where did that illusion come from. In other words, there is something, namely the illusion.

Even the solipsist, who does not believe in the existence of other minds, has to explain the genesis of his own mind.

3. The universe created itself

This is the idea that the universe and all that is in it did not have its origin in something outside itself, but from within. The universe did come into being, but it came from itself. It is self-created. Here, we may suppose that while we don’t understand how this could happen, advancements in scientific theory will eventually produce an answer.

Why this is wrong

Like with the previous two, we have created a logical absurdity. It would be like creating a square triangle. It’s impossible. A triangle by definition cannot be square. So creation cannot create itself as it would have to pre-date itself to create. The pre-dated form would then need a sufficient explanatory cause, ad infinitum.

4. Chance created the universe

“The universe was created by chance.” Have you ever heard that? While the odds of winning the lottery are not very good, given enough time, everyone will win. While the odds of the universe coming into existence are not very good, given enough time, it had to happen.

Why this is wrong

This option is a slight of hand option that amounts to nothing. The fact is that chance has no being. This option implies that “chance” itself has quantitative causal power. The word “chance” is used to describe possibilities. It  does not have the power to cause those possibilities. It is nonsense to speak of chance being the agent of creation of anything since chance is not an agent.

“Sophisticated arguments of chance creation have been formulated which dazzle our mathematical comprehension… What are the real chances of the universe created by chance? Not a chance. Chance is incapable of creating a single molecule, let alone an entire universe. Why not? Chance is no thing. It is not an entity. It has no being, no power, no force. It can effect nothing because it has no causal power within it. …It is a word which describes mathematical possibilities which, by the curious flip of the fallacy of ambiguity, slips into the discussion as if it were a real entity with real power, indeed, supreme power, the power of creativity.” (R.C. Sproul, Not a Chance. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1999.)

5. The universe is created by nothing

Simply put, nothing created the universe.

Why this is wrong

The problem here is that it is either a restating of option #1 (the universe is eternal) or fails due to the irrationality of #4. In our current universe, the law of cause and effect cannot be denied with any sanity. While we often don’t know what the cause of some effect is, this does not mean that it is causeless. When we go to the doctor looking for an explanation for the cause of our neck pain, we don’t accept the answer “There is no cause. It came from nothing.” When there is a fire, the fire investigator does not come to a point where he says, “Well, we searched and we searched for a cause to this fire. Our conclusion is definite: the fire came from nothing.” In both cases, we would assume that the person who gave such answer is better fit for a straight-jacket than a respected professional of his field.

There is an old saying, ex nihilo nihil fit which means “Out of nothing, nothing comes.” Even Maria in the Sound of Music got this one right, “Nothing comes from nothing; nothing ever could.” To say that the universe was created by or came from nothing is an absurdity. Like with the idea of chance, “nothing” is a non being with no causal power. If there is something, there must be a sufficient explanation for it.

6. An transcendent being (God) created all that there is out of nothing.

This is the last option that I know of. Here we recognize the impossibility of the first five. Realizing that the universe must have come into existence a finite time ago, we know that there must be a sufficient cause. Here is how it might look:

  • Whatever comes into existence has a cause.
  • The universe came into existence.
  • Therefore the universe has a cause.

The question now is what is that cause? It can’t be “chance” or “nothing” as we have shown that they don’t have causal power. As well, it cannot have relation to time, space, or matter in its actual being as that would make it subject to the laws of cause and effect (i.e. then we would be infinitely stuck in the trap of “If God created everything, who or what created God?). Therefore, this being is transcendent (above, beyond, without ontological relation to…) to the universe. This causal agency must be “all”-powerful or else the grandeur of the effect would eclipse the grandeur of the cause (then we are back to absurdities). This causal agent must have a will (i.e. be personal) or else there would not have ever been a time when the universe was not created (i.e. it would always be being created—again, an absurdity) since it would not be a willful decision to create, but simply a natural aspect of the transcendent cause.

This creator had to have created all things ex nihilo (“out of nothing”). In other words, all of matter could not be eternal since material itself is, by definition, not transcendent and subject to the law of cause and effect. This creator, being transcendent to the laws of our universe in which the saying “out of nothing nothing comes” applies, must create time, space, and matter out of neither himself or preexisting material. He creates it all out of nothing. He brings all of existence into being by his power. While it is beyond our understanding how transcendence can create immanence, it does not form a logical absurdity. In fact, existence itself demands that it is a logical necessity.

All other options, I believe I have shown, are self-defeating, formally absurd, and irrational. In short, the only logical explanation for existence is that a transcendent, powerful, and personal being (i.e. God) created all that there is out of nothing.

Are there any other options that I am missing?


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