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Why Does Anything Exist Rather than Nothing?
Without exception, life experience and scientific investigation have demonstrated that things do not pop into existence from true nothing (i.e., no time, no space, no matter and no energy). Rather, things already in existence cause other things to come into being. Our parents were dependent on their parents for life and our children are dependent on us for life. Trees depend on seeds from other trees for their existence. Even subatomic particles do not pop into existence from true nothing; rather, they originate as fluctuations of already existing energy within the space-time dimensions of the universe (which is not nothing). Everything in this universe is dependent on something else for its existence. As stated by professors of philosophy Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacellli, “Existence is like a gift given from cause to effect.” [See, Peter Kreeft & Ronald Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics, pgs. 51-53 (1994)]
Since things do not come into existence from true nothing and we know that things, do in fact, presently exist (e.g., the universe, things in the universe, us, other people, etc.), the question naturally arises why anything exist rather than nothing.
Some philosophers have reasoned that something or some being must exist that has the power of beingness within itself so that the gift of beingness could be passed on to the things that presently exist; otherwise, nothing would ever exist. [See, Peter Kreeft & Ronald Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics, pgs. 51-53 (1994)]
Professors Kreeft and Tacelli provide the following illustration:
If everyone has to borrow a certain book but the book never existed, then no one will ever get the book. Likewise, everything in the universe must borrow from something else for its existence because everything in the universe is dependent on something else for its existence. But, if no being or no thing ever existed, then nothing could have ever come into existence.
Since things do not come out of true nothing (i.e., no time, no space, no matter and no energy) and we know some things do exist now (e.g., the universe, things in the universe, us, other people, etc.), then logic demands the existence of a first uncaused cause to explain the cause of the things that presently exist.
German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716) reasoned that there are only two possible explanations for the existence of everything that exists:
- It exists necessarily because its very nature requires that it exist (i.e., it is impossible for it not to exist); or,
- It exists because it was caused to exist by something else
Leibnitz maintained that everything (including God and the universe) must have one of these two explanations. [See, William Lane Craig, On Guard, pgs. 53-54 (2010)]
According to the Bible, God’s very nature is to exist — God must exist. God is a self-existent (more), eternal (more>>) being who never came into existence and will never go out of existence. God has always existed and He will never go out of existence. In the terms used by Leibnitz, God exists necessarily because his very nature requires Him to exist (i.e., it is impossible for God not to exist). Everything but God exists because God has caused everything else to come into existence.
God is the uncaused cause of everything else that exists. If God did not exist, nothing would exist.
“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.“ — Acts 17:24-25 (NIV).
Objections to the Argument of a Necessary First Uncaused Cause
Skeptics have offered the following objections to the argument for God’s existence based on the necessity of a first uncaused cause:
Objection No. 1 — If Everything Needs a Cause, then God Needs a Cause, then that Cause Needs a Cause, and then that Cause Needs a Cause, Ad Infinitum: The well-known atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell related that when he was a boy he was impressed by the argument for the existence of God based on the need for a first cause. But he changed his mind after reading an essay by philosopher John Stuart Mill in which Mill argued that if everything required a cause, then God would also require a cause and then whatever caused God would need a cause and so forth. According to Mill, such an argument never leads back to a first cause but to an endless regress of causes which ultimately leads nowhere. [See, R. C. Sproul, Defending Your Faith, “Law of Causality”, aired on NRB on 10/24/11]
Response — The Argument that God Requires a Cause is Based on a Flawed Understanding of the Law of Causality: The argument that if everything requires a cause, then God would also require a cause is based on a false presupposition that the Law of Causality states that everything requires a cause; but, that is not what the law states. Rather, as explained by Christian philosopher R.C. Sproul, the Law of Causality states that every effect (e.g., this universe and everything in the universe) requires a preceding cause. The Law of Causality is true by definition because an “effect”, by definition, is something that has been caused and a “cause” is something, by definition, that produces an “effect.” You cannot have a cause that does not cause anything because then it wouldn’t be a cause. Likewise you cannot have an uncaused effect (i.e., an effect without a cause) because then it would not be an effect. [See, R. C. Sproul, Defending Your Faith, “Law of Causality”, aired on NRB on 10/24/11]
Even under the Law of Causality something that is not an effect does not need a cause because something that exists which is not an effect must have the power of beingness within itself. As stated above, Gottfried Leibnitz deduced there are only two possible explanations for the existence of everything that exists: 1) It exists necessarily because its very nature requires that it exist (i.e., it is impossible for it not to or 2) It exists because it was caused to exist by something else.
With respect to God, the Bible does not describe God as an effect. Rather, God is a self-existent (more>>), eternal (more>>) being whose existence is not derived from anything/anyone else and who is not contingent on anything/anyone. God is the necessary first uncaused cause that caused everything else to come into existence. [See, R. C. Sproul, Defending Your Faith, “Law of Causality”, aired on NRB on 10/24/11]
Objection No. 2 — The Law of Causality Ignores the Possibility of an Uncaused Effect: The Law of Causality has also been challenged on the grounds that it does not allow for even the possibility of an uncaused effect.
Response — An Uncaused Effect is Impossible by Definition: The Law of Causality necessarily fails to allow for the possibility of an uncaused effect because, by definition, every effect must have a cause. The criticism that the Law of Causality does not allow for an uncaused effect is no different than challenging the statement that a triangle has three sides because the statement doesn’t allow for the possibility of a triangle with sides. By definition, a triangle does not and cannot have four sides. Effects by definition have causes. [See, R. C. Sproul, Defending Your Faith, “Law of Causality”, aired on NRB on 10/24/11]
Objection No. 3 — If God Doesn’t Need a Cause for His Existence, then the Universe Doesn’t Need an Cause for its Existence: If God can exist without an explanation, then there is no reason the universe cannot also exist without an explanation.
Response — Everything (Including God) Requires an Explanation, but Not Everything Requires a Cause: Those who assert that if God can exist without an explanation, then the universe can also exist without an explanation fail to appreciate the distinction between “an explanation” and “a cause.”
Everything that exists, including God, requires an explanation for its existence and, as maintained by philosopher Gottfried Leibnitz, that explanation can only be one of the following two possibilities: 1) It exists necessarily because its very nature requires that it exist (i.e., it is impossible for it not to exist) or 2) it exists because it was caused to exist by something else.
Christian apologists point out that the Bible describes God as a self-existent (more>>), eternal (more>>) being. Accordingly, fits under Leibnitz’ first possibility; i.e., God exists because it is His very nature to exist — God cannot not exist.
However, since logic and science teach that the universe has not always existed but came into existence a finite period of time ago (more>>), the universe obviously does not have to exist because, in fact, it has not always existed. Since the universe does not exist out of necessity (i.e., it doesn’t have to exist by its very nature), then it must have been brought into existence by something else that was already in existence. According to the Bible, God (a self-existent (more>>), eternal (more>>) being whose very nature requires that He exist brought the universe into existence. Genesis 1:1 says: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (the “shamayim erets”.) In ancient Hebrew, when “shamayim” and “erets” are used together, the phrase refers to the entire physical universe of galaxies, stars, planets, etc. [See, Bruce Waltke, “Creation and Chaos: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Biblical Cosmology” pgs. 20, 25-26 (1974)]
Objection No. 4: The Universe Could Have been Brought into Existence by a Uncaused Cause Other than God
Some skeptics contend that if an uncaused first cause does exist, the uncaused cause could be a natural mechanism such as a natural mechanism that brings multiple universes into existence instead of the supernatural God described in the Bible.
Response — If Multiple Universes is Posited as the Natural First Uncaused Cause, that Proposition Faces Significant Hurdles
In the view of multiple universe theorists, a natural mechanism is the first uncaused causes and that cause is causing an infinite number of universes to come into existence, some of which exhibit no design and others which randomly exhibit various levels of design. In their view, the reason people believe the hundreds of undisputed just-right design features in the universe (which are all necessary to permit life to exist in the universe) point to the existence of an intelligent designer, is because they cannot see all the other randomly operating universes and self-centeredly assume that since life could not exist in the universe without all of these just-right features (more>>), the universe must have been designed with them in mind (more>>).
As argued by astrophysicists Hugh Ross and Jeff Zweerink of www.reasons.org, multi-universe theorists face a number of scientific challenges. Since both the supposed natural mechanism and the supposed infinite number of universes produced by that mechanism would exist outside the space-time envelope of this universe, their existence will always have to be speculated because Einstein’s theory of general relativity establishes that nothing outside the space-time envelope of this universe can ever be directly observed by anyone in this universe (more>>). Moreover, not only are those who rely on multiple universe theories forced to make a blind bet that multiple universes are being produced by an unknown natural mechanism, but they must make the bet knowing that both the proposed natural mechanism and the proposed infinite number of universes would have to violate the laws of physics which has never been demonstrated to have occurred in the natural realm (more>>).
Christian philosopher, R.C. Sproul notes the following:
If it is postulated that there is some self-existent, eternal something from which everything else has ultimately generated, that is the same as saying there is something that transcends everything else. In that case, the argument simply comes down to the name of that something – X or YHWH (the Hebrew name for God in the Bible). [See, R.C. Sproul, “Defending Your Faith”, CD No. 3]
Christian apologists maintain the Bible’s description of God (as a self-existent, eternal being who transcends the time-space dimensions of the universe and brought the universe into existence a finite period of time ago) is remarkably consistent with what laws of logic and findings of modern day science teach to be true about the cause of the universe (more>>).
Astrophysicist, Hugh Ross, explains that as a non-Christian he found it quite compelling that what he had learned about the universe from a scientific perspective was consistent with what had been written thousand of years earlier in the Bible, i.e., that the cause of the universe transcended the universe and brought the universe into existence a finite period of time ago. Ross also found it quite remarkable that Genesis (written long before scientists had investigated the conditions of early Earth) not only correctly identified all 3 initial conditions of the earth but from the stated viewpoint of an observer on the surface of the earth, recorded all 11 creation events in the correct order. Ross says the consistency between what Genesis taught about creation and what he had learned as a scientist compelled him to search through the Bible looking for historical and/or scientific inaccuracies to debunk the claim that the Bible was the word of God. However, after spending a year and a half combing through the Bible and finding no such error, Ross determined that such “perfect accuracy could only come from the Creator Himself.” In his testimony, Ross explains how the consistency between what the Bible revealed to be true and what he had learned as a scientist led him to accept Jesus Christ as his savior (more>>).
In the view of Christian apologists, God’s existence best explains why anything exists rather than nothing because if there ever was a time when true nothing existed, then nothing would presently exist. Since we know things presently do exist (e.g., the universe and everything and everyone in the universe), the best explanation for those things being in existence is the existence of an independent, self-existing, eternal, transcendent cause whose very nature it is to exist and, therefore, has the gift of beingness to pass on to other things. Such a description is markedly consistent with the Bible’s description of God.
Based on the above, Christian apologists steadfastly maintain that there is no compelling reason why belief the God of the Bible is not a rational, if not the most rational explanation, for why anything exists rather than nothing especially when one considers the additional independent lines of argumentation for God’s existence, including the following:
- God’s existence best explains the cause of the universe coming into existence (the Kalam Cosmological Argument) (more>>)
- God’s existence best explains all the mind-boggling, just-right design features scientists have discovered throughout the universe which make it possible for life to exist in the universe (the Intelligent Design aka Teleological Argument) (more>>)
- God’s existence best explains the existence of objective morality
- God’s existence best explains man’s search for, and innate belief in, meaning, purpose and significance
As maintained by Christian apologists, not only do each of the above lines of reasoning present a persuasive case for the existence of God but, when considered together, the arguments provide a cohesive and convincing case for the eternal, self-existent, transcendent, righteous and purposeful God described in the Bible.
© 2012 by Andrina G. Hanson
Published: Dec. 15, 2011 / Last Updated: July 21, 2017
QUICK LINKS TO SOURCES REFERENCED OR RELIED ON IN THIS ARTICLE
William Lane Craig, On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision(Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook; New Edition, 2010)
Peter J. Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics(IVP Academic; 1St Edition, 1994)
R. C. Sproul, Defending Your Faith available at http://www.ligonier.org/learn/series/defending-your-faith/
Bruce Waltke, Creation and Chaos: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Biblical Cosmogony (Portland, OR: Western Conservative Baptist Seminary, 1974)
IMAGE CREDITS & LICENSES
Slideshow Photo: This illustration entitled “Black Holes: Monsters in Space” is an artist’s concept of a super-massive black hole buried in the heart of a galaxy. The black hole is surrounded by matter which is being pulled into the hole due to the effects of gravity. The image was downloaded from www.nasa.gov. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.
Tags: Bertrand Russell, endless regress, Eternal, eternal God, first cause, Hugh Ross, John Stewart Mill, Law of Causality, Leibniz, Peter Kreeft, self-existence, self-existent, Sproul, uncaused cause, why does anything exist, William Lane Craig