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?

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    67 replies to "Why is There Something Rather than Nothing? The Only Six Options"

    • OvertOddity

      I never claimed to be an expert, I actually stated the exact opposite. All I know about the subject is the result of personal studies – sadly they don’t teach QM at high school level in Italy and after that I picked a rather different academic path. I can only offer what I know and I’m definitely open to corrections.

      With regards to the violation of causality at quantum level I was under the impression that the delayed choice quantum eraser had provided some evidence that at the very least it could occur, but I could obviously be wrong.

    • John Lollard


      Incidentally, I began my educational career studying linguistics and ended up in physics. They do not teach quantum mechanics at the high school level because it is a very complicated field of study that requires a huge amount of mathematical and physical background. I’m impressed that you have personally studied the subject, but if your personal study has been from popular science articles as opposed to working textbook problems, then I’m afraid your personal study will be mostly philosophic.

      On the deterministic nature of quantum mechanics as governed by the Schrodinger equation, I was quoting from Sakurai’s textbook. I have no idea what a “delayed choice quantum eraser is”. I could ask around the department, but my guess is no one else does either. I can only imagine that it comes in to the measurement phenomena of QM, in one of the interpretations for the wavefunction collapse.

      Could you perhaps explain what this is?

    • OvertOddity

      It’s essentially an experiment carried out in 2000 by – if memory doesn’t fail me – Kim et al. and based on Wheeler’s delayed choice thought experiment (a variation of the double-slit experiment). It was also replicated in 2007 by Aspect et al. I’m sure the paper would explain it much better than I ever could.

    • John Lollard


      Thank you very much for informing me of this very elegant experiment. I’m reading up on it now. At first glance, this strikes me as similar to the EPR paradox, and some reading suggests the interpretational problems are related to the entanglement of the photons and the exact meaning of an observation. But I am still reading.

      As I mentioned, measurement is not deterministic and is also not governed by the Schrodinger or Dirac equations or really any formalism of quantum *mechanics*. Quantum field theory, as it originates in Feynman’s path integrals, would be deterministic.

      Quantum measurement is heavily a philosophical thing, which is also why physicists don’t really study it. As a rule, textbooks almost universally refuse to interpret quantum results and merely explain them mathematically. The interpretation is not scientific, and I have seen several interpetations of the DQCE that are consistent with causation.

    • Curt

      Andy Burke over at Tuesday Morning has recently posted a couple interesting articles about the Big Bang and the KCA.
      His basic points are:
      1) The BBT concludes that the universe has expanded from a hot dense state. It does not address the exact nature of this initial dense state, what caused the expansion, or the pre-existence of material/time;
      2) The reason these items are outside of the BBT is that the initial singularity occurs theoretically as a result of the mathematics of Special Relativity (the point of infinite density and curvature of space/time) and does not necessarily represent a physical reality. In a sense, the mathematics break down at this point – it is like dividing by zero. There is reason to think the singularities of GR do not represent a physical reality – as the densities increase there must be a point where quantum effects dominate and SR/gravity break down.

    • Ronald B.

      These are some Biblical arguments concerning the issue:

      Hebrews 11:3 “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.”

      It is a matter of faith.
      Also, it is a matter of the heart:

      Ephesians 4:18 “Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart:”

      The premise is that as Christians our understanding should not be darkened in this way.

      Of course, this is an appeal to authority which is not recognized by most.

      If Jesus is the Truth, then we are free to investigate and to think. The problem comes when the truth is suppressed in unrighteousness. (Romans 1:18-22)

      Can you absolutely say there are only six options concerning this issue? I can’t think of another one, but someone out there could probably think of more. We accept that God is ultimately responsible for…

    • Seth R.

      Hebrews 11:3 cannot be a prooftext for creation ex nihilo.

      All it says is that the things the biblical author could see in the world were made from things that he could not see. It never says anything was made from nothing.

      Besides, electrons and atoms are not visible. But they certainly aren’t nothing either. Likewise, the elements that make up the earth may have originally come from places in the galaxy far beyond the ability of Paul to see them. But that doesn’t make them “nothing” either.

    • Sam

      I agree that we cannot speak of “before the big bang” or “before the creation of time” (depending on your belief set) because it is self contradicting.
      And so, if you place “God” “before/outside time/space” then you cannot even allow yourself to ask the question of whether or not god “exists” because it is self contradiction. He may or may not exist, but it’s not a question YOU can ask logically. I know many of you will disagree with me and I look forward to the discussion.
      Lastly, keep in mind that a scientific theory (like QM) is more or less useful for it’s predictive value, but even a well established theory cannot claim to be absolute truth and may at any time be replaced with an improved theory.

    • Ronald B.


      You are exactly right. It is important to notice what is actually said and not said in the scripture, not what is assumed. For the verse to even support the concept of something out of nothing, the original Greek passage would have to indicate it. But Biblical prooftexts and passages fall into the field of Theology and may not necessarily coincide with current scientific knowledge. Scientific paradigms are meant to describe the world and make predictions based on supporting data. It is my opinion that the Bible had its historical effect on the development of scientific fields just as the theories of Isaac Newton, a student of the Bible, and other such philosophers of his time provide historical foundations of what we know today. Newton predicted that there would be a body insisting on literal interpretation of the Bible and its prophecies as the end times approached. His prediction so far seems to be the case today.

    • […] analyzed the various views one might have relating to creation and evolution. [but their is this recent post on that topic] has As I reflect on these options as well as what Darwin has written I turn to Romans 8 and have […]

    • Alan McDougall

      Why do we have a Universe? My answer is that God created the Universe. however, then, one can ask, who/what created god? I believe god was not created and this ‘fact’ is beyond our understanding and must be accepted on faith. god is far and beyond our understanding, everlasting, without beginning or end, eternal and ever -existing, but was (and is, and will be) always existed.

      He/she is indeed the very author of all existence. Indeed, God must be so unimaginably mighty, Omni-All that he/she exists, forever, far above our reasoning and above the ultimate reaches of our logic. Something we and all the vain puffed up scientist, philosophers, etc, will just have to accept in time.

      We will, at the end of the day have to, relent and acknowledge that somewhere out there is a awesome, colossal, mighty, great infinite intelligence that in comparison that we are as a microbe is to a human or perhaps horrors even much further remote, from the Omni-all power we call God. It will indeed be a most humbling experience for us to finally realize and acknowledge, that there are things and mysteries that will; remain forever, absolutely, totally beyond human comprehension understand and reside eternally in the mind of our creator God.

      It is a fact the finite can simply never ever comprehend the mind of the infinite; this should be logic to anyone…

      An uncaused Cause must exist and to me am an inescapable fact of logic, call this entity God if you like.

    • Renato casas

      what if time is like a circle, you know, never ending, never started.

    • Matthew Rave

      I attempt to answer this question in detail in my book “Why is there anything?” which is available for download on the Kindle:

      In a nutshell, there is *everything* which, in an informational sense, is the same thing as nothing.

    • Chris Hills

      I think there are 4 possibilities.

      The universe is eternal and everything has always existed. This is not absurd. Your arguments about how we could never get to now, or how a man could never emerge from an infinitely deep hole, could equally be applied to the negative numbers. But no-one claims that zero doesn’t exist, or that the infinitude of negative numbers doesn’t exist.

      Chance created the universe. You say “Chance is no thing. It is not an entity. It has no being, no power, no force”, but all this is irrelevant. Lots of things happen by chance. As far as we know, quantum events happen by chance. Maybe the universe is a quantum fluctuation.

      The universe was created by nothing. You talk about cause and effect, but just because all the things you’ve ever observed were caused by something, you can’t assume that absolutely everything that happens has a cause. What’s your evidence? What is the cause of the number 3? And don’t say “God”. If God is 3 persons in one, then 3 is part of his nature, not something he caused. 3 has no cause, so maybe the universe has no cause.

      A transcendent being (God) created all that there is out of nothing. Yes, this is possible. But it doesn’t prove that your God created the universe. Lots of other people in the world think it was their God, and you can’t all be right.


      I am comfortable with the explanation in this article. I believe an intelligent designer (God) is responsible for everything we see and do not see in this existence and beyond. This debate has been going on for centuries and I suspect the reason being is that the true answer is shrouded in mystery purposely for endless speculation by the intelligent designer to keep the generations pondering this question of why, how, when, etc., creation! It makes for great intellectual stimulation and if you like various views and learning from them, this question poses the one the greatest if not THE greatest puzzles around!

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