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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?

67 Responses to “Why is There Something Rather than Nothing? The Only Six Options”

  1. The “universal axiom” in effect, I think it was called…?

  2. I hope this isn’t too “zen,” but I wonder if the question isn’t inherently biased. Consider this thought (for which I am vaguely indebted to Victor Stenger): Why is “something rather than nothing” more surprising than “nothing rather than something?” In other words, why do we assume that “nothing” would be the natural state of existence (non-existence actually), and that “something” needs an explanation.

    Also, when the question is formulated in this way, it really does bring up a version of the old infinite regression problem. Why is there God rather than nothing? Is “nothing” even a possibility? I’m not sure that God solves the problem as you have posed it.

    Now if you want to talk about cause, rather than just “existence,” there are other problems we could get into, such as how a God who is exempt from the laws of cause and effect could then cause anything, but I’m limited by space, so I’ll just put my initial challenge out there: Why is “something”…

  3. there is no such thing as nothing (physics definition)

  4. One answer I’ve heard from atheists/agnostics is essentially “I don’t know,” but that that’s no reason to posit the existence of God. Their objection is that to jump from “why is there something rather than nothing?” to “God created it” is merely a god-of-the-gaps argument: theists are accused of inserting God wherever our scientific knowledge is still lacking. So their answer really is “I don’t know, but since there’s no good reason to think it’s God, maybe it’s just some sort of scientific explanation we just haven’t discovered yet.”

  5. The end of my first post got cut off: What I meant to say was, “Why is ‘something’ the surprise that needs explaining?”

    Also realized that when I said I was limited by space, I missed the opportunity to say that I was “limited by space and time…” which I thought would have made a great pun. Oh well… Such is life.

  6. Dan,
    The problem with the appeal to ignorance by atheists/agnostics you mention is that it ignores arguments such as Kalam and various iterations of the Prime Mover argument which show deductively that one can get from the fact that the universe exists (along with other things) to positing a entity with the characteristics we call “God” as a reasonable explanation for the universes existence.

  7. “The problem is that causality is not something that exists independently of the universe, but rather a phenomenon that arises as a consequence of the properties of the universe. You need linear time, for example, to have causality — one event must follow another; cause, then effect. But if there is no universe, there is no linear time, thus no causality. Thus it’s absurd to suggest that the universe required causality to come into existence. Assuming, of course, that it “came into” existence at all, a claim not supported by science. (The notion that the Big Bang theory marks the “beginning” of the universe is a misunderstanding of the theory.)”

  8. John Lollard 2011-03-17 at 11:14 pm

    Curt,

    I’d be interested in what you are quoting.

    I’d also be interested in knowing how it is that I misunderstand the Big Bang. From what I have heard, it corresponds to an event before which the energy and matter that make up the physical universe were not in existence – if I am wrong, I would appreciate correction.

    I’m also not sure it is correct that causality requires time or linear time. I think an argument could be made that causality (and hence our own sense of time) would work just as well in closed time-like loops so long as a continuous increasing entropy gradient connects the events.

  9. I don’t think your refutation of the eternal universe works. You say “[g]oing forward we would never get to the present moment …”. Going forward from where? Infinity? You can’t be “at” infinity. Your other examples fail for the same reason: they presume some person starts “at” infinity. Just because two objects cannot have an infinite amount of space (or time) between them does not mean that those two objects cannot exist in an infinite amount of time/space.

    Also, there is a problem with number 5, specifically nothing coming from nothing. It actually happens all the time at the quantum level. Particles pop in and out of nothing.

    • Well said. Nothing is not at all understood. It is not what most people think of, nothingness or emptiness still has a form energy. I believe the best description would be potential. This nothing is the ground of all, the potentiality of everything. It is something to behold, the nothingness, to me it is far more powerful and interesting than a theist creator god.

  10. I respectfully disagree with Curt, I think causality does exist in the immaterial realm. Example: whenever GOD commands his angels, they rush to obey. I think God created causality so reality could function as sth meaningful and not be utter chaos. And God himself is not subject to causality but master over it and decided to work through it. Just yesterday I heard a teching by Dr Grudem: “God loves to do things sequencially” Like a chess genius who always wins.

  11. Something I’m curious about, its a logical absurdity to suggest that the Universe is infinite but its reasonable for God to be eternal and infinite? Even if we go back to the Big Bang that doesn’t mean its the first time it happened also, who knows for an infinite amount of time the universe might be expanding and then collapsing on itself only to later expand again when the conditions are right. I guess if everything in our Universe has to have a cause to exist, does God not have a cause or a need to exist? Is it because we’re finite and can’t comprehend?

    I do think the old argument that if we can deduce a cause for everything then why is there no cause for God?

    I’m just trying to sort this all out in my head though.

  12. For Curt and Boz,

    Hawking and Penrose proved that not just matter but space-time itself was created at the big bang. Prior to that, “nothing” is a pretty good term.

  13. John Lollard 2011-03-18 at 9:35 am

    It is not true that something comes from nothing at the quantum level. Energy converts freely in to matter at the quantum level without violating conservation of matter or energy. That something cannot come from nothing is a fundamental law of nature that is obeyed in quantum mechanics.

    The problem is your misunderstanding of what “nothing” is at the quantum level. A quantum vacuum technically has an infinite number of filled negative energy states, at least according to the Dirac model. The particles in these negative energy states are knocked loose by an appropriate amount of energy and then appear as positive energy states which seem to have come from “nothing” – because “nothing” is an infinitely deep sea of negative energy particles.

    CMP’s argument about the pit was bad because it wasn’t getting to the heart of it. The universe cannot be infinite in space or time because of entropy considerations, not Zeno-esque paradoxes. He’s still right, though – the…

  14. David T.,

    The fact that a transcendent creator does not require a creator is not a logical impossibility, due to the fact that a creator would lie outside of the space/time that we consider to be our universe.

    Even if the creator did have another creator who created him, we would not be able to discover how the creator would have been created, due to the fact that we are bound by the laws of this universe.

    The creator of this universe would not be bound by the laws he created, because that would be illogical. Therefore, the only reasonable conclusion (based on this post’s refutation of every other position) is that the creator of this universe lies outside of space and time, and any question about the origin of the creator is essentially unanswerable by any form of scientific means.

  15. David, you’re right of course, but really it all comes down to faith. God created the universe, believers (most) believe that, and we believe it not because of philosophical, logical exercises, but because the Holy Spirit gives the ability to recognize truth in these matters.
    Apologetics attempts to reach out to those who base their beliefs on philosophy and science, and the reality is that the apologists arguments are at least as valid as that of those that believe otherwise.
    We believe there is one God who created everything out of nothing, that’s what scripture teaches us, and we believe scripture to be wholly inspired by God.
    The apologetic arguments are important to know and to be able to articulate to those who are sincerely searching, but they are not the gospel.
    We can only hope to show that there are just as many logical arguments for a single creator, namely God, as there are for any scientific/philosophical arguments.
    We don’t have answers, only strong arguments.

  16. Ed,I agree, I think currently you can’t prove that God exists, you can try to use logic or science to prove it, but it doesn’t work for me. I think more and more we’re going to understand the way everything works, things which used to require God or demons are going to be explained by science. I think back to the story of the boy whom a demon threw into convulsions, now days the same convulsions would likely be explained by epilepsy.

    For me the biggest questions I’ve had is the non stop search by mankind for a God or gods.

    Anyways, I think the biggest draw Christianity has is faith, love and hope. If God did create the universe and we have the give of eternal life, that give a huge sense of hope for this life, we’ll see those loved ones again. Through all of our trials and struggles, its only temporary, God works all things together for the good of those who love the Lord. It makes hard times much easier to know God has a purpose, instead of a purposeless universe…

  17. Michael, got a question. You say that:

    “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.”

    I have heard several theologians, including John Gerstner, teach that God does not create “it all out of nothing,” but instead, creation is a modified extension of His own being. They are also quick to add that He still maintains His own distinct identity apart from His creation (avoiding pantheism). Within your understanding, are you not ascribing to God’s “power” both its ability to create and also to “be” what it creates at the same time? Is this not a logical impossibility?

  18. I would call that pantheism. Is it possible? I don’t think it solves anything since it would have to be immaterial before creation. In this since it would still be creation out of nothing, just modified. It would be like saying material out of immaterial. That is the essence of creation ex nihilo anyway.

  19. Agreed, one thing for me is that what science does in my opinion is merely figure out how God does what he does.
    For instance, if the boy had a literal demon or epilepsy what is clear is that he was healed, and just because today we know a lot more about diseases, natural disastors etc. doesn’t mean we know any more or less about God.

    God created the world and nature so it seems perfectly logical to me that he would work within the system he built.

    I think that’s the biggest issue I have with science is that just because they can view and alter something like DNA doesn’t really explain anything. They’ve simply found a little bit of information about how the creator designed things. They should give more appreciation and awe to him for this incredibly complex creation, but instead they think it takes us farther from God and more towards randomness and chance.

  20. Michael, I don’t believe this would be pantheism if God maintains His own individuality. How could it? The problem this solves is that not even God can bring something out of nothing. This is not what the Reformers meant by ex nihilo. If He could do this then it wouldn’t have been truly nothing to begin with. This is not a mere paradox that God’s transcendence can somehow unravel. It is simply a nonsense statement.

  21. Truth Unites... and Divides 2011-03-18 at 2:23 pm

    Why is There Something Rather than Nothing?

    I like this question. With some people who are not yet believers in Jesus Christ, this might be a better starting place than other questions to launch a discussion about God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

    Compare it with this question: If you were to die tonite, do you know whether you’d go to Heaven or Hell?

  22. Michael, I’ve seen something similar to this from Paul Copan and William Lane Craig.

    As far as I can tell, their argument plays a bit fast and loose with the distinctions between transfinite and finite numbers. Basically, it treats transfinite numbers – such as infinite sets – as if they were actually finite numbers.

    But this is simply incorrect – because infinite sets do not behave the same way as finite number chains. It’s a complex argument, but to grossly boil it down, Copan and Craig (along with the Kalam Infinity argument in general) attempt to artificially divide up an infinite set into finite segments, and then demand that the infinite set itself adhere to the rules that only apply to the artificial divisions.

    Xeno’s Paradox demonstrates the absurdities that result when you attempt to make infinite sets behave like finite numbers.

    It’s an artificial argument based on faulty premises.

  23. ChrisB said: “space-time itself was created at the big bang. Prior to that”

    firstly, you are contradicting yourself. Prior to the start of time cannot exist. It is a square circle. Or North of the North Pole.

    Secondly, “before” the BB cannot be detected. There may have been something, or there may have been nothing. We currently have no way to determine which one it was.

  24. John Lollard 2011-03-19 at 9:39 am

    Reading the comments becomes more and more frustrating as it becomes more and more obvious that no one here knows anything about math or physics.

    Zeno had “paradoxes” because Zeno didn’t understand calculus. Not his fault, he lived hundreds of years before its discovery, but his paradoxes are not real paradoxes and all they show is the limit of the ancient Greeks ability to handle abstract mathematical concepts.

    You can divide an infinite set up in to finite chunks. We do it everyday. Some common examples are: squares, circles, and rulers.

    Dealing with infinite sets is actually a very well-understood, mathematically rigorous, sticking-it-to-Zeno concept, as anyone who has ever done calculus can tell you. In this case, CMP is asking us to essentially integrate 1 from negative infinity to 5 and saying this is why time must be finite. It’s a really bad argument, but mathematically the concept is very precise.

    The universe is finite because of entropy.

  25. Sorry John, were you disagreeing with my comment there, or just with the thread in general? Because I didn’t find much to disagree with in your comment.

  26. Reading the comments becomes more and more frustrating as it becomes more and more obvious that John Lollard here knows nothing about proper manners or self-control. I think we should pray for him immediately.

  27. John Lollard 2011-03-19 at 10:09 am

    Seth R.,

    The thread in general, but you in particular made reference to Zeno’s “paradoxes”, which aren’t paradoxes but ancient Grecian misunderstandings.

    CMP’s treatment of infinities doesn’t suffer any of the problems of Zeno – you can integrate arclengths of an infinite distance. The integral doesn’t converge and so you’d toss the answer out, which is exactly what I think CMP is saying without using calculus jargon. We would stand at the end of a divergent integral.

    So what? So does 5, and it doesn’t bother anyone.

    But he definitely wasn’t treating transfinites as counting numbers or cardinal numbers as ordinal numbers or anything of that nature.

    The universe is finite. Saying we don’t know what happened before the big bang is correct, and we don’t know because the laws of physics themselves came in to being during this event. There definitely wasn’t an exalted man living on Kolob before this point, however.

  28. John Lollard 2011-03-19 at 10:15 am

    Roger Ball,

    🙂

    Please do pray for me. I apologize for any lack of manners or self-control I may have displayed. Zeno is a pet-peeve of mine – maybe he shouldn’t be.

  29. John, I was making that point to begin with. Zeno isn’t a paradox – just a misunderstanding. But the misunderstanding, as far as I can tell comes from the way it attempts to artificially divide an infinite set, and then force it to behave the way ordinary numbers do – such as forcing the runner to complete all the divisions of the 100 meter dash before he can reach the finish line.

    Copan and Craig do the same thing with their assertion that an infinite past is impossible. They take an infinite set, and force it to go through all the steps and stages of a finite set. This seems to me to be applying the wrong rules.

    Again, I’m not sure what it is you think I’m disagreeing with you on.

    If you want to set up an artificial parameter of our local big bang universe, and call that the “universe” – sure, it’s finite.

    But I don’t limit the term “universe” to our local big bang universe, so your assertion seems misplaced to me.

  30. John Lollard 2011-03-19 at 10:32 am

    Seth R.,

    No, what Zeno did was he set up a convergent series. I believe it was the geometric series
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geometric_series
    which converges. If you work out the math, the lengths you get from the series method are exactly what you’d get with normal arithmetic.

    Zeno’s problem was to say that because there were infinitely many slices you couldn’t cross it because you can’t cross infinity. But they’re infinitely many convergently decreasing slices, of which Zeno had no concept.

    Maybe that’s what you’re talking about? Confusing the transfinite number of slices with the finite length of all of them?

    CMP’s concept doesn’t have the same problem, because the slices are all of the same “width”. In fact, you don’t need slices at all, just one big chunk that’s infinitely long in time. There is no convergence, but divergence. I’m not sure why it is an argument about finite time, but it definitely isn’t non-mathematical.

  31. I never said it was non-mathematical. I’m not a mathematician, so I’ve tried to keep my statements fairly general. I just think there’s a general problem with making rules for an infinite set solely based on the properties of the individuals of that infinite set.

  32. John Lollard 2011-03-19 at 1:45 pm

    Can you explain how it is that CMP is confounding set theory with the properties of the elements of a set? I’m afraid I just don’t see it.

    Part of the problem seems to be a confusion over the measure of a set. Granting a continuously infinite set of real numbers with an infinite length (Lebesgue measure), you cannot ennumerate the elements but you can order them. Starting at the beginning and running your hand along the elements in order, you can go arbitrarily far out without ever reaching the end. By definition. So to say that time has crossed this infinite length is absurd.

    One problem is that in our case the “beginning” is the infinite, so it’s really that we can’t go BACK to it, not that it can’t progress forward to finite values. This is what happens to normal numbers after all – “5” is at the end of the infinite set from negative infinity to five.

  33. John, not being a mathematician, I’m most likely not getting the proper terminology for what I’m getting at.

    Here’s what I see in Michael’s argument.

    He’s arguing that an infinite past is impossible because you can’t go back through each distinct numerical unit of time and get to a starting point. Basically, it would take an infinite amount of time to arrive at “now”, so an infinite past is impossible.

    But it seems to me the problem is that Michael’s argument demands that we artificially complete distinct segments of time the way we divide it up, and that all of these have to be completed in some linear fashion before time “now” can happen.

    But this seems to be a pretty arbitrary demand on the infinite set. It just struck me as somewhat similar, in some, respects, to the nonsensical result of Zeno.

    Why can’t there be an infinite past? And why does it even have to be “traversed” to arrive at now in the first place?

  34. John Lollard 2011-03-19 at 2:40 pm

    I apologize for using jargon. I am trying not to, but I almost have to. I will say, wikioedia articles on math are almost always very good sources if you can decipher them. CMP is not dividing up time in to discret segments, or even if he is he is doing so in a precise way thay does carry mathematical meaning.

    Your question about why the past must be traversed is the real issue that CMP should really have agued from. As it is now, he is almost begging the question – you can’t jump out of a bottomless pit because you have to jump off the bottom. It seems to assume a starting point. The reason time must have a beginnig is because time has an “arrow” associated with it that we experience as causality.

    Entropy increases with time, entropy is finite, therefore time must also be finite.

  35. Well, I agree that there seems to be an element of question-begging in the whole thing.

    I don’t think the question is so much whether time must be finite – but whether everything that exists has to have some ultimate cause sitting at the beginning point of it all. Why shouldn’t existence simply “be” without having to be contingent on God?

    And is it necessary to smuggle in a temporal causational chain into the picture at all?

  36. John Lollard 2011-03-19 at 3:22 pm

    Seth,

    Yes, it is necessary to smuggle a causation chain back for as long as the laws of thermodynamics have been valid principles of the universe.

    Again, this isn’t a philosophical question of infinities but one of physical laws. Entropy increases with time, always and only increases and can never be decreased. The entropy in the universe is finite. Hence time is finite. Entropy tends to convert energy in to unusable forms of waste heat. The energy in the universe is finite and there are still usable forms of it in existence, so time must be finite.

    So things can’t just “be” from thermodynamic considerations, or if they could it would be in a state unlike how the universe currently exists.

    You could also argue that things just can’t dumbly “be” from perturbative arguments, but those are technical and truthfully beyond my full ability to formulate.

    There are ther considerations, like the finiteness of space, that point to a finite time.

  37. I’m fine with stuff existing in a different state prior to the big bang. I just don’t see any reason for pegging God as the “first and final cause” in an absolute sense.

  38. John Lollard 2011-03-19 at 5:51 pm

    Seth,

    Would you mind explaining what exactly you think was going on before the Big Bang? Do you think our universe is some pocket of a bigger multiverse? Do you think there has been an infinitely regressive chain of big bangs and crunches?

    I guess a good question would be how much of physics is metaphysics and how much is empirical. You could argue that all of the empirical laws (e.g. Coulomb’s Law) could be different in a different universe but the metaphysical laws (candidates might be conservation theorems) are logical requirements and would have to extend to any other universe. But we don’t know the answer to that question, or even that there are other universes, and until we ask the Lord in person we never will.

    What we do know is that there is a time before which there is not time and before which space does not exist and before which the natural world with its fields and matter and energy do not exist. (And yes, this is a valid concept – look up boundary points).

  39. Yeah, my own personal view is that we are merely one “pocket-universe” out of an infinite many.

    I don’t think time matters outside of the “pocket” in which it exists necessarily. So I’m not sure you’d call any “chain” of creations and universes temporal in nature.

    But I’ll admit the primary reason for that view is theological – although I do think it has some support from modern science.

  40. I am truly uneducated but I love this existence discussion (seriously) … everyone trying to explain “existence” … theories only … like … nothing from nothing … nothing to something … something to nothing … infinite “negative energy” (i wonder if you can have less than infinite negative energy? … or for that matter more than infinite “positive energy … and can either one be proven or for that “matter” disproven [some fodder for the great mathematicians, physicists, etc. groups et al] {just a thought}) … and who knows the definition of “nothing”? For to define “nothing” (at least in my simple mind) gives it dimension … which brings it into existence (just my uneducated musing again). All this dialogue to prove or disprove the existence of God … why not invest all that energy (negative or positive) into asking “the I AM”, with sincerity of heart, whether He exists or not! One just might find a simple “existence” answer. I AM that I AM. The…

  41. John Lollard 2011-03-24 at 8:47 pm

    Hey Bob, I’m glad that you asked!

    In relativistic quantum mechanics, behavior is governed by the Dirac equation, a generalization of the Schrodinger equation. The predictions of the Dirac equation have been verified experimentally.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dirac_equation

    One of the stranger predictions of this equation are negative energy states. If we did not say that all of these negative states are filled, then since they are lower than positive states and as matter seeks to enter lower energy states, we would have essentially a bottomless pit down which all matter would constantly descend.

    So we say the negative energy states are all full. This theory predicts positrons, which have been verified.

    Obviously the Dirac sea isn’t conceptually very satisfying and a more rigorous theory explaining particle pair creation is found in quantum field theory. Sadly, I do not know that theory and speak only from what I do know. And I agree with you, btw. 1 Kings 18:24

  42. John, thanks for taking the time 1 to respond to my post 2 expose me to the Dirac theory 3 to explain the Dirac “theory” to me (not so sure I can grasp the depth of this theory but will give it some thought and try to sort it out in my simple brain) … I do appreciate your time and vested energy! Friend in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Bob.

  43. A combination of 4 and 5 makes perfect sense in light of what we know about quantum physics. Sorry, the metaphysical is not an answer. To any question, for that matter.

  44. John one thing to keep in mind, is that prior to the big bang – there wasn’t “nothing.”

    “Nothing” is not a concept that exists in modern physics. Even absolutely empty space (if such a thing were even possible), is viewed by physicists as “something” – a field possessing its own physical properties and its own mass energy.

    “Nothing” in quantum physics is described as a quantum vacuum. And this vacuum is not a negation of physical states altogether as required by creation ex nihilo, but rather the vacuum is buzzing and alive with energy. I guess you can define a vacuum in terms of modern quantum physics as “the lowest energy state in which an entire system can reside.”

    Where creation ex nihilo goes wrong is really that it defines the “universe” too narrowly, and limits it solely to our local currently expanding observed galaxy. But it does not factor in the possibility of other “pocket universes” beyond our own local singularity.

  45. John Lollard 2011-03-26 at 8:55 am

    OverOddity,

    Can you please explain how what we currently know of quantum physics makes a combination of four and five the best answer? I’d be interested in making up deficiencies in my understanding of that subject.

    Thanks

  46. Seth has actually explained it sufficiently well. It is incorrect to construe atheism as the “belief that nothing created everything,” since “nothing” is not a coherent scientific notion. A quantum vacuum – the ground state of quantum field theory – is an entity with defined properties, in which physical matter can spontaneously coalesce for very brief periods of time. In a zero-energy universe such as ours, quantum fluctuations are a perfectly reasonable explanation for its origin. After all, the effects of virtual particle generation have been experimentally observed. God hasn’t.

    However, I don’t agree with Seth on his statement that a quantum vacuum theory of the universe rules out the possibility of a multiverse. Chaotic inflation theory is still alive and kicking and agrees with the notion that regional oscillations in the energy of the quantum vacuum can originate bubble universes. Ours might be only one of many.

  47. John Lollard 2011-03-26 at 9:38 am

    Hey Over Oddity,

    Thank you for actually understanding quantum mechanics.

    A quantum vacuum is something. It is “an entity with defined properties, in which physical matter can spontaneously coalesce for very brief periods of time”. A field is also something. You are presuming that our universe existed before the big bang to explain the origin of our universe.

    Those brief periods of time are set by the uncertainty principle. The fluctuations, like the spontaneous transmission of a pion between bound nucleons, are limited to a distance because the pion can only exist for a brief time inversely proportional to its energy. The more energetic a created particle, the less time it an exist for. The universe has existed for a very long time and has an awful lot of particles in it. Pardon me for not understanding how the field fluctuations of quantum field theory can account for the existence of our universe.

    Thank you for your quick response.

  48. Overt,

    I did not rule out the possibility of a multiverse. I was simply objecting to the theological notion of creation ex nihilo.

    Mormons believe that “something” has always existed, and that God did not conjure anything out of nothing. So the idea of a multiverse has always had a lot of theological appeal to Mormons.

  49. Heh, here’s the problem with quantum physics. The moment you try to discuss it using natural languages rather than formulas, it becomes really hard to explain it coherently. I can’t even claim to understand it. I’m convinced that only a handful of people on this planet really do, and even then not in its entirety.

    We should try to avoid talking of “before the Big Bang” considering the nature of time as an integral dimension of our universe. Furthermore, causality itself breaks down at the quantum level. Which is why it makes no mathematical sense to ask how there could be a vacuum before the Big Bang. When causality breaks down we witness funny things, such as effects generating causes.

    As for the brevity of the virtual particle’s life, a sufficiently energetic fluctuation could have initiated inflation, effectively preventing particles and antiparticles from annihilating each other.

  50. John Lollard 2011-03-26 at 10:43 am

    OvertOddity,

    I can’t help but notice that your area of expertise is linguistics.

    Causality does not break down at the quantum level. Quantum mechanics as governed by the Schrodinger equation is a deterministic science. The measurement process is non-deterministic, but the meausrement process is not part of the mechanical formalism.

    I really hate to ask this, but do you understand the equations of quantum mechanics? Like do you understand the Dirac four-component spinor solution of relativisitc quantum mechanics? Do you understand the origin of the uncertainty relations? Your field is language related – have you even taken the prerequisite courses for undergraduate QM? Have you even had diff. eq.? Linear algebra?

    I’m sure you’re a very smart person, but I’m afraid I’m going to need you to provide more than your word when you disagree with me on the field that I actually study.

    Thank you,
    JL

  51. 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.

  52. John Lollard 2011-03-26 at 1:41 pm

    OO,

    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?

  53. 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.

  54. John Lollard 2011-03-26 at 3:00 pm

    OO,

    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.

  55. 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.

    12tuesday.com/kalam-scienc-singularities/
    12tuesday.com/the-science-of-kalam-the-big-bang/

  56. 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…

  57. 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.

  58. 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.

  59. Seth,

    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.

  60. Alan McDougall 2012-07-02 at 4:52 am

    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.

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

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

    http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00D21JCTO

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

  63. 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.

  64. 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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