EVIDENCE FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD FROM OBSERVATION: SOMETHING RATHER THAN NOTHING
It may be so obvious that we miss it, but the first thing we observe is that there are things to observe, and that we’re here to observe them. This leads us to, perhaps, the most fundamental question of all when considering the order and purpose of the universe. Indeed, before we can marvel at the order of the universe, or speculate as to its purpose, we must consider the fact that the universe exists in the first place. To be specific: Why is there something rather than nothing?
Dr. Richard Dawkins, the biologist and chief evangelist for atheism, thinks the question is “silly.” That’s the assessment he gave of it during a debate with George Cardinal Pell of Sydney on the Australian television program “Q&A.” This seems to me a poor attempt at dismissing a question for which Dawkins has no answer and, since he has no answer, judges it silly. Even still, despite Dawkins’ protestations, it’s a question that has intrigued, almost haunted, people since time immemorial. Why is there something rather than nothing?
It’s hard to imagine nothing. By definition, no one ever has or ever could experience nothing, since there would have to be someone to experience the lack of anything, and the existence of that someone would mean that there was something. Recent efforts by physicists such as Stephen Hawking and Lawrence Krauss to explain that the universe must have arisen from nothing, that the universe, in essence, must exist because of the laws of physics fail to explain from where the laws of physics come. Indeed, they don’t even bother to try. They seem to forget that laws don’t cause things to exist, but merely describe things as they exist. The laws of physics, for instance, simply describe the arrangement or actions of physical objects. They say nothing about where those physical objects came from. Nor can they, for the laws of physics have nothing to say about a physical object prior to its existence.
Krauss makes the further error of redefining nothing from “nothing” to “something.” He literally says, in a lecture on the subject, “Nothing isn’t nothing anymore.” Instead, nothing is actually something, because what we thought was nothing, which Krauss equates with empty space, we now know is filled with untold numbers of particles. “Empty space,” however, is nowhere close to what the great minds of classic Western philosophy and theology thought of as nothing. Rather, nothing was simply that: nothing. Nothing at all. Ex nihilo. No space. No time. No little particles that we can’t see. Nothing at all. As I said, nothing is hard to imagine. We’ve never experienced it and never will. When you wrap your head around the idea of nothing, though, you realize how amazing and wondrous – even miraculous – it is that there is something rather than nothing. For, from nothing comes nothing. Something can never emerge from nothing, unless there is something to serve as a catalyst for it’s coming into being. But, this is impossible, since in the case of nothing, there is nothing that exists to serve as a catalyst, and there is nothing on which any catalyst may act.
The only thing that can reasonably explain the existence of anything, then, is the existence of a something or a someone who exists outside of existence, that is, something or someone who is existence. For only a Being Who is existence, and not merely One Who exists within existence, can explain how anything within the created order exists. For how can anything within existence, such as the laws of physics, explain the existence of anything? Whatever is able to explain the existence of anything else must exist prior to the existence of anything else. But, how is this possible for anything that exists within existence? It’s not.
Bertrand Russell, in his famous 1927 lecture, “Why I Am Not a Christian,” claimed in his attack on the First Cause Argument, “If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God … There is no reason why the world could not have come into being without a cause; nor, on the other hand, is there any reason why it should not have always existed. There is no reason to suppose that the world had a beginning at all.”
Despite his misunderstanding of the First Cause Argument (see, “Objections to the Argument from Efficient Causes” above), Russell asks two interesting questions, though he puts them in the form of statements, which really are not supportable. The first question is: Could the world have come into being without a cause? The second question is related to it: Could the world have always existed?
The answer to the first question is clearly no. If the world came into being, then it could not have come into being without a cause. The key words here are “come into being.” The second question asks if the world could be eternal, which is to say that it didn’t “come into being,” but always existed. But, the first question doesn’t presume a positive answer to the second, and postulates a non-eternal world, one with a beginning. So, if the world did, in fact, “come into being,” could it have done so without a cause? No. For, in order to do so, the world would have to be the cause of its own existence, which is absurd. Russell’s statement, “There is no reason why the world could not have come into being without a cause,” presumes too much. There is very much a reason the world could not have come into being without a cause, and that is that nothing “comes into being” without a cause. It is simply absurd to claim that something can be the cause of its own coming into being, for how could it act in such a way to cause its own existence prior to its existing? The insistence of some, following Russell, that this is actually possible is a ridiculous ruse more intended, I think, to avoid the problem than solve it. It attempts to account for the beginning of the world by way of a “just so” story. It is philosophically and scientifically inadequate.
The second question, “Could the world have always existed?” is irrelevant on the matter of God’s existence. Since nothing that possesses existence as a characteristic or quality of itself can be the cause of its own existence, even if the world always existed, the possibility of which St. Thomas Aquinas was willing to concede, it would still require the existence of a cause outside itself. Recall that, for Aquinas, causing and sustaining are two sides of the same coin. An eternal God causing the existence of an eternal world is no more impossible than an eternal God playing an eternal song. Were God to cease playing, the song would end. Were God to cease sustaining the world in existence, the world would end (indeed, given the eternal nature of God, it would be as if the world had never existed in the first place, but that’s a different conversation). So, we can see why the always-existing world would not, by virtue of its always existing, be free of the need of a First Cause.
But, is it reasonable to hold that the world always existed, that it is infinite in time? In my mind, the answer to that question is also no. Put simply, the world cannot be eternal because the world exists within the changing created order. As such, the world possesses existence as a characteristic or quality. The world is also subject to change and, indeed, is changing constantly. As such, it is possible for the world to not exist, since non-existence is one of the possible changes the world might undergo. Given an infinite amount of time all possibilities will eventually become reality, so there must have been a time when the world did not exist.
Fr. Robert Spitzer, SJ, former president of Gonzaga University and founder of the Magis Center, also makes the point that infinite time is impossible because infinity is unachievable. What distinguishes infinity from finitude? It is the very fact that infinity keeps on going, never ends. Because infinity never ends, it cannot be achieved, for if we were to achieve infinity, that very fact would mean that it was finite. But finite infinity is a contradiction. Therefore, Fr. Spitzer concludes, infinite time is impossible. Time is finite. There must have been a beginning to time and, if a beginning, then a beginner, a Creator.
So, why isn’t the same true for God? Because God does not possess existence. Rather, God is existence. To claim that it is possible for existence itself to not exist is a clear contradiction. Atheists usually try to get around this problem by defining God down. God, they claim, is not existence itself, not Being itself. Instead, God is merely a part of the created order, though perhaps something greater than other parts. But this doesn’t make sense. By definition God is Creator, not creature, so nothing that exists within the created order can be God, because whatever is a creature (that is, whatever was created) is not God.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.