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Problem: The publication of a text claiming a possibility of the coming into being of the universe by its own means.
Solution: To point out that the text equivocates in its use of the word “nothing” in order to make its claim. Nothing can come into existence by itself.

There is a Peanuts cartoon where Charlie Brown and, if I remember correctly, Schroeder, were outside at night looking at the stars. The first picture had Charlie Brown say, “It was made” and Schroeder say, “It happened.” Then there were two pictures where nothing was said and then the last where Charlie Brown says again, “It was made” and Schroeder again, “It happened.” This cartoon distills the essence of the current debate between the atheist and the theist regarding the origin of the universe. The question that the atheist needs to answer in its most basic form is whether it is possible for nature to be responsible for herself; that is, can she by herself be responsible for both her coming into being and for her subsequent development. Although not generally acknowledged, the atheist does have the burden of proof in this regard.

A couple looking at a starry night sky.In 2012 Lawrence Krauss, a theoretical physicist and cosmologist and one of the leading members of the New Atheist movement, published a book entitled A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing. In the book the author attempts to explain in scientific terms how it is possible for the universe to have come into existence by itself out of nothing. His arguments are scientific and technical, and therefore hard for a non-physicist to comprehend. Basically he says that if we were to measure all the positive and negative energy in the universe they would cancel each other out. We would then arrive at the conclusion that the energy would have been zero at the time of the big bang. He also says that the state of nothingness, or zero, is very unstable. He then says it would be surprising, given that instability, if the universe did not come into being by itself. Steven Hawking, another theoretical physicist and perhaps the world's best-known living scientist, seems to have arrived at a similar conclusion. In his 2010 book The Grand Design, he wrote that because there is such a thing as the law of gravity the universe had to come into existence out of nothing. Hawking famously wrote, “It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.” Both Krauss and Hawking see that the question addressed in the Peanuts cartoon needs an answer. They believe they have one.

It is impossible to assess what effect statements and publications like these have on people generally, but it is worrying. If someone were leaning toward the atheist view, a statement like the above could move them in that direction. If such questions could be answered in this way by leading scientists, some people might assume that they would no longer have to think carefully about it themselves. Even for members of the church, such statements from these people can be intimidating. The intimidation comes from the fact that most of us are scientific laity, and have no way of assessing the science involved in coming to such conclusions.

The question asked by Charlie and Schroeder, though, is not a scientific question. It is both philosophical and theological, and can be answered by anybody, and should be addressed by everybody. It cannot be, and never will be, answered by scientific investigation. This is not to say that such investigation is unimportant and that we cannot make some informed predictions concerning past and future states of the universe. It is to say that such predictions, all of them, are irrelevant to the question concerning the origin of the universe, except in the sense that certain kinds of evidence may be made available. Then again the existence of the universe itself is a kind of evidence.

As I said, the title to the book by Lawrence Krauss is A Universe from Nothing and the subtitle is Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing. The word “nothing” is used in both the title and subtitle, but in each part it has a different meaning. This is called equivocation — an attempt to prove something by using a word to say one thing when it can have two meanings. In the first part “nothing” would appear to mean truly nothing — the supposed state of affairs at the time of the big bang. In this sense “nothing” is a physical concept and properly under the domain of physical science. In that regard there is substantial scientific literature on the subject of the big bang and the state of affairs at that time and the developments that appeared to have taken place just after that time.

Nothing comes from nothing--a quote from Parmenides.In the subtitle the author is referring to a metaphysical principle; “nothing comes from nothing.” Krauss knows of this principle and he knows it forms an important part of strong arguments for God's existence. The principle was first suggested by ancient Greek philosophers — in particular by a philosopher named Parmenides, a precursor to Aristotle. Krauss wishes to appear to have disproved this principle. But the word “nothing” in this context does not mean a physical state of emptiness. It means non-being. This is confusing because non-being is harder to understand than a physical state of emptiness. It is impossible to fully grasp the idea because there is nothing we can think of that is not something in some way. You cannot imagine “nothing” in this sense. But we can understand it. If we can understand the non-existence of something, we can understand non-existence. When we see that the word denotes this absence of being, it does become clear that the principle “nothing comes from nothing” is fully justified and inviolable. Nothing can come from non-existence. One could say that a state of non-existence is a contradiction in terms. A state, which is something, of non-existence, which is nothing, cannot exist. Nothing can come from a state that does not exist. This refers to any state, general or particular, past, or present. Nothing can come from some particular thing that does not exist. If it truly is the case that “nothing comes from nothing,” it must also be the case that if there are things now, there can never have been a state of general non-being. There must always have been, and still must be, one thing that needs nothing for its existence. We can see how such a principle leads to the idea that God must exist.

There are principles that define what it means to be rational. Without these principles it is impossible to think in a rational way. These are called first principles. They are first in the sense that everything that is rational follows from them. They are self-justifying. They cannot be proven, but are the basis of proof for all subsequent conclusions. One of these principles is called the law of identity. This law says that a thing cannot exist and not exist at the same time. It also means that a thing cannot be one thing and another different thing at the same time. The apple in your fruit bowl is not an orange nor is it an apple pie (although it could become one). We realize these things are obvious, but it is when we clarify why certain things are obvious or simply reasonable we see an underlying truth that can be very important. “Nothing comes from nothing” is related to this principle in the sense that for something to come into existence by itself means that it would have to be and not be at the same time. If we say the universe brought itself into being, we are saying it was there to bring itself into being while it was not there.

There are principles of causality that are also contravened by the idea that the universe brought itself into being. The principles say that every effect must have a cause, and that cause is at least equal to the effect. This is directly related to the preceding principle. To produce an effect that is greater than the cause, or to produce an effect without a cause, means precisely to produce something from nothing — being from non-being. We see that this idea of “nothing” is actually very important as it forms a much greater part of our normal thinking about the world than we are usually aware.

Little boy with big red glasses.We do see all of these principles working in daily life, not just in the universe. We do not expect things to appear out of nowhere by themselves. I do not expect to see a blue whale appear by itself in my front room. I expect to see water come out of a water faucet. We cannot hit home runs without batters. All of these things exemplify the principles of causality and identity. Life would be unlivable if things did not work in precisely this regular and logical way. The way we undertake scientific investigation also relies upon these principles. If these principles did not hold, no scientific experiment or calculation could possibly be reliable. One could not make any kind of scientific prediction or come to any scientific conclusion if things could just pop in and out of existence — including universes. Aristotle felt that without these principles, true statements about the world could not be made, and that language itself would break down.

Krauss is aware that these principles must eventually and inexorably lead to the conclusion that God must exist. He understands that to consistently deny God’s existence one would have to show that the universe can pop into being from literally nothing, and that things that exist can do so without a cause. This is the burden of proof of which we spoke earlier, and is the purpose of his book. Krauss claims to have done this, but it is only done by confusing the meaning of a word that is crucial to a rational understanding of the world.

Over the last three centuries atheism as a worldview has left the private chambers of a few individuals. It is now a fundamental assumption of most Western governments. Today it is a social movement that has a tremendous influence over our entire educational system. Exactly how this has happened is a long story. We now have to clarify why certain arguments really are unreasonable.

All things philosophical or otherwise must eventually come under the scrutiny of the Holy Spirit. Paul says in his letter to the Romans (1:19 – 20) that the people whose behavior he condemns in the preceding verses could have known of God’s existence because God had made it plain to them. There are several conclusions we could reach from these two verses, but for now we find that even the most obvious of things must lead us to God. It may be said that all roads lead to God.

God called himself “Jahweh” which means “I am that I am.” It is difficult not to see in this a reference to the one who needs nothing to exist, who is the source of the existence of everything else, who is the ultimate cause without needing a cause himself, and who has to exist if anything at all does exist.

Picture credits:
© Andy Dean Photography. Image from BigStockPhoto.com.
© Rudall. Image from BigStockPhoto.com.
© ISerg. Image from BigStockPhoto.com.
© NinaMalyna. Image from BigStockPhoto.com.