Sunday, February 13, 2011

"Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?" Blog Debate Listing

I recently engaged in a blog debate with an atheist friend, Ben Doublett, on the question, "Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?" I posted my portions of the debate on my blog Argue With a Christian, and he posted his on his blog-- Fool of Psalms. I thought it might be helpful for those who are interested in the debate to see all of the posts listed in one place.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing? -- Closing Remarks

Ben's arguments against God creating the universe in this debate haven't stood up. His arguments about how a theistic worldview can't account for the features of our universe was based on a straw man of what theism (and in particular, Christianity) actually teaches, his contention that naturalism can account for the universe was based on a single statement from Stephen Hawking which is logically incoherent and widely contested by his colleagues, and his argument about God requiring a cause for Himself is based on attributing complexity to a being which is in fact quite simple.

He attempted in his rebuttal to show that since time began at the Big Bang, the universe requires no cause, and incorrectly summed up my position as, “since the universe began to exist at a certain point in time, and therefore had not existed at some point in time, it requires a decision-making agent in order to bring it into existence.” However, this is not my contention. It is my contention that the universe began to exist, and this moment of beginning was the FIRST moment in time. Just because there was not time before this moment, it does not follow that universes can pop out of nothing without a cause. Ben has to either demonstrate that they can, or refute my assertion that everything which begins to exist has a cause.

If the universe began to exist, this entails that something brought it into existence. Since an effect is dependent upon its cause, and in the case of the universe, the effect includes time itself, its cause must be timeless. The only candidate is God. God, unlike the universe, would not require a cause, if only because God is not held by time.

Of course, if the atheist can provide an explanation which better fits the facts, he is welcome to propose it. However, Ben did not give a reasonable answer to how the universe could begin to exist without God. Thus, he was not able to show that atheistic answers are better or have more explanatory power than theistic ones. The universe still began to exist, and God did not. At the end of the day, only one of these requires an explanation of what caused it, and I don't see that such an explanation was successfully provided by the opposing viewpoint.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Gearing Up To Post My Closing Remarks

Before I post my closing remarks, I want to say that this debate has been very thought-provoking for me, and that Ben has been a challenging opponent. I want to thank him for doing this with me (and for hanging out with me outside of the debate prep. Ben is a solid dude). I hope that this has been a helpful discussion for those of you who have followed it. If you found what we said to be interesting or informative, then I would strongly encourage you to share it with others.

To my fellow Christians-- I want to encourage you to take some time to understand what those outside of the church believe, why they believe it, and why Christ offers a much better answer. It not only makes you better equipped to share the Gospel with people right where they are, but it also shows that you're open-minded and interested in what other people believe. It can also help you to think more about what your faith means in contrast to other belief structures.

For those of you looking to start in on apologetics (defending the faith) I recommend a few websites which have been helpful to me:

Monday, January 31, 2011

Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing? -- Cross Examination

The following post is comprised of my answers to my atheist opponent Ben's questions about my position as stated in my opening statement and rebuttal.

In order for Premise 2 of the Leibnizian Cosmological argument to hold—the premise that requires an agent with will to bring the universe into existence—does one have to postulate that the Big Bang is an event in time rather than the explosion of time and space into existence?

I would say that the Big Bang is the first event in time. God creates the universe at moment of time T=0, or, stated differently, the act of creating is simultaneous with the universe beginning to exist. So the moment of creation is the first event in time. If the universe is genuinely temporal, it would require a first moment-- a beginning. Things which begin are caused. Eternal causes without wills (like a timeless vacuum as in a vacuum fluctuation model) necessarily have eternal effects. Only a timeless being with a will can account for a universe with a beginning.

Hawking admits that on real time models, there is in fact a beginning, and that this could suggest a Beginner: “So long as the universe had a beginning, we could suppose it had a creator” (A Brief History of Time, p. 140-141). This is why his quantum gravity model is so important-- it curves time to get around the beginning point. Of course, numerous physicists, including Roger Penrose of the Penrose-Hawking Singularity Theorems, do not find Hawking's system of explaining the universe to be correct or even, in the case of Penrose, scientific.

How can you reconcile the omnipotent nature of god—which would require that he be able to end his own existence if he so chose—and traits god possesses like emotion and thought—which are contingent upon neurology and evolution in every instance we can examine—with your claim that god exists necessarily, and therefore must not be able to cease his own existence or possess traits that are contingent?

I think this problem stems from you defining omnipotence in a way which Christian theologians do not. I take omnipotence to mean that God can do anything at all which does not deny His nature. (such as things which are irrational, immoral, etc.) For instance, because God is the ground of rationality, and God is consistent with Himself, He will not deny Himself by behaving in irrational ways. For example, God could not draw a square circle or make a rock so heavy that He couldn't lift it. Of course, these are anthropomorphisms which make God material, but even with this flaw aside, God could not do these things because they are irrational. If God cannot deny Himself by behaving irrationally, but can still be called omnipotent in a meaningful sense by being able to do anything which is right and rational to do, it follows that He also cannot cease existing because to do so would be an act of denying His nature and doing that which is not rationally possible.

Click here to read Ben's answers to my questions:

Ben's opening statement and rebuttal can be found on his blog-- Fool of Psalms.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing? -- Rebuttal

If you haven't done so yet, click here to read Ben's opening statement, which I respond to in this post.

Ben created three basic categories which all of his arguments fell into.

The first category of his arguments sought to prove that:
"1. A theistic worldview cannot account for many features of our universe that an atheistic worldview can account for."

His central argument on this point was that the universe was far too big and unreachable to have been made with humans in mind. Ben argues:
“The Christian claims the universe was created for the benefit of us, the creation. So why the excess? Why, if the universe is a gift to us, are we limited to just one of a hundred billion trillion planets? Why is most of the universe constructed of empty space that is deadly to us? Why are all of the planets within our reach also deadly to us, with their crushing gravity, sulfuric acid rain or freezing temperatures? Why is everything outside our solar system kept off-limits to us by overwhelmingly vast distances and the laws of physics?”

I could point out that this is really a side-point. If the universe requires a cause, and design requires a designer, then the question of the importance of human beings cannot overturn the positive case for a Creator. However, I am arguing as a Christian here, and it is also my goal to demonstrate that Christianity, not just theism, contains the answer for why something exists rather than nothing. Speaking as a Christian, I would ask Ben what he means by benefit. Certainly if there was a verse in the Bible which said that God made all of the planets specifically for us to dwell upon, this would contradict our experience, and Ben's argument would be a valid one. Of course, the Bible doesn't claim this, as Psalm 115:16 demonstrates:
"The highest heavens belong to the LORD, but the earth he has given to mankind" (NIV).

Instead, the Psalmist claims that, "the heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge" (Psalm 19:1-2, NIV). In other words, one of the chief purposes that the universe serves for human beings is to point us to the beauty, majesty, and brilliance of its Creator, not to give us real estate to build a restaurant at the end of the universe.

All of that being said, one can't help but wonder if the problem with this argument is that it suffers from an inability to consider options outside of a non-atheistic framework. In truth, one could turn this objection upon itself. Instead of asking, "why is most of the universe constructed of empty space that is deadly to us?" one might just as easily ask, "why is it that earth is oddly habitable?"

For instance, Earth resides in the small habitable circumstellar “Goldilocks Zone” at just the right distance from our sun. The type and size of sun we have, the distance we are away from it, and numerous other characteristics of Earth, the sun, and our moon, all work together to make life possible on Earth. While Ben could ask why God would create a sun we can't build condominiums on, a more pressing question might be, "how is is that Earth's precise relationship to the sun is such that it allows for not just life (which seems tough enough), but highly complex thinking beings to exist?" Similarly, Earth's location in the Milky Way Galaxy, about half-way between the center and the edge, is also in a life-permitting “galactic habitable zone.”

Ben could retort by saying we are here by chance and that pointing out how bad the odds were for us getting here doesn't change the fact that we are, possibly without the aid of God. This is a fair criticism, but it's beside the point. My goal in responding to this particular claim is not necessarily to make a positive case for God, but to show that Ben's argument is not only a straw man, but a false dichotomy. There are other reasonable options which Ben has excluded because of his bias.

Ben also made a sidepoint in this section, but I think it's important to point it out. He said, "life is not the goal of the universe, just a quirk of it, like the storms on Jupiter or the methane lakes on Titan."

Ben's statement here asserts that human life is comparable to a methane lake on Saturn's moon Titan. As a necessary result of this, the universe did not intend to endow Ben with reason. If Ben is able to reason at all, this is an unintentional “quirk.” As such, it would obviously be highly unlikely that Ben's reason is trustworthy. Ben attempts to attack God using a tool that could only have reasonably originated from God. In other words, it is his atheist worldview which can't account for this very important feature in our universe. He can either admit that his reason is untrustworthy (thus rendering logical discourse pointless), or else he must assert by faith that it came about unintentionally.

Ben's second type of arguments fell into this category:
"2. There are natural explanations for why a universe would exist instead of nothing."

In justifying that we do indeed witness things coming into being out of nothing, Ben said, "we now know that the spontaneous creation of matter does actually happen; particles pop into existence for brief moments in time."

However, this is false. Particles don't come into being out of nothing but out of the quantum vacuum, which is, according to philosopher William Lane Craig, "a sea of fluctuating energy. [An] arena of violent activity, and it is governed by physical laws." According to Craig, on the Copenhagen model of quantum mechanics (which is the model Ben is probably appealing to), the energy in the vacuum fluctuates and spontaneously spins off particles which then dissolve back into the energy of the vacuum. This stands in marked contrast to a universe which comes out of nothing.

After this, Ben paraphrased a claim Hawking made in his new book:
“In his book, The Grand Design, Stephen Hawking explains how... certain naturally emergent properties such as gravity... inevitably create a universe.”

I will have to do my best as a non-physicist (or even amateur physics enthusiast) to explain Hawking's reasoning and point out some of its flaws, with the help of my own authorities. This may get a little technical. If I have made any flaws in my explanations, I welcome those in the know to point them out.

Ben is correct that Hawking and Mlodinow say this. On page 180, they claim that, "because there is a law like gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing... Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist." Of course, this sentence taken plainly is nonsensical. When someone argues that X causes Y, they are presuming the pre-existence of X to bring about Y. But what of an argument where X causes X? How can X pre-exist itself to bring itself into existence? It obviously can't. Thus, the universe cannot create itself, and it certainly can't do so through gravity, which requires a pre-existent natural universe for its own existence.

What Hawking seems to actually be arguing here is that once space-time exists, it is filled with a quantum vacuum. This vacuum is not "nothing," but instead is filled with both positive and negative energy, which, when balanced out, fluctuates into a material form. Thus, Hawking presupposes space and time before he can account for matter. Unfortunately for Hawking, all of the scientific evidence points to the space-time universe beginning at a singular point in time, meaning that it began to exist, and would thus require an outside cause. His way of dealing with this is to use imaginary time to warp real time and round off the singularity point into a rounded off "south pole." One of the benefits of this warping for Hawking is that it seems to escape the "problem" of a beginning.

Hawking himself admits in his book A Brief History of Time that, "as far as everyday quantum mechanics is concerned, we may regard our use of imaginary time and Euclidean space-time as merely a mathematical device (or trick) to calculate answers about real space-time" (p 134-135).

Hawking laments, "only if we could picture the universe in terms of imaginary time would there be no singularities... When one goes back to the real time in which we live, however, there will still appear to be singularities" (p. 138-139). In other words, when we use the real time of the universe we actually live in, the universe has a beginning point. Hawking's solution is to suggest that it might be the case that imaginary time is actually the real time, and "what we call real time is just a figment of our imaginations. In real time, the universe has a beginning and an end at singularities that form a boundary to space-time... But in imaginary time, there are no singularities or boundaries. So maybe what we call imaginary time is really more basic..." (p. 139).

To justify this strange premise, Hawking employs a subjective epistemological outlook which he would later refer to as model-dependent realism in The Grand Design-- he asserts that it is meaningless to ask which time is real or imaginary, but that "it's simply a matter of which is the more useful description" (p. 139). The philosopher Craig says it best:
"only if [Hawking] can prove that imaginary time is ontologically real and real time fictitious has he succeeded in obviating the need for a Creator" (Craig,

In other words, there are many good reasons to reject Hawking's dodge of the beginning.

After Ben paraphrased Hawking, he went on to outline six new points which he suggested explain how the universe could naturally take shape after it has already begun to exist. Of course I could grant these, but they would have no bearing on whether or not God caused the universe.

Next, Ben introduces his last category of arguments:
"3. There is no explanation for why a god would exist instead of nothing."

The heart of Ben's third point can be found in this sentence:
“If Mr. Cook cannot provide an explanation for why such a being [as God] should exist instead of nothing, then he cannot be considered the winner of this debate.”

In my opening statement I noted that since the universe began to exist, it must have been caused, and that this cause could only be a personal being which is spaceless, timeless, immaterial, and has a will, great intelligence, and awesome power (to see how I supported this claim, please revisit my opening statement). Since the universe could not exist unless this Being caused it, and the universe does in fact exist, this Being must also exist. The alternative is that we suspend the laws of logic to assert that the universe began to exist out of nothing because we fear, as others who have attempted to avoid the Big Bang have, that it, "smacks of divine intervention" (Hawking, p. 46).

Ben also expanded upon why he thought the existence of God seemed inconceivable:
"Mr. Cook is proposing that something exists outside of the universe. He is proposing that there is an intelligent being, capable of monitoring every movement of every particle at every point in time, capable of orchestrating the dance of 100 billion galaxies across empty space, capable of manipulating evolution in order to create one very specific species of primate, and capable of feeling human emotions like love and sadness. Such a being requires an explanation for its existence, just as the universe does (perhaps more so.)... If parts of the theistic worldview require inexplicable phenomenon, a theistic worldview cannot [have] greater explanatory power than an atheistic worldview."

This is a worthwhile point to bring up in this discussion. I think there are different ways to answer this challenge. First of all, it could be argued that a complicated hypothesis with far-reaching explanatory power is better than a simple hypothesis with little to no explanatory power. The hypothesis that, "in the beginning nothing blew up for no reason and here we are," is certainly simple, but it hardly explains everything that it's supposed to. In contrast, the God hypothesis can easily account for the appearance of design and order in the universe, the existence of complex life which can reason, irreducibly complex biological structures, moral facts, and even the existence of the universe itself. So even if God were more complex than His effect, the God hypothesis would still be preferable to the allegedly simple naturalistic atheistic hypothesis. However, I think Ben may be mistaken in assuming that God is complex, if I am correct that this is his contention. Unlike the universe, God does not consist of multiple, complex parts. In fact, as a non-physical mind, God would actually be quite simple, even though His thoughts and creation are complex. If God's mind is the standard for truth, reason, and goodness, this most certainly makes Him a remarkable Being, though not necessarily a complex one.

Click here to read Ben's rebuttal to my opening statement.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing? -- Opening Statement

Why does something exist rather than nothing? There are two categories of things which exist: those which exist necessarily (those things which don't depend on a certain set of circumstances to exist, but rather must exist) and those which exist contingently (those things which don't have to exist, and must have been caused by something outside of them). In this debate, we will be focusing on why the universe exists instead of not existing. It must have an explanation for itself-- either it necessarily exists, or something else caused it.

A way of reasoning through the question of the universe's explanation is a form of the Leibnizian cosmological argument from contingency:
"1) Anything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause. 2) If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God. 3) The universe exists. 4) Therefore, the universe has an explanation of its existence. (from 1, 3) 5) Therefore, the explanation of the existence of the universe is God. (from 2, 4)"

This argument points out that everything has an explanation for its existence, either in its necessity or in being caused. As a result, something which is contingent requires that it is grounded by something which is necessary. If the universe is contingent it requires a necessary cause. According to Leibniz, this necessary cause could only be God.

The other alternative is that the universe is necessary. However, big bang cosmology has shown us that the universe began to exist at a finite point in time, which suggests that it could have not come into existence at all. In other words, it does not have to exist. Furthermore, if the universe is said to be necessary, what could this mean? Does it mean that every single quark which composes all of the matter in the universe is necessary? There could be no more or less? This seems absurd.

It is obvious that since the universe began to exist and could have not come into existence at all, it is contingent. All contingent things require a cause, and must ultimately go back to a necessary cause-- something which must exist because of its nature. Otherwise, things would simply pop into existence out of nothing without a cause. As the kalam cosmological argument puts it:
A. Anything which begins to exist has a cause.
B. The universe began to exist.
Thus, the universe has a cause.

While some atheists may counter Leibniz's assertion that the only explanation for the universe would be God by saying that this universe may have simply emerged out of another, this doesn't solve their problem. If what caused the universe is also material and thus contingent, then THAT would necessarily require a transcendent cause, or else the atheist is faced with having an infinite regress. As philosopher William Lane Craig argued, paraphrasing Liebniz in his book Reasonable Faith:
"imagine that a series of geometry books has been copied from eternity; such an infinite regress would still not explain why such books exist at all. But the same is true with regard to past states of the world: even should these be infinite; we have yet to discover a sufficient reason for the existence of an eternal universe. Therefore, the reason for the universe's existence must be found outside the universe, in a being whose sufficient reason is self-contained; it is its own sufficient reason for existing and is the reason the universe exists as well. This Sufficient Reason of all things is God, whose own existence is to be explained only by reference to Himself. That is to say, God is a metaphysically necessary being."

Since the universe consists of all space, time, and matter, that which caused it must be spaceless, timeless, and immaterial. This cause must also have a will capable of bringing the universe into existence, for although abstract things like numbers are spaceless, timeless, and immaterial, they stand in no causal relation to anything else and have no wills by which to bring anything about, let alone a complex, highly organized universe governed by strict laws and capable of producing highly developed life.

The only alternative for the atheist is to assert that the universe exists with NO explanation at all. For obvious reasons, he/she will not want to admit this. To do so is to make a mockery of logic and the obvious truth that everything which exists requires an explanation for its existence. After all, we do not genuinely worry that a giant sperm whale might simply appear in the earth’s atmosphere and land on our house (infinite improbability drive aside).

When asking why something exists rather than nothing, it's also important that we ask what kind of thing this "something" is. I have demonstrated that in the case of the universe, it is contingent and came into existence at a finite point in time, and so the explanation for it must then be God. However, I could go a step further and point to the obvious marks of design and fine-tuning in this universe, which further demonstrates that there must be a mind behind it. While I cannot claim any expertise in physics, I will take Stephen Hawking at his word when he says:
"The laws of science, as we know them at present, contain many fundamental numbers, like the size of the electric charge of the electron and the ratio of the masses of the proton and the electron... The remarkable fact is that the values of these numbers seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life" (A Brief History of Time, p. 125).

Many physicists, prominent atheists among them, have thus reached the conclusion that the universe has the appearance of "fine-tuning" which makes it possible for life to be able to exist at inconceivable odds. However, many of these prominent atheists, like Hawking, have theorized a vast multiplicity of universes, most of them incapable of life, in order to better the odds that our universe could unintentionally produce life. As the lottery slogan goes, “somebody's gotta win! Might as well be you!” While the multiverse model has some mathematical support, it has, as Hawking's colleague Roger Penrose said on the Unbelievable Radio Program, "absolutely no support from observation," and is thus not really a scientific (if science is taken to only be based on empirical data) but a metaphysical construct.

Similarly, Dawkins admits in his book The God Delusion that, "one of the greatest challenges to the human intellect... has been to explain how the complex, improbable appearance of design in the universe arises," and that, "the natural temptation is to attribute the appearance of design to actual design itself" (p. 188 paperback edition). These atheistic scientists provide further corroboration for the premise that the “something” which exists exhibits hallmarks of design, and thus strengthens the argument that it was caused by an immaterial, timeless, causeless, spaceless intelligence.

So why does something exist rather than nothing? God exists because He must. He can’t do otherwise. The universe, which began to exist, exists because it was caused, and the only good candidate for the cause of the universe is God.

The opening statement of Ben, my opponent, can be found here:

Ben's rebuttal to my opening statement can be found here:

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Debate to Take Place January 24th-- Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?


An atheist/Christian debate by Ben Doublett and Cody Cook taking place on
beginning January 24th at 11 p.m. EST

The rules:

Both debaters will post on their respective blogs an opening statement making a positive case for their viewpoint not exceeding 1,200 words.

Within 72 hours, both debaters will post rebuttals not exceeding 1,600 words.

Within another 72 hours, both debaters will post a three question cross-examination they have done of the other debater, questions not exceeding 50 words and answers not exceeding 200 words.

Within another 72 hours, 400 word conclusions will also be posted by each debater.

Links to the post responded to and the response posted (when they are submitted) will be placed in text of each post.

The debaters:

Ben Doublett is the owner of a small business and a British citizen living in the United States. He spends his free time volunteering with the business program at Mason High School, mentoring aspiring entrepreneurs and, most relevantly, as an amateur atheist and rationalist polemic.

In his new blog, Fool of Psalms, he criticizes all kinds of irrational belief, including alternative and faith-based healing practices and (coming soon) astrology, but mainly he focuses on dispelling the reasons given for religious belief and providing reasons for disbelief. This blog has attracted nearly a thousand unique visitors from all over the world in less than three weeks.

While he is definitely not reserved in his criticisms of beliefs he considers irrational, Doublett always tries to remain as respectful as possible in debates with the faithful. He is a strong advocate of the notion that one should attack the belief and not the believer.

To read more about Doublett’s positions on religious faith and other issues, check out his blog at

Cody Cook is a theology student specializing in apologetics. He seeks to follow the biblical command to, "sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence" and seeks to dialogue with non-Christians about the truths of the Christian faith. He believes that since reason and morality come from God, they cannot be consistently used against Him by the atheist/agnostic/skeptic. As a result, he seeks to demonstrate circular reasoning, unfounded assumptions, and faulty reasoning in atheistic thinking, while at the same time seeking to maintain a friendly and generous spirit. He has two blogs which he uses to encourage dialogue with fellow Christians as well as non-Christians: and