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:


  1. So who created the creator? What "god" made "god"? Uber-God? Super-God? And so forth.

    You write, "god exists because he must." That's an easy-to-refute circular argument. It's true by its definition because that is how you are defining "god."

    If everything must have a "cause" and that "cause" is necessarily "god," then "god" must also have a "cause" that is also necessarily another "god", and so forth into infinite regression.

    Oh, I see: everything EXCEPT FOR a complex, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing sentient and conscious "being" needs a cause.

    Yeah, that makes a lot more sense!!

    "God" is the most complicated and least likely explanation of them all as a explanation for the universe.

  2. How is "theology" even a legitimate discipline?

    That's like saying I have a degree in Super Hero-ology.

    My thesis would be: "Why it is possible for the Flash to be faster than Superman."

  3. 'Anonymous said...

    How is "theology" even a legitimate discipline?

    That's like saying I have a degree in Super Hero-ology.

    My thesis would be: "Why it is possible for the Flash to be faster than Superman."'

    Anonymous, don't make yourself laughable. You've obviously never studied Barth's Church Dogmatics, Yoder's The Politics of Jesus, or Aquinas' Summa Theologae. Theology (actual theology, not those "God is love" books sitting at the forefront of airport bookstores) is intimately tied with classical philosophy, and is oftentimes even more sophisticated.

    Don't misunderstand me. I am not a theist; I am not defending God. I'm just saying that you ought to read a book on the emergence of modern science and see how deeply it depended on the simultaneous development of theology. Theology deserves some serious respect.

  4. Nice start up bud.

    I have to disagree with you though-

    This statement right here-
    "If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God."

    Even reading you subsequent argument- to me it all falls apart with this line.
    Explanation does not need to equal god.

    I also find fault in your thought of "fine-tuned" universe.
    You seem to forget that there was 4.2 billion some odd years when no human life (that we know) was around, and after we're all gone there will be billions of years more.

    People don't understand how long a billion years really is... that's a llooonngg bloody time.

    Either way- keep it up, and have fun.

  5. all of you know it all "anonymous" statements should grow some and state who you are. it's easy to argue when you don't have to show your face, and it's a pathetic thing to do. i don't care one way or the other what you beileve, but when you post with such strong opinions and then hide, i just want to laugh at you.

  6. The Leibnizian cosmological argument fails.

    The argument is valid since the structure is ok but the argument is far from sound since at least one of the premises is highly flawed.

    "2) If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God"

    Talk about defining something into existence! What kind of premise is that? One of your premises assumes the existence of that which you are trying to prove, this is obviously circular.

    There are explanations for the universe that would not require a god, any kind of supernatural being or anything of that sort. Modern scientists are telling us that the process that led to this does not need a god, so you the argument is clearly out of date.

    "All contingent things require a cause, and must ultimately go back to a necessary cause-- something which must exist because of its nature"

    This cause does not have to be god, supernatural or anything of that sort. A lecture that I already linked to you went over this and explained the nature of "nothing" (what scientists mean by it) and how this inevitably leads to the creation of something.

    No gods, no woo woo things are required for this. It happens, there is an explanation for it already.

    And if we didnt have an answer for it, your argument is still an argument from ignorance. It merely asserts that only god can serve as an explanation.

    "Otherwise, things would simply pop into existence out of nothing without a cause"


    They actually do Cody... The fact that you dont know this by now when it is something atheists bring up ALL THE TIME tells me your research on this subject lacks any kind of objective parameters.

    "Since the universe consists of all space, time, and matter, that which caused it must be spaceless, timeless, and immaterial"

    Can you point to anything like this in the real world? How exactly does an immaterial "thing" that is also outside of time affect material things IN time?

    Lets think of a set of affairs where a universe exists and call it "P1". Lets think of a different state of affairs where no universe exists and call it "P2".

    How does P1 get from its current state and move on to P2 without time? This is absurd...This would NECESITATE time since both of these cannot be true at the same time and in order to get one of the other the its opposite must exist first.

    It would also require matter to be affected by immaterial things. That is as ridiculous as... oh hey! You actually gave us an example already! Numbers!

    "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"

    How does having a will change the fact that you are immaterial and timeless? lol

    You then quote mined both Dawkins and Hawking... Anybody that has read their books and understands their positions will know that you took those quotes out of context.

    I have actually read The God Delusion and Dawkins himself has dealt with similar criticisms by Ben Stein who, like you, quote mined Dawkins to make it look like he believed in aliens.

    You claim to have read The God Delusion correct? Why did you quote mine him? You are arguing with atheists here dude! I am sure you know Ben has read that book too right?

    Bad move man, bad move...

    "So why does something exist rather than nothing? God exists because He must. He can’t do otherwise"

    Scientists who know about this (Ahem... the lecture I linked to you... remember" explain how our universe HAD to exist. Out of nothing, something has to come since it is the only possibility.

    Your argument is flawed, the premises are fallacious and some of them are even demonstrably false.

    Physics, in my opinion, is a better route if what you truly want in this world is understanding of the origins of the universe. Theology is not going to cut it... It hasnt done this in centuries.

  7. Comment 1:
    "Leibnizian cosmological argument: 2) If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God."

    A logical argument cannot be made from this point, since the point itself is your proof reworded. Let me show this by replacing the words in the question and point 2:

    question (reworded): "Why are there apples in the bowl rather than oranges?"
    point 2 (reworded): "If the bowl has fruit, that fruit is apples."

    You must choose a different set of axioms, otherwise your argument is meaningless.

    Comment 2:
    "Does it mean that every single quark ... This seems absurd."

    This is a logical fallacy called Appeal to Ridicule. You should have left this out of your argument.

    Comment 3:
    "A. Anything which begins to exist has a cause."

    Your ideas of cause and effect are mistaken when applied to the beginning of the universe. At the Big Bang, the universe was at a state of minimum entropy, meaning no preceding cause is allowed. Furthermore, it is the beginning of time, as you said. This means that any starting event for the beginning of the universe must have occurred in zero time. Such events that require no cause, create matter and occur in zero time are called quantum fluctuations.

    Comment 4:
    "...which makes it possible for life to be able to exist at inconceivable odds."

    Life exists according to the laws of physics, which are anything but flying in the face of inconceivable odds. Look at it this way: The most abundant element in the universe is hydrogen, followed by helium, carbon, oxygen and nitrogen. The most abundant element in organisms is hydrogen. Helium is chemically inert, but the next most abundant elements are carbon, oxygen and nitrogen. In fact organic molecules are the most abundant complex molecules in the galaxy. The laws of physics are conducive to the formation of life; it is not left to inconceivable odds.

    I have made my comments, so please adjust your argument accordingly. Now I am off to comment on Ben's argument.

  8. Nice start, but I have the following issues:

    (1) "If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God"

    Science has an answer to some things that you never hear from religion: "We don't know. Yet." Any time science says "we don't know" (and sometimes even when we do have an explanation!) religion says "God did it!" Over the centuries we have found explanations (germs, gravity, etc.) for many things previously attributed to God. So while science works to find explanations, we know the answer from religion is always going to be "God did it". That is why theism is not well-suited to answer questions like this!

    (2) "obvious marks of design and fine-tuning in this universe, which further demonstrates that there must be a mind behind it."

    A mind? Really? Creating a "mind" behind the universe is just defining the cause in human terms and is no more valid than the "multiverse" hypothesis that the universe (still) exists because it is one that has the parameters that allow it to exist long enough for life to emerge.

  9. To those who think that posting "anonymously" makes the argument less "legitimate", or makes me a coward, etc., I have a few points to make:

    1) Some of us have jobs that, if others found out we were atheists, would face potential consquences. Don't call people "cowards" for needing to remain anonymous in today's climate where religious freaks think atheists eat babies.

    2) The name of a person on the Internet doesn't mean anything. I could post my name as "Brad Pitt" and it doesn't change the validity or lack of validity of anything.

    3) The American Revolution was started by ANONYMOUS. (Later we learned it was Thomas Paine, but, get that document and read why it didn't matter.) Paine wrote:

    "Who the Author of this production is, is wholly unneccesary to the Public, as the Object for Attention is the DOCTRINE ITSELF, not the man."

    In sum, the IDEAS are what matters, not whether Brad Pitt or someone named "Cody" wrote it!

    So, not responding to me just because the post was stated as "anonymous" is silly.

    4) Most "free thinking" groups over time had to remain anonymous. That's why secret societies developed codes and secret handshakes: to avoid detection and subsequent persecution from dogmatic religious types. This has not gone away. Atheists are the least trusted and most hated group in the U.S. I'm not ready to "come out" with my real name on the Internet just yet because I know my family and my friends would disown me.

    5) I don't like "signing in" on these websites because EVERYTHING is linked these days. I don't want to compromise my identity and then the next thing I know I have a charge on my credit card and someone is renting an apartment in another state using my name and information!

    So, suck it up, and realize that just because I posted as "anonymous" doesn't change the fact that a creator also needs to have been created, ad infinitum, under "Cody's" logic.

  10. The premise that physics provides an explanation for how the universe could just 'pop' into existence since particles do it all the time is patently false. Particles do, of course, pop into and out of existence, but not randomly, or without cause. they decay from one particle to another, transform from particle to energy and back to particle in a mappable, understandable way. the study of this process is called particle physics. But before any of this can happen, existing particles are accelerated to very high speeds and collisions are generated that release energy and start these predictable decays. these are mapped and measured down to the minutist particle, and measured down to the picosecond and shorter times. the particles *do not* pop into existence from nothing. energy transforms to matter [E=mc^2] and back again. but the energy and starting particles must exist first.

    unfortunately, the supposition of a big bang does not answer this question about why there is something either- what caused the big bang? and what banged if there was nothing before it? inventing a timeless, causeless 'quantum fluctuation' is nothing more than findng a sophisticated way of saying 'i don't know how this could happen so i will hypothesize something and use a scientific sounding name.' qf's explain nothing. they certaily are not causal. if you are saying that nothing fluctuated into something, and that is your explanation, you need to review your attempt at logic.

    it seems to me both parties agree that something primal existed previous to all known things - either God or the big bang. The big bang cannot explain itself or cause itself; it fails utterly as the source of all things, since energy cannot be sourced from nothing. Einstein said it best - energy can neither be created nor destroyed, at least not once it existed. the laws of conservation are causal to this maintenance of one or the other.

    there is a premise here that is being ignored. the cause of something must be greater than the thing caused. so where did the laws come from that scientists are so quick to rely on? if everything came from the big bang and and was randomly generated, where did laws come from? chaos cannot create order. the existence of the laws is a clue as to which came first, God or the universe? only God could create the laws that all matter obey. intelligence requires intelligence to beget it, and laws result from intelligence.

    hope that helps a little.

    good start Cody, i think you win.

  11. Mr. Aslan,

    You have quite a few misconceptions about physics. First particles pop in and out of existence completely randomly and without cause. It is not the radioactive decay you claim, but a measured effect in quantum physics. They *do* pop into existence of of nothing, and they are *completely* random.

    Second, timeless quantum fluctuations are a very real phenomenon. They are the physics behind all modern electronics, from the ability to make long distance phone calls cross-country to electron microscopes. Furthermore they explain why the sun exists at all (instead of nothing, lol).

    Third, the Big Bang did *not* exist previous to all known things. It is the beginning of all known things. And you can talk about it without cause (physically speaking, of course), because it is the state of lowest possible entropy of the universe. To ask about the causality of the Big Bang is akin to asking about a place south of the South Pole. Again, a better understanding of your natural world would help you here.

    Fourth, (in the same paragraph) energy can be created and destroyed as long as it conforms to the conditions that are outline in my first comment here. Also, Einstein didn't say this; at least, if he did, he was quoting Rudolf Clausius.

    Finally, causes must be greater than their consequences? This untrue on so *many* levels. It would belabor the point list more than one. Chaos most certainly creates order, albeit at the expense of work. The very stars themselves are a testament to this. The tiniest sonic disturbance causes hundreds of thousands of stars to form. Massive stars, which baked the elements at their cores. These elements are exploded across the cosmos so that their dust can be the seed that life grows from. Life which begets the intelligence to harness the quantum fluctuations in nature and use it for the discourse we find ourselves in at this very moment.

    I know you want to justify Cody's beliefs, but using falsehoods to do it is not the way to go. Please, Mr. Aslan, fall back into C.S. Lewis. However simplistic his writings are, it is *infinitely* better than the dribble that fell from your fingertips this evening.

  12. BTW, will Mr. Cook be responding to these comments?

  13. Hey Cody,

    Excellent opener. I like to frame the argument differently but either way is good.

  14. We are all anonymous.

    All cosmological arguments are based on false premises about causality, and unprovable special pleading about the gods their proponents create. This one is no exception.

  15. First, this is not the same anonymous that posted above.
    Second, thank you both to Ben Doublett and Cody Cook for having this debate. It's nice to see this discussion with both sides taking the time to respond to each other's arguments.

    Cody does quote Hawking and Dawkins, but I don't think this is a case of quote mining. I think a closer reading of Cody's argument supports this view.
    Cody quotes these two to support his assertion that "the universe has the appearance of 'fine-tuning,'" but he does not suggest that either Hawking or Dawkins draw the conclusion that the universe is designed nor that they have no explanation for the universe. In both cases, he grants that these two are atheists, so presumably they would not believe there is a designer. Furthermore, Cody follows the Hawking quote by giving a naturalistic (Dawkins' word) explanation for our universe as being one universe in a vast multiverse (I don't know if Hawking actually holds this view or not). Finally, after Dawkins, Cody states, "These atheistic scientists provide further corroboration for the premise that the 'something' which exists exhibits hallmarks of design..." Again, Dawkins grants this appearance, although he obviously does not draw the conclusion that the universe is designed.
    I think few physicists, if any, would deny the observation that the universe is "fine tuned" in the sense that there is a long list of constants with a narrow range of constraints on them. The debate is about what conclusion to draw from this observation, however.