May 28, 2013

On Causality: Why is there Something Rather than Nothing?

[Updated 5/30/13]
On, I read a number of papers recently posted by an undergraduate student who is attempting to scientifically disprove God’s existence.  Like others who have failed in this effort, he simply cannot answer the famous question posed by Jean-Paul Sartre, “Why is there something rather than nothing?”  Science does well when answering the question, “How?”  but it does not do so well with “Why?” in connection to such questions, because "Why?" presupposes intentionality, which requires mind, which assumes Person.  As common among physicalists, his answer is presumably something like, “If all things need a Creator in order to exist, then God must need a Creator in order to exist.”

It is remarkable to me that those who respond like this fail by missing the crucial issue:

1.)   Whatever lies back of all things is God and is what/who has created the law of causality as a constituent part of the Cosmos, therefore necessarily cannot be limited by such laws.

2.)   In our physical world—in the Cosmos, all things need a cause in order to exist. This is granted.  However, it is the biblical perspective that not all things need a Creator—only that which is created needs a Creator, i.e. only derivative reality needs a Creator.  God, by definition, is not physical, neither is He in this Cosmos, though He is not absent from it.  He is upstream of the Cosmos.  God is Ultimate, all else including the Cosmos, is derivative.  He is transcendent and is unique in this regard.  It is not simply that this is the best answer, it is the only answer.

This man* makes a serious attempt to answer the question as a skeptic, esteemed professor, thinker, and writer on the subject.  There is only one problem with his logic--he is explaining why there is something rather than nothing within the Cosmos, based on the assumption that the Cosmos and its laws are eternal.  The Cosmos, though, is not a nothing, but a something!  Again, this means he has answered, "Why is there something rather than nothing in the Cosmos?"  He has still not answered, "Why is there something, rather than nothing, nothing," i.e. really nothing.  

In responding to Sartre and others, he must account for the existence of the Cosmos, or he has not answered the question at all.  Do you see the difference?  To illustrate this idea, draw a circle on a white piece of paper.  Look inside the circle.  That's what physicalists mean by nothing.  Now, erase the circle.  That's what theists mean by nothing, and while you're at it, go ahead and throw away the paper.  This also helps to illustrate why Stenger and others gives as their conclusion this answer: "Why is there something rather than nothing?  Because 'nothing' is unstable."   However, this is wrong, because "nothing" cannot be unstable, because "nothing" is no-thing!  This all comes down to one's ultimate philosophical pre-commitments.  The physicalist presupposes the ultimate priority and originality of the Cosmos and thus cannot give an account for causality.  He has no answer for this ultimate question.  The theist assumes the ultimate priority and originality of God who is the source of causality and cannot be subordinate to that which He creates.  Again, this is not the best answer, it is the only answer.

Many have noticed the significance of the Bible's first verse for this discussion.  Here is the Hebrew text followed by a translation beneath:
  בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית בָּרָ֣א אֱלֹהִ֑ים אֵ֥ת הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם וְאֵ֥ת הָאָֽרֶץ׃  
   (the earth) (and)   (the heavens)       (God)  (created)  (In the beginning) 

Remarkably, here we have the traditional 5 Categories of Science: In the beginning (time); God (force) created (action); heavens (space); earth (matter), based on God as the metaphysical precondition.  Here, "the heaven's and the earth" constitute a familiar word pair. Here's a couple of things to note:

1.) Together, the word pair represents the totality of all creation.  In the Ancient Near East, cosmology was typically formulated as either "heavens and earth," or "heavens, earth, sea."  This is a classic way to express the totality of the Cosmos (some describe this as a merismatic word pair, i.e. one that covers everything from A-Z). 

2.) Note that the point at which creation occurred marks the ultimate reference point for spatio-temporal reality, i.e. the spacetime Universe.  This shows th
subordination of all things to Him as well as His aseity, or self-existence.

In this simple passage, we have formulated for us a view of cosmology, a view that is not only true to Scripture, but is true to what really is there.  This passage provides us with the philosophical, scientific, and biblical answer to the question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?”  As much as he may try, modern man cannot answer this question apart from God.  The theist answers with something like, "Because God who IS, delighted to make something."

* Victor J. Stenger is emeritus professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Hawaii and Visiting Fellow in Philosophy at the University of Colorado.

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