Let’s begin with a little thought experiment. When you reach the end of this sentence close your eyes and think of nothing for a moment or two…
How did it go? Did you really think of nothing? What was your “nothing” like: darkness, static, silence? Each of those experiences is actually something. I’d argue that it’s actually impossible think of nothing. Sure, you can try to blank your mind and refuse to allow images or words to be there, but something is still there: you, the perceiver of this supposed nothing. If you think about it, even the concept nothing is something! Yet I asked you to think of nothing, NO THING at all. The human mind has as difficult a time grasping nothing as it does infinity.
Something Has Always Existed
Nothing means non-existence. Nothing cannot produce something. Non-existence cannot produce existence of any kind. Some thinkers have stated it like this: “From nothing, nothing comes.” Therefore, something has always existed.
Some ancient Greek philosophers believed matter to be eternal. For much of recorded history it was widely accepted that the universe always existed. However, beginning early in the 20th century, theory and mounting evidence contradicted this belief. At the time of this writing scientific consensus holds that our universe began to exist around 14 billion years ago with an event called the Big Bang. The universe had a beginning. Everything that has a beginning, has a cause for its existence. So, where did the universe come from? What caused the cosmos?
There are both scientists and theologians who hold that the universe came from nothing, but each group has its own set of assumptions about the nature of that nothing. For the scientist nothing is actually something. It has been called a “spontaneous fluctuation of the energy contained in the sub-atomic vacuum.” Now that is something! The theologian who affirms that God created the universe ex-nihilo (Latin for “from nothing”) is not saying it came into existence from nothing on it’s own, but that it was created from the infinite resources of an omnipotent God.
The speculation of cosmologists (those who theorize about the origin of the cosmos) as to what existed prior to our universe cannot be grounded in the same hard science which has continued to validate the Big Bang. Science is inherently naturalistic because the scientific method only works when applied to the study of the natural world. There must be matter and energy to measure, and causation and the consistency of the nature must be established, or objective scientific inquiry is rendered powerless. Prior to the Big Bang, there was no space or time that anyone can measure or verify. There was no natural order to be observed or measured, no laws of physics and no way of knowing if causation operated as we trust it does in nature. So, cosmologists rely on speculation about reality without hard evidence. Their theories are dependent upon their own philosophies and beliefs concerning nature and what might exist beyond the material universe.
Perhaps you’ve heard of the multiverse in popular movies, broadcast programs and literature. This is a theoretical notion, which does not have hard evidence to back it up. The multiverse is the speculation of naturalists (those who reject the supernatural) who wish to revive or reinforce the belief that the cosmos in some form is eternal. Carl Sagan famously stated at the beginning of his television show Cosmos, “The cosmos is all that was, and all that is, and all that ever will be.” If the universe has always existed in some form, then we aren’t forced to grapple with where it came from, even if we might still ask why it exists. It has been observed that belief in the multiverse only moves the question of origin back. Where did the multiverse come from? What caused these myriad universes?
If a cosmologist is a materialist and/or a naturalist, then she looks for answers that conform to her expectations that there can be nothing supernatural—or perhaps we could say supra-natural (above nature). This is a limiting bias, especially when studying phenomena that are by definition beyond the natural order and outside our material universe.
In an interview with NPR, philosopher Alvin Plantinga, who authored a book about science and religion titled Where the Conflict Really Lies, said: “Science is absolutely wonderful but it’s a limited endeavor. It doesn’t cover the whole of the knowledge enterprise, you might say.” One must employ methods and tools that fit the field of inquiry. When seeking answers beyond the natural order it would seem wise to enlist the ancient disciplines of philosophy and theology.
Something has always existed. If not the universe in some form (ie. matter and energy), then what? Throughout recorded history, most human beings have believed that the world was created by a divine being or beings. The Greek philosopher Aristotle spoke of an Uncaused Cause. This Cause must have existed prior to the universe and be itself uncaused. Could such a causal force or entity be God?
Perhaps we should pause and ask what is meant, or to whom to we think we refer, when using the term God? Without getting into a great theological or philosophical debate, I will simply agree with St. Anselm, the Medieval scholar who formulated the Ontological Argument for God’s existence. Anselm famously stated that what we mean by God is “a being that which nothing greater can be thought.” Anselm reasoned that something which does not exist cannot fit the definition because what exists is self-evidently greater than a mere idea. Therefore, if God really is a being that which no greater can be conceived he must possess the quality of existence. This may or may not be a persuasive argument, but I think we can agree with Anselm’s basic definition of God, which I will clarify further. God is the Being above which nothing greater may be conceived. God is indeed the Supreme Being.
As the cause of the universe God would have to be powerful, but also intelligent. As an uncaused cause, it stands to reason that God could be personal. In fact, personal beings possess a will to freely choose apart from prior causes. So, God is the Supreme Being: personal, powerful and intelligent.
Another Medieval scholar, St. Thomas of Aquinas called God the Necessary Being, meaning God is not dependent upon anything else. God is self-existent, unlike the universe, which is caused by and dependent upon something else for its existence. The universe is contingent, not necessary, not self-existent. . St. Thomas also taught that God is “the ground of all being.” In other words, God is the basis for all existence. God is the Necessary Being upon whom all contingent beings rely for their existence
Perhaps you’ve heard the question (or perhaps even asked it yourself): “Where did God come from?” Or, similarly, “Who created God?” These questions equate God with the material universe, and thereby misunderstand even the idea of God altogether. A self-existent being is uncreated, and by definition has no cause. Something has to fit that description because nothing cannot produce something: non-existence cannot cause existence. Something has always existed. The material universe, by nature, cannot fit that description. God by definition can.
The Bible begins with the following words, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). The existence of a powerful, intelligent, personal creator for the universe is assumed. In the Bible’s book of Exodus, God speaks to Moses on Mount Sinai and reveals his personal name for the first time.
“Moses said to God, ‘If I go to the Israelites and tell them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,” and they ask me, “What is his name?”—what should I say to them? God said to Moses, ‘I am that I am.’ And he said, ‘You must say this to the Israelites, “I am has sent me to you.””” (Exodus 3:13–14, NET)
The God of the Bible has a personal name that refers both to self-existence and eternal existence. God simply is. “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come” (Revelation 4:8).
Something has always existed, and that something is a Someone who created the universe ex-nihilo (from nothing but his own supernatural resources). God is. If there were no God, there would be nothing else: not you, not me, and not the universe. Absolutely nothing.
There are good reasons and evidence for such a belief, but it is also what philosopher Alvin Plantinga calls “properly basic” or self-evident. Belief in God is instinctive and intuitive for most people. Such a belief is the first step to knowledge and wisdom.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7).
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (Proverbs 9:10).
Belief in God’s existence is not “blind faith.” It is reasonable and necessary to hold that the universe has been created by an omnipotent, personal intelligence. This still requires faith. However, so does any other alternative.