We are so busy today, that many times we can’t be bothered with deep thought. Perhaps we would like to think deeply and explore more of the wonders of existence, but who has the time or energy for that?
But what are we missing? Are not the very moments we have precious? What could be so important to deny ourselves the pleasure of thinking and intellectually exploring this reality in which we find ourselves?
I’m pretty sure that you and I share something in common. We’re both here for a short time. In comparison to the universe around us, you and I are a small molecule of a speck sitting somewhere on the graph of time. Our lives are like a vapor, here one moment and gone the next.
But why? And here is that old question that begins our discussion.
Why does anything exist at all?
Like many before us, you may be thinking, “what a nonsense question.” Or perhaps you’re reminded of the ancient thinker Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. Regardless, stick with me here and allow yourself to think about this question for a moment. Why does anything exist?
Is the question absurd because the universe, and all that is in it, exists because it is necessary? In other words, the universe is the way it is because it could not possibly NOT exist? That does not seem reasonable.
I certainly don’t need to exist. It could have been that my parents never met, and therefore I wasn’t conceived. It could have been that the American Revolution was a complete failure, and the USA never was. Indeed, it could have been during the initial conditions of the universe that the law of entropy resulted in being slightly different, and the matter wasn’t able to survive in a state that permitted planetary formation, thus not allowing a life-giving universe. If that’s the case, then perhaps it could have been that whatever did cause all space, time, and matter could have produced something different.
But this doesn’t answer the question; it merely eliminates a possibility. We’ve accomplished nothing more than to say, “the universe doesn’t exist out of necessity. It still leaves us where we started and needing to explore more possibilities.
All is Illusion
Perhaps what we believe to be reality is genuinely nothing more than an illusion. Are we like Neo in the movie The Matrix, needing the red pill to wake up and see the truth? Maybe instead of being connected to a complex system of machinery that uses our bodies for energy, we would wake to find that we are a brain on the desk of a mad scientist stimulated to believe our perception of reality is real.
I can hear you saying, “this is foolishness,” and perhaps you’re thinking you aren’t going to waste another second of your time reading this. But this idea isn’t all that uncommon. Indeed it won’t be expressed in terms of Hollywood’s The Matrix or characterized as brains stimulated in a jar, but this idea held by over a billion people and increasing in the West, at its foundation; holds the belief that reality as we believe to know it is an illusion.
Many Eastern philosophies hold to the belief in Advaita, which is Sanskrit for “non-dual.” The idea suggests that everything that appears to our senses is an illusion and is ultimately unreal. Getting into the details of the spectrum of reality, i.e., something being “more real” than another, is beyond this article and would take some time to unpack being that we, in the West, typically think of real and unreal as binary. Either it is, or it isn’t. However, more than a billion people on this planet hold to this belief!
The point is that if all that we believe, perceive, and think is an illusion, there are severe implications to how we live our lives. I have to wonder, if it is all an illusion, then who’s illusion is it? Typically, if I’m experiencing an illusion, the experience of it is mine alone. But this would mean that since the illusion is being equally experienced, then we must all be one, and we are all caught up in the same illusion. But if this is the case and we are all within the illusion, then how would we know we are all within the illusion? What does it even mean to say we, which means a grouping of individuals, if all is one within the same hallucination?
Before we tumble too far down the rabbit hole, let’s take a look back at our original question and see if we find ourselves any closer to resolving the issue. If all reality is an illusion, aren’t we just left with the question of why it is an illusion, and where did the fantasy originate? As Rene Descartes famously stated, “I think; therefore, I am.” If I’m thinking and you are thinking we are separately thinking and not of one mind; therefore, we are not a single ‘who.’ I think, you think, therefore; I am and you are. We’re not one. Nonetheless, if all is an illusion, we find ourselves no closer to the answer and wondering who the one is that knows the truth of reality?
But in the West, we are far more empirical and rely on science to answer these questions versus gazing off into wonderment of such absurdities.
Theories of Chance, Nothing & Eternity
What if it is all just due to chance? Didn’t Richard Dawkins say that perhaps one day, we will find an explanation for the universe that has the same ability to explain its origins as Darwinian Evolution has for life?
Now before I get accused of setting up a straw man, I want to state that this was an actual question I received once, and I am merely repeating the question verbatim. To be fair to Richard Dawkins, and as I explained to the person asking, his statement was concerning the incredible amount of fine-tuning that permits life within the universe and not in an attempt to explain its very existence. Therefore, we can’t invoke Richard Dawkins’s argument here and then attack it because that would put us in error.
However, it is crucial to address the first statement regarding the idea that the universe could be “due to chance.” What does it even mean that the world is due to chance? If we were walking down the street and suddenly a brand new Ford F-150 Raptor, I am a Texan by the way, popped into existence with the keys in the ignition and the words free to the “first person to climb in” written on the side, it would be absurd for us, after we finished fighting over who climbed in first, to determine that chance caused the truck. Chance is a word to describe the probability of something happening by accident. But the meaning of the word stops there. It doesn’t also account for the description of what caused the accident, if one were to happen. In other words, to say chance created something is saying nothing at all because probability cannot produce anything; it is merely describing the likelihood of something happening.
Well perhaps the universe created itself.
Do you mean as if the universe was “self-creating”? Wouldn’t it necessarily have to exist before itself to then create itself? Does that even seem plausible without going any further? If you want to answer yes, then please think hard on what it means for something to exist before it existed to create its existence. When you see the absurdity, please feel free to proceed further.
“The Cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be.”Carl Sagan, Cosmos
Perhaps the universe, as Carl Sagan stated, is all there ever was. Is it possible for it to have existed eternally? Let’s unpack this possibility. After all, this was the leading theory for centuries past amongst secular scientists. That was, of course, until scientists of the 20th century, specifically Edwin Hubble, discovered the red light shift from distant stars which lead him, and now the overwhelming majority of scientists to the conclusion the universe is expanding and therefore had a beginning in the finite historical past.
But putting that “not so small” discovery to the side for a moment, what other problems might arise with an infinitely old universe?
First, we encounter the problem of an actual infinite when we consider all of the time that must have passed until the current moment. We measure time as a sequence of events that count down from the past until it reaches the present. Imagine if we were to try and determine how many moments happened before the current moment. We would begin counting backward, and we would never stop counting. We would never reach a point where we could stop and look back at the present moment and say, “the universe existed through all of these moments to get to our current time” because there would still be an infinite number of moments we would have to count backward in time. To say you or I came into being is an absurd claim because when did this happen? There is no when because time never began. Actual infinities aren’t problems just for time. Imagine you had an infinite amount of pennies in your pocket, and you then took out three pennies. You would still have an endless amount of pennies. You could add, subtract, divide, multiply, etc. the amount over and over, and the answer to how many pennies you have would always be an infinite amount.
If you feel like your brain is a little scrambled right now, it is understandable. Actual infinities lead to absurdities, so thinking about them is supposed to make your head hurt a little. So, taking a break from the philosophical problems of an infinite universe, let us cover one more piece of science on this topic.
Have you ever run a hot bath and then got distracted only to return later to find the water icy cold? Whether you realized it or not, the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics is responsible for your bath water becoming cold. By the way, when someone says “law” in science, it means that the matter is settled. There aren’t too many laws in the world of science. Theories, on the other hand, are unsettled, and they change quite frequently. Furthermore, as it relates to Thermodynamics, the science is pretty much closed considering all of the accomplished work.
So how does this law relate to the universe? Well, it says that the state of entropy of the universe, as a closed system, will increase over time. In other words, the state of things (i.e., energy) will move from order to disorder as time progresses. The universe is continually using energy in the form of heat. Eventually, given a very long time, all of the useable energy will dissipate into a non-usable state, leaving the universe completely cold and dead. Thus no life anywhere will exist.
If the universe had existed for an infinite past, then based on the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, we should expect the world to already be in a dark, cold, lifeless, energy depleted state. But we don’t see that. It doesn’t look like that at all.
In conclusion, philosophy and science point to a universe that had a beginning. And this brings us back to our original question.
What is the explanation?
“Nothing can create something all the time due to the laws of quantum mechanics, and it’s – it’s fascinatingly interesting.”Lawrence Krauss
A few scientists like to promote the idea that the universe could have come to be out of nothing. To back up this claim, they sometimes use specific conditions within quantum physics, where particles arise as spontaneous fluctuations from the energy contained in the sub-atomic vacuum.
In the purest sense, the energy contained within a sub-atomic vacuum is not nothing. You don’t have to understand what the sub-atomic space and those fluctuations in energy are to know enough about it to call it something rather than nothing. There is some wordplay going on here.
That “wordplay” is called a fallacy of equivocation, where they use the word “nothing” to describe something. But nothing is a universal negation meaning, in the purest sense, not anything.
Take for example if I were to ask you what you had for breakfast and you replied by saying “nothing”. It would be absurd for me to then ask “how did it taste?” As you can see my follow-up question is implying that you were using the word nothing to actually refer to something.
So do things come into existence from nothing? No. If they did, we should expect to see this within the universe; yet we don’t. Never!
We have covered every logical possibility for the explanation of the universe except one.
Eternal Self-Existent Creator
The explanation for the existence of the universe is an eternal, self-existent being that created the universe and all time, space, and matter contained within.
In the opening of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures found in the book of Genesis it says: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
Based on scientific and philosophical data, our best theory is that our universe came into existence at a point in the historical past. Furthermore, anything that comes into existence must have a cause. This cause is the explanation we seek. Whatever caused the universe we live in, that cause must be incredibly powerful, uncaused, necessarily existing, non-contingent, non-physical, immaterial, eternal being of extraordinary intelligence, who created the entire universe and everything in it.
These attributes can individually be defended based on the aspects of our universe using both philosophical and scientific arguments. Oddly enough, these attributes describe the very being theists claim God is.
In closing, review this list of logical possibilities for the explanation of the universe. If you can think of a possible explanation I’ve missed, let me know. If you can’t, then think deeply on these, and honestly ask yourself what logically fits. Which explanation best fits the world we see and experience.
- There’s not anything; all is illusion
- The universe is self-created
- The universe is created by chance
- The universe is created by nothing
- The universe has existed for eternity
- An eternal self-existent God created the universe