Why does something exist rather than nothing? If everything in the universe has an explanation for its existence, what is the explanation for the universe? Is the Cosmos the ultimate ‘brute’ fact; are intellectually informed shrugs of the shoulders our only option when considering where everything came from? These are important questions that contemporary philosophers, physicists and theologians continue to grapple with. In this short article I will outline popularized versions of the four major proposals that are discussed in the literature.
When it comes to explaining the existence of the universe there are four major options:
- The universe came into existence out of nothing
- The universe is eternal
- Our universe came into existence as part of a larger multiverse (an enormous, perhaps infinite, number of universes)
- God created our universe(s)
The first three explanations have been held and promoted by people who don’t believe in God and they come in and out of fashion. As a result, we should examine each of them.
Option One: Out of Nothing
The atheistic philosopher, Quentin Smith, in his Oxford published debate with William Lane Craig, wrote that the most reasonable position to hold is that the cosmos came, “from nothing, by nothing, and for nothing.”
Though Smith is a brilliant philosopher, on the surface his proposal doesn’t seem to make sense. After all, have you ever seen nothing create something? If not, you are in good company. No one ever has. Philosopher William Lane Craig says that this position is actually worse than magic because at least with magic you have a hat to pull the bunny out of.
My friend Jon likes to use this illustration, ‘Imagine you walked into a bank and said, ‘I would like to open up a savings account, but I am not going to put any money in it.’ So you go ahead and do that. A month later you come back and ask the teller, ‘how much money is in my savings account?’ She replies, ‘nothing.’ ‘You are a bit disappointed, but a month later you try again.’ This time around the teller informs you, ‘there is still no money in your bank.’ Why? Because if you never put money in the bank you will never generate interest, from girls, or from the money! To say it another way, ‘No money doesn’t cause ‘mo’ money,’ and it never will.
This illustration, though humorous, is not perfect because it is a very different scenario than the beginning of the universe. It does, however, get at the idea that ‘out of nothing, nothing comes.’ This is metaphysical intuition that is everywhere confirmed in our experience and seems to be a governing principle of, not only casual relations, but all of reality. Therefore, it seems to me that option one is desperate and, frankly, irrational, going against our experience confirmed everywhere. From my perspective, it requires extraordinary faith to believe that what is true nowhere in the universe is true of the entire universe.
Occasionally you will hear the odd theoretical physicist claim that things do pop into existence out of nothing at the Quantum level. For example, ‘because the law of gravity exists the universe can and will create itself out of nothing’ (Stephen Hawking, The Grand Design, or Lawrence Krauss, A Universe out of Nothing). Despite the philosophical blunder of stating that something can create itself out of nothing (the ‘something’ would have had to exist before it existed in order to bring itself into existence!), in the above instances ‘nothing’ is not being defined in its philosophically proper sense of ‘non-being’ or ‘no thing’, but rather as a rich, pulsating field, subject to physical laws, resulting in Quantum fluctuations. In other words, calling a quantum energy field ‘nothing’ is guilty of equivocation. Once this confusing misuse of the word ‘nothing’ is cleared up, premise one (again, as a metaphysical intuition confirmed by our repeated experience) seems secure. As Lucretius wrote, “Nothing can come from nothing.”
Option 2: Universe Has Always Existed
The evidence for the Big Bang includes Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, the red shift in distant galaxies indicating an expanding universe, and the cosmic background radiation interspersed throughout the universe indicating the after glow of the Big Bang. Also, consider the second law of thermodynamics, which states that energy in a closed system moves inexorably towards entropy. Our universe has not reached a state of maximum entropy, which is indicative of the universe not being eternal in its past. I’m not a scientist, however; so let me quote three atheistic and/or agnostic scientists:
Richard Dawkins writes,
In the middle of the twentieth century there were two competing models of how the universe came into being, called the ‘steady state’ model and the ‘big bang’ model. The steady state model was very elegant. But eventually turned out to be wrong – that is, predictions based on it were shown to be false. According to the steady state model, there never was a beginning: the universe has always existed in pretty much its present form. The big bang model, on the other hand, suggested that the universe began at a definite moment in time, in a strange kind of explosion. The predictions made on the basis of the big bang model kept turning out to be right, and so it has now been generally accepted by most scientists.
Predictions made on the basis of the Big Bang model, confirmed through empirical evidence would include examples like this:
One of the major triumphs of Big Bang Theory is that the predicted abundance of these elements (25% Helium by weight, 75% Hydrogen, the others being less than 1%) agrees very closely with the observed abundances. Thus the standard model explains the origin of the light elements in terms of known nuclear reactions taking place in the early universe.
Paul Davies writes that, “The picture we then obtain for the origin of the universe is a remarkable one…the coming into being of the universe is…represented not only by the abrupt appearance of matter but of space and time as well.” Elsewhere he writes, “Nearly all cosmologists now accept that we live in a universe that had a definite beginning in the Big Bang, and is developing toward an uncertain end.”
Alexander Vilenkin is a leading cosmologist who writes this,
It is said that an argument is what convinces reasonable men and a proof is what it takes to convince even an unreasonable man. With the proof now in place, cosmologists can no longer hide behind the possibility of a past-eternal universe. There is no escape; they have to face the problem of a cosmic beginning.
So ascribing to an eternal universe is unscientific, or goes against the solid majority of scientific opinion. Though, of course, this could change. For example, Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, upon which the standard Big Bang model rests, breaks down in the very, very early moments of the universe. We need a realistic quantum gravitational model, which we don’t have yet. In addition, inflationary theory (a rapid expansion in the early movements of the universe) needs to be incorporated into the standard Big Band Model. Still, it remains extremely doubtful whether any new discoveries in this realm would overthrow the concept of a finite beginning for our universe (See Vilenkin’s quote above).
Option Three: A Multiverse
Imagine there are an infinite number of universes that have been around forever and our universe is just an offshoot of one of those. Wouldn’t that be amazing? I think so. Obviously God could have created a multitude of universes. In fact, according to Oxford Philosopher Keith Ward, St. Augustine wrote about the possibility of multiple universes in the 5th century, long before 20th century astrophysicists started talking about it.
The Multiverse is an intriguing proposal and many employ it in an attempt to explain the fine-tuning of our universe without God’s involvement. There is, however, no empirical evidence for the multiverse, nor is it likely that there ever can be any empirical evidence. It is a mathematical game, a hunch based on inflationary theory; in some ways it is akin to a faith-based leap. Interestingly enough, the multiverse has some of the traditional attributes of God like eternality, invisibility, and the significant distinction of creating our universe so that conscious embodied beings could develop and flourish.
The Multiverse concept has significant appeal to me personally but, in the end, option 3 is currently an unsubstantiated leap of faith used, in some cases, to simply avoid faith in a creator. The equivalent of saying, “I’d rather engage in a blatant violation of Occam’s razor, an ‘unparsimonious extravagance’, by believing in an infinite number of universes I can’t see, or prove, rather than one God who created all thing from nothing!”
The God Option
What do critics often say about Christianity? They claim that Christians are irrational, unscientific and proponents of blind faith. Yet, if you have been following closely you will realize that what I’ve tried to show you is that, if you deny God is the creator of the universe, you are forced into a position that is either irrational (everything from nothing), unscientific (an eternal universe) or a blind leap of faith (a multiverse). I believe the God option makes the most sense. As it is often said, a Big Bang needs a Big Banger. This clue for God’s existence is often formulated like this:
- Whatever comes into existence has a cause.
- The universe came into existence.
- Therefore, the universe has a cause.
The beginning of the universe represents the beginning of space, time and matter (see Paul Davies quote) so the cause would have to be space-less, timeless, powerful, and personal to choose to create (choose is an element of personhood and the only way you can get a temporal effect from an eternal cause is by assuming something akin to freedom of the will). The casual entity that best fits the description above, the result of our conceptual analysis of this first cause, would be a divine mind. This clue doesn’t bring one to the God of the Bible who loves us and answers prayers, but it is a clue for a creator or, at the very least, a defeater of philosophical naturalism and, I think, the most reasonable option for explaining the existence of the universe.
 It is important for the reader to note that what follows is a popularization of these ideas and that, in the scholarly literature, matters are obviously far more complex and intricate. I would hope that this article is not misleading in its simplicity, but it is admittedly inadequate for those who desire a deeper understanding of these matters. For a more scholarly engagement from differing perspectives see, William Lane Craig & Quentin Smith, Theism, Atheism and Big Bang Cosmology, for both sides of the debate.
 Quentin Smith, Theism, Atheism, and Big Bang Cosmology (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), 135.
 Stephen Hawking & Leonard Mlodinov, The Grand Design, p180
 For a critique of Hawking’s book see, John C. Lennox, God and Stephen Hawking
 For a brief critique of Krause’s book read here, http://www.reasons.org/articles/universe-from-nothing-a-critique-of-lawrence-krauss-book-part-1 But also read Kraus’ book if you get the chance! And Hawking’s book for that matter.
 When physicists like Krauss write about nothing, they refer to one of the following five definitions of nothing, which… are actually something:
- A lack of matter or energy
- A lack of matter and energy
- A lack of matter, energy, and the four large expanding space-time dimensions of the universe
- A lack of matter, energy, and all the ten space-time dimensions of the universe
- A lack of matter, energy, the ten space-time dimensions of the universe, and any possible dimensions and/or sets of laws of physics existing beyond the universe’s ten space-time dimensions
Note that none of these five “nothings” eliminate the need for Something beyond them that explains how the “lacks” became filled. http://www.reasons.org/articles/a-universe-from-nothing-a-critique-of-lawrence-krauss-book-part-2
 Equivocation is a logical fallacy that uses a key term in the argument in an ambiguous manner, or in two different senses within the same argument. For example, all human beings have skin. Potatoes have skin. Therefore, potatoes are human beings.
 As quoted in Paul Davies, The Goldilocks Enigma: Why is the Universe Just Right for life? (New York, NY: The Penguin Press, 2006), 65
 There are also good philosophical reasons to conclude that the material universe is not eternal in the past.
 Richard Dawkins, The Magic of Reality. p. 164
 George Ellis, Before the Beginning (New York, NY: Bowerdan Publishing, 1993), 54
 Davies has also written, “In the standard Big Bang scenario, time and space come into being spontaneously… along with matter…People often ask, what happened before the Big Bang? The answer is, nothing. By this, I do not mean that there was a state of nothingness, pregnant with creative power. There was nothing before the Big Bang because there was no such epoch as “before.”
 Paul Davies, The Mind of God (New York, NY: Touchstone publishing, 1992), 50
 Ibid, 57
 Alexander Vilenkin, Many Worlds in One (New York, NY: Hill and Wang, 2006), 176.
 Richard Dawkins verbiage from, The God Delusion, when discussing the multiverse and the fine-tuning argument for God’s existence.
 I always suggest that any critic should first watch Bill Craig respond to popular level objections to the Kalam Cosmological Argument in this lecture, before voicing their own criticism: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gtfVds8Kn4s
 Assuming multiple ‘gods’ at this point of the argument would be a violation of Occam’s razor, an unnecessary superfluous hypothesis void of any additional explanatory power.
 Often, skeptics are tempted to respond, ‘who caused God then?’ This is simply a misunderstanding of the argument, which logically results in an uncaused, first cause. This is not special pleading for theism as Atheists used to believe the same thing about the universe (eternal and uncaused) before the science proved them wrong.