Why Is there Something Rather Than Nothing?

Why is there something rather than nothing? It’s a bit of a head scratcher. Can we answer this question?

In the 18th century, German mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz observed that the answer cannot be found within the universe itself because the universe is full of things which also began to exist. The explanation for the existence of the universe must therefore be found externally to it. So, for Leibniz, God becomes a necessary explanation for why anything exists at all.

His argument goes like this:

(1) – Everything that exists has an explanation for its existence.

(2) – If the universe has an explanation of its existence, then that explanation is God.

(3) – The universe exists.

(4) – The universe has an explanation for its existence.

THEREFORE – God is the explanation of the universe.

 

People will often try to tear down this argument by attacking premises (1) and (2).[1]

Premise (1) – Everything that exists has an explanation for its existence.

First attack – if (1) is true, then surely that means God himself must have an explanation of his existence too!

Not so fast. Leibniz said two different kind of things exist:

A – Things that cannot NOT exist (like numbers). They have a necessity in their nature, so they must exist.

B – Things that are CAUSED by something else and aren’t necessary (like people, planets and house plants).

So in answer to the objection – no. God does not need an explanation for his existence, because he is necessary in his nature for the existence of the universe, and so he must be uncaused.

 

Second attack – (1) is true of everything IN the universe, but not of the universe itself.

This sounds like a case of (what Craig describes as) the Taxicab fallacy, which happens when someone seems to arbitrarily jump in and out of a system of thought when it suits them. In this case, someone may just arbitrarily decide the universe cannot have any explanation for its existence when they don’t like the idea that God created it. So this objection doesn’t hurt the argument, but it does reveal our metaphysical preferences.

 

Third attack – the universe cannot have an explanation, because for it to do so requires a prior state of affairs. But nothing existed prior to the universe.

Well – this statement seems to just presuppose atheism! We require atheism to be true, and assert that nothing existed prior to the universe. But this is simply begging the question, and its misrepresenting Leibniz. For him, the prior state of affairs involved God.

 

So we’ve seen that these attacks on premise (1) are not successful.

 

So, what about attacks on premise (2)?

Premise (2) – If the universe has an explanation of its existence, then that explanation is God.

First attack – it’s not God who exists necessarily by his own nature. It’s the universe that exists necessarily!

So here, it sounds like the universe is being seen as a God substitute. The problem is, we can’t really view nature this way.

Why? Think of the things that we know about that exist in the universe. The planets, stars, people, animals, plants…are any of them necessary? To say something is necessary in its nature, is to say that this thing cannot NOT exist. Well – all of the things we observe in the universe COULD very well NOT exist. And – the way things work – none of them will exist forever!

If the things in the universe do not exist necessarily, then how can we logically conclude that the universe itself exists necessarily? That seems arbitrary…the taxicab fallacy again?

 

Second attack – I’m not interested in (2) because actually, if atheism is true then the universe has no explanation of its existence.

Well now the atheist has a problem. He said this:

If atheism is true then the universe has no explanation of its existence.

Well – in that case, an equivalent statement would look like this:

If the universe DOES have an explanation of its existence, then atheism is NOT true!

From our discussion, it seems very reasonable to propose that the universe DOES have an explanation of its existence, so it is not looking good for atheism.

 

Third attack – what does it even mean to say the explanation of the universe is God?

Well surely it means the explanation is not composed of matter, energy and is not part of space and time. All of these are natural aspects of the universe itself. God is outside of these aspects. That makes him:

  • Nonphysical
  • Immaterial
  • Beyond space and time
  • Yet…God is a personal and wilful and creative being

These sound like very basic descriptions of a religious definition of God. And – specifically – they give a basic outline of the Christian conception for what God is like.

 

 

Conclusion

These attacks on Leibniz argument aren’t very successful.

Why is this? I think it is because it seems very reasonable to assume that the universe exists and has a cause that is located outside of it. And this cause is a necessary, nonphysical, immaterial being that is beyond space and time. Which sounds like most people’s definition of God!

[1] William Lane Craig, On Guard Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision, (Lee Vance View: David C. Cook, 2010), kindle edition, loc 839 – 1058, synthesised and summarised.

 

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Respond

I live in the UK, I'm married to Janet and I'm passionate about proposing a case for the historic Christian faith. You can find me on Twitter at @stuhgray.

10 thoughts on “Why Is there Something Rather Than Nothing?”

  1. A real mind – boggler so much to take in argument and counter argument . I have listened to Mr Craig he certainly knows his stuff. In a sense we are all of a scientific bent in this day and age , and we feel strongly that everything must have a reason. If you are not careful it can cause an obsession and stop all efforts to relax , for my own part I gain solace from Steven Pinkers remark in his book How the Mind Works : ‘ the human brain evolved to survive not to unravel the secrets of the cosmos.’

    1. Thank for the comment…and for pointing out Pinker’s statement. Although…his statement is a head scratcher to me…I’m not sure why it is a comforting one to you? If life is truly only about SURVIVAL in the end…then why bother being concerned with what is TRUE? And if truth isn’t important, then why did Pinker bother writing a book explaining what he thinks is true? See the problem? But – if Pinker is wrong – as his actions confirm – then truth does matter and so the cause of the universe also matters.

  2. Mr Pinker is pointing out a short coming we would do well to remember we often carry on as if we could figure everything out , or as if in the future we will do just that. He believes in natural selection : we did not create the universe we evolved in it , so we have limitations.
    What is true today may be proved false tomorrow even scientists who claim to be dealers in truth admit as much.
    The big bang is a fairly recent theory but it raises many questions for the best minds.

    1. But if something is true today…yet false tomorrow…then some other truth must surely have replaced it? And we are still in the situation where truth fundamentally matters to us? I don’t think we can actually get away from truth mattering. If it didn’t…we probably wouldn’t even be chatting today…on this blog post…right? It’s an interesting thing to consider…

  3. The problem is mainly that it’s a circular argument that doesn’t support the actual existence in reality of the God you are trying to prove. It also can be made support anything creating the universe:

    His argument goes like this:

    (1) – Everything that exists has an explanation for its existence.

    (2) – If the universe has an explanation of its existence, then that explanation is a purple dragon.

    (3) – The universe exists.

    (4) – The universe has an explanation for its existence.

    THEREFORE – a purple dragon is the explanation of the universe.

    It assumes the answer it’s trying to demonstrate. Circular.

    1. Sorry – you’ve misunderstood the form of the argument in a few different ways. I can see that because your “purple dragon” argument is a bad caricature of the original argument 🙂

      1. You’d need to demonstrate that there is a purple dragon capable of being a candidate to be a creator first. I think you missed my point. It’s necessary to demonstrate a god exists in reality before you can offer Him as a candidate to have created the universe.

      2. No – it’s the other way round. The argument suggests that the universe requires an necessary, external cause. And – ones typical understanding of God fits the bill. Keep your purple dragon – much as I like dragons – it’s irrelevant to this argument 🙂

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