(Don’t forget to sign up to receive all of my blogs and updates automatically–simply hit the “Subscribe by Email” link on the menu icon!)
There are just so many questions that one could ask about the nature of our existence. Whenever we think we have an answer to one of them, it seems as though countless others emerge to take its place. All the while, those new questions cause us to rethink the first one that we supposedly answered already. But what do we really know about our existence? Even at a basic level: what do we know? It has recently occurred to me that the foundational beliefs upon which we all rest our entire worldviews are anything but sturdy. In fact, they’re often tragically fragile. Sometimes, I wonder if we can even get off the ground with any of this: if we can even get started on our quest to be the masters of the universe, so to speak. Already, you may be wondering what on earth I am talking about.
Well, let’s start with the universe. It seems to me that the first question any of us should ever ask is this: did the universe actually come into existence at some finite point in the past? Was there a point in which it did not exist? Certainly, many philosophical and religious traditions have taken this belief for granted throughout the centuries. Scientifically, most who have lived after the dawn of Big Bang Cosmology and Georges Lemaître’s 1927 postulation that the universe is expanding from a single point have also agreed. Sure, the universe came into existence. Or did it? Even the fundamental belief that the universe is expanding has been challenged by numerous physicists and astronomers of late. An article like this comes to mind. You may look here as well.
Of course, others have understood that high temperature and density states—which supposedly gave rise to the Big Bang—also require causes; temperatures and density states are measures of something. What exactly was so hot? What was so dense? We would need an explanation for whatever existed before the Big Bang . . . and what existed before that . . .and so forth. Material causes couldn’t give rise one to the other infinitely into the past because they could never get started. This problem is called an infinite regress fallacy. Naturally, some have proposed that the universe is eternal and had no origin.
But if the universe actually did begin to exist, what existed before that? Nothing? But, what is “nothing”? It’s black space, err . . . I mean, infinite darkness. No, I’ve got it— “nothing” is the complete absence of something! Hmm, I wonder what that would look like. Isn’t it paradoxical to even ask what something is when it is by definition, not anything? But I’ll get back to that. Then there is the “multiverse theory,” which postulates that our universe is part of a network of other universes, which are perhaps even infinite in nature. Maybe our universe came from a pre-existing universe/s. But even if that were true, was there a first universe? Even on the multiverse view, it seems like there would still need to be one. Of course, then we are back to having to explain how a universe could come into being without pre-existing material causes. If this isn’t an issue, then we could make the case that the universe did not need to be brought into existence at all, since universes wouldn’t require causes.
Maybe we need a new explanation. Let’s call it, “the eternal multiverse theory.” Yay! Problem solved.
So there it is: who can even be sure if the universe began or not, or how many universes there are? To date, it’s anyone’s guess. After one hundred more years of further scientific progress, those living in that day will no doubt look back and laugh at us for our ignorance on these subjects. Don’t we say the same about preceding generations? But one hundred years after that? Repeat. And all the while, it is doubtful that we will really know—to a certainty—the true nature of our universe.
But let’s look at this from the vantage point of space-travel, for a moment. Is there something beyond the universe? Not only in theory, but in reality, if we were to travel at the speed of light in one direction long enough, we should be able to reach an “end” to the universe. But would we hit “nothing” at that point? I mean, the universe is typically thought to be expanding from nothing, so that same nothing should also exist at the edge of the universe, know? If there actually isn’t an edge of the universe or a point where we would find nothing, then it would stand to reason that “nothing” is simply a myth and material worlds are infinite. And now we are back to the multiverse again. We have arrived at another “answer” that reveals more problems than it solves.
But if “nothing” cannot be a reality, then the universe could not possibly have come from nothing, right? Wait, wait. Of course it could have.
By now my fellow Christians—and those from certain other backgrounds—may be feeling a bit misrepresented. We all know how this went down. God created the universe from scratch: from nothing. Ex Nihilo my friend, ex nihilo. Ah, but is it that simple? If we are to agree with the atheist and other non-religious folk (yes, it is unavoidable on occasion) that our universe could not have come into being from pre-existing material causes infinitely into the past, and that it also could not have come from nothing, we have to put something else back there. The universe still requires a cause for its existence. But what? Well, God of course. But there are actually problems here, too. There are problems with the traditional understanding of things, anyway. Was God once sitting there all alone in a spaceless, empty, isolated vacuum of nothingness? (Again, I do not mean a realm of black space or something of the sort; black space is not “nothing.”) Many of us believe so. Take one of the most well-known Christian philosophers of our time, for example. William Lane Craig speaks for many from the cloth of “traditional” or “classical” Christianity when he says that God is an “. . . uncaused, beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and enormously powerful cause . . ..” Really, all of those things huh?
That being said, let’s play a quick game. In ten seconds, come up with as many ways to define “nothing” as you possibly can. Go ahead, you only have ten seconds.
Time’s up! I’ll bet some of the terms you came up with are eerily similar to those used by Craig when he describes God. Immaterial . . . timeless . . . spaceless . . . and so forth. Notice that God is essentially being described here as nothing. Craig and others would remark that my statement is unfair because God is an unembodied “mind.” Great . . . so what is a “mind,” and how can one of these things cause a material universe to spontaneously generate? Further, simply throwing the term “mind” into the fray effectively changes nothing. Pumpkin. Yacht. Beaver. Jacuzzi. Did that help to clarify things? The fact remains that God (or the great unembodied Mind?) is defined as not being anything at all.
So how can we make God the cause of the universe if He cannot be just another ordinary material cause among infinite others? That’s easy: we can define God as nothing. If you really think about it, this is what a great deal of us mean when we say, “God created the universe ex nihilo.” We mean that nothing created the universe from (you guessed it), nothing. Yeah, we have simply called our nothing “God,” and thrown the irrelevant term “mind” in there to give the appearance of something: a bit of pizazz, if you will. This is all especially curious to me, considering the fact the Bible never actually says that God created the universe from nothing to begin with. It simply says the He “created,” or “formed,” or perhaps “fashioned”—all of which come from the Hebrew word used here (bara) — “the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). But was that a creation from nothing (ex nihilo), or a sculpting from pre-existing matter (ex materia)? This, too, has been debated for centuries.
I don’t know. Maybe we really need to rethink this whole thing.
Oh, and I would be remiss if I did not at least mention the topic of my first blog—the origin of life. We are all at a complete loss to explain the issue of abiogenesis (how life could have arisen from non-life), but we all accept that it happened somewhere. No matter how you slice it, life must have arisen unexplainably from non-life. Unless, of course, we hold that some form of life is both infinite and eternal, having no prior cause. Enter once more the “G” word. But then again, how could God have existed infinitely into the past (i.e., He had no prior cause), as nearly all theists claim? Wouldn’t God have lived forever prior to creating anything? But if forever is interrupted by the creation of something, then it wasn’t really “forever,” was it? Within that line of reasoning, how could our universe have gotten started—if it did indeed get started—in the first place? How could any realm or universe have come into being if God existed for an eternity before creating them?
On and on we go.
I am fully aware that I have not attempted to provide any “answers” in this particular blog. And despite how it may sound, I do actually believe that the evidence in favor of God is much stronger than the evidence to the contrary. I have already shared several arguments in favor of God’s existence, and will continue to do so in the future. But sometimes it is healthy to take a step back and truly evaluate where we are with respect to our understanding of the universe and our Creator.
With all our cunning and 21st century brilliance, it appears that we are still very much in the dark. We are still lost in space.
But who among us is willing to admit it?
Jon Cartwright. “Cosmologist claims Universe may not be expanding.” Nature. http://www.nature.com/news/cosmologist-claims-universe-may-not-be-expanding-1.13379#/b1
William Lane Craig. “Is the Cause of the Universe an Uncaused Personal Creator of the Universe?” Reasonablefaith.org. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/is-the-cause-of-the-universe-an-uncaused-personal-creator-of-the-universe.
“Scientist claims that universe might not be expanding at an accelerating pace.” Physics-Astronomy.com. http://www.physics-astronomy.com/2016/10/scientist-claims-that-universe-might.html#.WOkl9Y-cHIV