Why is there something rather than nothing?

We discussed two forms of the Argument from Contingency at the NC State chapter of Ratio Christi tonight.

The first form of the argument we discussed, as formulated by Dr. William Lane Craig in On Guard, is below:

  1. Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence.
  2. If the universe has an explanation for its existence, that explanation is God.
  3. The universe exists.
  4. Therefore, the universe has an explanation of its existence.
  5. Therefore, the explanation of the universe is God.

We pointed out that the argument is referring to our two explanations of existence in premise one, contingency and necessity. In short, everything either has to exist (necessity) or it happens to exist (contingency).  Since the universe exists, then it must either have to exist or happen to exist.  We disregarded the notion that the universe has to exist, since it seems unreasonable to think that every atom in the universe is a logically necessary being.  We also noted that since the universe came into existence, this is a magic bullet to the idea that the universe has to exist.  Whatever comes into existence cannot be a necessary being.

So if the universe happens to exist, then what is sufficient to explain it?  It would need to be either an abstract object (like a number) or an unembodied mind, since matter and energy are part of the universe that this being explained.  Abstract numbers don’t stand in causal relationships (the number 7 never caused anything to happen), which leads us logically to conclude that it must be an unembodied mind.

We looked at a quick argument for why the explanation of the universe must be personal as well.  Since time came to exist with the universe, then the explanation of the universe must have existed in a timeless state (which means that the conditions prior to the beginning of the universe could not change over time).  If the cause were impersonal, then it would bring the universe into existence whenever the sufficient conditions were met (it couldn’t *decide* to create).  This means that either the sufficient conditions were present timelessly and the universe would exist eternally or the sufficient conditions were not present and the universe wouldn’t exist (since the sufficient conditions could not develop over time).  Since the universe does exist but not eternally, the being who stands as the foundation for the universe’s existence must not be impersonal.  Only if the being in that causal relationship is personal, and thus able to decide to bring the universe into existence, could we experience a universe that has a finite age.

  1. If the explanation of the universe is impersonal, the universe is eternally old.
  2. The universe is not eternally old.
  3. Therefore, the explanation of the universe is not impersonal.

We also looked at a modified version of the argument that may be easier to remember.

  1. If contingent beings exist, then a necessary being exists sufficient to explain them.
  2. Contingent beings exist.
  3. Therefore, a necessary being exists sufficient to explain them.

We considered two analogies to illustrate this argument.

First, imagine a ball being pushed. The explanation of what is pushing the ball may be a stick.  The explanation of that stick’s motion may be another stick.  You can only go on like this so far, however, before you must encounter a hand that is pushing the first stick.  Without a starting point, itself not moved by anything, then none of the sticks can ever get moving.  This was the analogy that Thomas Aquinas gave for an “unmoved mover” of everything, and it works just as well for our argument from contingency.

Second, imagine a chandelier being suspended. The chandelier may be suspended by chain, and the chain may be suspending from yet more chain.  If you never get to a ceiling (a fixed point), however, then the whole apparatus can never be suspended.  In the same way, you have to get back to an “unsuspended suspender” at some point.

In the same way, you can only go so far with contingent beings but you must inevitably come to a necessary being. If you don’t, then there is nothing to ever get the contingent beings going.

Why does the necessary being have to be God? As we have seen with the first form of the argument, it must be the immaterial, timeless, space-less, and personal foundation for all of reality.  There is no better term than “God” for such a being.

We also looked at a few theological truths that we can derive from the argument. Necessity is the obvious one, and also eternality.  Whatever can never fail to exist must exist eternally since there is no point at which it would fail to exist.

We also get the concept of “Divine Simplicity”. That is to say that God must be one in his essence, not composed of parts.  If God were composed of parts, then he would exist contingent on the aggregation of those parts much like a book is contingent on the binding of its pages together with its cover.  Since God exists by necessity, then he does not exist contingent on any parts holding together.

Finally, we get God’s immutability (that God cannot change). If something experiences change, then part of it stays the same while part of it changes.  Since God is not made of parts, change would entail the complete annihilation of God and the replacement with something else.  Since God exists by necessity, he can never be annihilated.  Taken together, this means that God cannot change in his essence or nature. (This should not be confused with his actions, certainly God’s actions can change without God himself changing).  

The argument is abstract but powerful when the concepts are held together.  I hope that you will find it useful.

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7 thoughts on “Why is there something rather than nothing?

    1. Thanks for your question.

      God exists eternally and necessarily, which means that God has always existed and he existed apart from the creation of the universe. There certainly was a state of affairs apart from the creation of the universe that did not include time, space, matter, or energy but it would have included God.

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      1. Thanks for replying

        Right off the bat, and with all due respect, your comment is riddled with theological presuppositions, but I’m assuming you’re saying, No, there was never nothing. I would agree, and if there was never nothing, always something, then it is not a question of why is there something rather than nothing (that is thoroughly meaningless), but rather what is aseitic: a supernatural creator, or the universe itself?

        If I may ask you then: Even if we don’t presently know the ‘how,’ and considering we have an unbroken line of material explanations answering our questions, why is it less reasonable, in your opinion, to assume the universe itself is aseitic, and more reasonable to expect magic to spontaneously provide an explanation?

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        1. First, I would say that your objection is unfair. You asked me what I believed and then accuse my response of being riddled with theological presuppositions… You asked what I believed and I told you, I wasn’t constructing a proof.

          Second, your comment is self-contradictory. You said it is meaningless to ask why there is something rather than nothing and then proceed to answer it anyway by suggesting that the universe may exist by aseity (which is another way of referring to necessity). You seem not to think the question is truly meaningless since you have provided your own answer to it. Your answer is problematic, however, since we know that the universe came into being a finite time ago. Nothing can exist by aseity and yet come into being as anything that exists by aseity exists by the necessity of its own nature. It is its very own nature to exist. Since the universe came into being it cannot exist by aseity.

          You made a comment about expecting magic to spontaneously provide an explanation? Is that what you think Christians believe? You are woefully misinformed about the Christian worldview, which may be why you are disdainful towards it.

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          1. I didn’t ask you what you broadly believed, rather quite specifically did you believe there was never nothing.

            God exists eternally and necessarily is a presupposition.
            There certainly was a state of affairs apart from the creation of the universe is a presupposition.
            but it would have included God is a presupposition.

            You’re certainly free to present these positions, but don’t expect me to accept them as ‘facts.’ They’re not.

            The contingency of the universe is itself a theological presupposition. We’re certainly free to entertain the thought that this universe is artificial, but we’re still left with the initial query: what is more reasonable; a natural explanation (an ancestor simulation, for example), or a supernatural being.

            You said it is meaningless to ask why there is something rather than nothing and then proceed to answer it anyway by suggesting that the universe may exist by aseity (which is another way of referring to necessity).

            I answered nothing, and it’s meaningless by your own admission: there was never nothing, there was always something. Something, therefore, is aseitic.

            That is our shared starting point.

            since we know that the universe came into being a finite time ago

            That is simply incorrect.

            We know Inflation began. We do not know what was happening before Inflation. Indeed, presently we only truly understand 4.6% of the workings of this particular universe. 4.6%.

            You made a comment about expecting magic to spontaneously provide an explanation? Is that what you think Christians believe?

            I didn’t mention Christinaity, and do correct me if I’m wrong, but we either have a natural (material) explanation, or a supernatural one: magic.

            So, I’m still curious, and you haven’t actually addressed my question: Even if we don’t presently know the ‘how,’ but considering we have an unbroken line of material explanations answering our questions, why is it less reasonable to assume the universe itself is aseitic?

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            1. I don’t get the feeling that you’re actually asking questions so much as trying to start an argument so I think I will leave my comments there. I have written quite a few articles on this site that explain why I believe what I do if you are interested. Thanks for reading.

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              1. What makes you think I’m being argumentative? I am merely asking for your opinion as to why you think a supernatural explanation, as opposed to a natural one, is more reasonable?

                We both agree, something has to be aseitic. I would simply like to hear your thoughts on why it is one, in your opinion, and not the other.

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