Picking up from Part I…

As we have read, to answer the question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” with the notion that the universe came from nothing is rationally bankrupt and psychologically unfulfilling. Now, we will take a look at four other responses.

Kindly take a look at your smartphone. If someone asked you what is the cause behind your smartphone’s existence, you could give them a very simple answer: the name of your phone’s manufacturer. And what is the cause of that? An innovator in his garage decades ago. And so on. As we move backward looking for the cause of each effect, ultimately, we come to the beginning of the universe. Thus, if we ascertain that anything exists (like my iPhone), then, ultimately, we can boil down why the universe exists into four options:

  • The universe is an illusion
  • The universe created itself
  • The universe has always been here (it’s eternal)
  • The universe was made by something else that is self-existent

Philosophically speaking, there are deviations of these four options, but these derivatives essentially boil down into one of these four choices.

Response #2: The universe is an illusion

This one is quite easy to dismantle because if you have common sense, then you know that the universe you live in is as real as the air that you breathe and the water that you drink. Furthermore, if something is an illusion and not really real, then something must be causing the illusion. If something is causing the illusion, then we have something real as a cause. Thus something concrete replaces the illusion, and we are left with one of the other three options.

So if “smoke and mirrors” yields the illusion of the universe, smoke and mirrors, at least, are very real. Of course, if someone really did believe that reality is an illusion, then there would be no one need to worry about anything—like taxes, death, and the TruthFinder series.

We will scratch this response off the list of possibilities.

Response #3: The universe created itself

Self-creation is an absurd idea and is logically false by definition. Why? Because for something to create itself, it has to exist before it exists. This is irrational and violates the first law of logic, the law of non-contradiction: something cannot be and not be at the same time and in the same relationship. This is why I cannot be my wife’s husband and not be my wife’s husband at the same time. Even if something were to develop gradually by itself, such a thing would have initially self-created, which cannot be so. Medically speaking, nothing involved in the operation of the human body self-creates, and even the bad stuff (like cancer) exists because normal regulatory systems aren’t working properly.

A nagging sentiment remains, however, that, somehow, the universe self-creates. Daniel Dennett, a prominent atheistic thought leader, makes the assertion that in “the ultimate boot-strapping trick,” the universe created itself.[1] Some arguments say that although self-creation is not probable, it still remains possible because of chance. That is, theoretically speaking, even if the chance of self-creation were one in 10100, enough time[2] would essentially guarantee this seemingly-impossible phenomenon. But guess what? Chance is not a cause. Chance is only an effect of mathematical computation. Chance is merely descriptive. It possesses no power, and therefore, it does not produce concrete effects in real life. R. C. Sproul explains this as follows:

“The fact is, however, we have a no-chance chance creation … What are the real chances of a universe created by chance? Not a chance. Chance is incapable of creating a single molecule, let alone an entire universe. Why not? Chance is no thing. It is not an entity. It has no being, no power, no force. It can affect nothing for it has no causal power within it, it has no itness to be within … To say the universe is created by chance is to say the universe is created by nothing.”[3]

Because chance is “no thing” it cannot do anything. Why? Because “no things” don’t exist in concrete reality. If something has no being, it can’t do anything. Gravity is invisible but it exists. Because it exists, it has the power to cause effects. For something to do something, it must first be something. Chance has no matter or energy. Fundamentally, chance is the same as nothing, and out of nothing, nothing comes. This actually points back to the first response.

The bottom line is this: chance is not a causal agent. Chance describes the likelihood that a legitimate cause will yield a tangible effect at a certain interval of time, but chance has no influence on either the cause or the effect. Because chance is “no thing,” whenever a person says, “It happened because of chance,” what they are really saying is, “It happened because of nothing,” or more specifically, “I don’t know why it happened, and I will label that ignorance as chance.” Chance is totally incapable of answering the question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” Chance is still totally incapable if it receives assistance from a real natural force that exerts an effect. For example, if the chances that the Giants will beat the Eagles are 10:1, the 10:1 odds will never cause the Giants to win: the talent and effort of the players is the cause. The odds exert no effect on the players. Chance is meaningful to us only insomuch as it describes the likelihood of one scenario over another, like who is more likely to win the game. When I met my wife in a medical school library more than a decade ago, it was not chance that brought us together. What caused us to be there was the need to pass our exams. That external cause just so happened to position she and I to be in the same place at the same time. Chance effects do not exist. Only caused effects do.

So, no plausible explanation can be offered by the notion that the universe came into existence by creating itself or by chance, so we will strike these options off the list as well.

Response #4: The universe has always been there (the universe is eternal)

Bertrand Russell developed the idea of infinite regress, which argues that our reality is the result of a series of contingent causes that stretches all the way to back to infinity. After all, why does anyone need to reach outside the universe when everything we need is, presumably, already here? Why can’t the universe be the very thing that has lasted forever? In this model, nothing starts the chain of causes because the chain has always been there. Of course, this begs the questions why did the chain get started in the first place and how did this happen. Famously, Frederick Copleston dismissed this postulation as “inconceivable”:

“If you add up chocolates you get chocolates after all and not sheep. If you add up chocolate to infinity, you presumably get an infinite number of chocolates. So if you add up contingent beings to infinity, you still get contingent beings, not a necessary being. An infinite series of contingent beings will be, to my way of thinking, as unable to cause itself as one contingent being.”[4], [5]

There are also philosophical arguments that an actually infinite number of things cannot exist and that, based on the work of the 11th century philosopher Abu Ghazali, it is impossible to pass through an infinite number of elements one at a time.[6]

The funny thing is, modern science has already addressed the question of whether the universe is eternal or not: the answer is no. The Big Bang tells us that the universe had a birthday.

To very quickly summarize, the Big Bang theory basically says that billions of years ago, there was a point of singularity, and in this point was crammed all the matter and energy in the universe.[7] Then, this point “exploded”[8] and formed the universe that we have today. As a result, just as one might expect in such a rapid and dramatic expansion, you have what was organized moving toward disorganization. To put it another away, the Big Bang initiated the move from greater organization to less organization. The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that disorder always increases with time. So, the universe had to have had a discreet beginning, otherwise, it would be in a state of complete disorder by now (total chaos in a universe totally hostile to life).

The plain English translation of all of this is simple: the universe had an absolute beginning, and therefore, the universe is not eternal.[9] J. M. Wersinger, Professor Emeritus of Physics at Auburn University, offers the following analysis:

“At first the scientific community was very reluctant to accept the idea of a birth of the universe … Not only did the Big Bang model seem to give in to the Judeo-Christian idea of a beginning of the world, but it also seemed to have to call for an act of supernatural creation … It took time, observational evidence, and careful verification of predictions made by the Big Bang model to convince the scientific community to accept the idea of a cosmic genesis.”[10]

Well, what about the multiverse? To those who are unfamiliar, the multiverse refers to the idea that our universe is but one of a set of hypothetical, possible universes in which we happen to live. Interestingly, in 2003, three scientists proved that any universe that is expanding (like ours) cannot be eternal and must have a beginning. And this proof holds true regardless of the peculiarities of the early universe that exists in the multiverse set. In other words, the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem says that even if we live in a multiverse, then the multiverse itself must have an absolute beginning. Consider what Vilenkin says:

“It is said that an argument is what convinces reasonable men and 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.”[11]

But what if the point of singularity is eternal? Well, the first problem with this assertion is that the point of singularity changed and the effect was our universe. The other problem is that if the point of singularity is eternal, then where is it now?

What if just a pocket of the universe is eternal? Well, one thing is clear: the known pockets of our reality—like my collared shirt or the keyboard that I am typing on—are not eternal. So as the argument goes, the constituent “stuff” that these finite things are made of is potentially eternal. Another variant of this argument is that there is a corner of the cosmos that is the source of being within the cosmos, so there is no need to venture outside. Now, let’s think about this logically. If there is a pocket of the universe that is eternal, then this part of the universe is separate and distinct from the universe (for instance, it is not expanding and not moving toward more disorganization). It is, therefore, not transcendent in a spatial sense but in a sense of being. Still, as far as we know, this is not true because matter is not eternal. Matter manifests signs of mutability and decay. Water (H2O) changes from ice to liquid to vapor as a function of heat. H2O is contingent and is in the process of moving from one state to another. It is, therefore, not eternal as a function of the fact that it can be an effect. Water is not an uncaused cause. Only an uncaused cause can be in a state of pure being and can never be an effect. Remember the second core principle of TruthFinder: all human beings must die. That is because we are composed of matter that decays over our lifetimes and results in our deaths. Why? Because matter is not eternal, and because it is not eternal, we do not live forever. This conclusion also addresses the proposition that eternal matters occupies the universe but that the motion of the universe was set into play at the Big Bang.

Using the example of H2O, it is also very clear that matter by itself does not exist necessarily because matter is contingent on elementary particles like leptons and quarks, which are considered to be the ultimate constituents of matter.[12] In physics, elementary particles are addressed in the Standard Model, which describes what the basic building blocks of matter are and how they interact. These elementary particles (as far as we know) cannot be further broken down. So, the next question is, Where do these particles come from and how did they come to be? Once again, we are back to our original question of why without an explanation. Theoretically, we would also expect that if these particles were eternal, they ought to imbue eternality to the matter that they ultimately constitute. What we know about matter is just the opposite: that it exhibits changeability.

So, the inference that part of the universe is eternal is really saying that part of the universe is something inherently different from the rest of the universe. But here’s the problem: this proposition still fails to answer why this something is eternal. And it opens up a new question: Why is this eternal something in a spatial sense co-existent with that which is not eternal? Once again, in trying to resolve one problem, we have created another.

So, the notion that the universe is eternal offers no plausible explanation as to why the universe came into existence. This explanation is not reasonable both from the perspectives of philosophy and modern science. Because we have eliminated all other possibilities, we now turn to our final explanation as to why there is something rather than nothing.

Response #5: The universe was created by something self-existent

The 18th century mathematician and co-discoverer of calculus Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz seriously contemplated why anything exists.[13] Leibniz relied on Thomas Aquinas before him and articulated that, ultimately, there are two very distinct things that exist: things that exist necessarily and things that exist contingently. Things that exist necessarily exist by the necessity of their own nature. Hence, these things cannot not exist. Things that exist contingently exist as a result of an external cause. Hence, these things can fail to exist and can not exist. Concrete things are all contingent.[14] So, according to Leibniz, an explanation of a thing’s existence can be found either in necessity or contingency. The resulting conclusion is that in order to affect our reality and start a chain of causation, there had to be, by necessity, something that exists necessarily. This being would be an uncaused cause, the unmoved mover—an eternal self-existent being that caused the universe’s existence. This self-existent being has an explanation for its existence in its own nature. This being does not have a cause because that would be absurd and does not address the need for a spark to light the fuse of reality. This being has inherent, eternal existence. Leibniz’s argument can be logically extended to say that the first cause, by necessity, should also be timeless, space-less, and immaterial in order to effect what is temporal, in space, and material.

Those who object to the notion that a self-existent being cannot have a cause are, ironically, validating the necessity that something be self-existent and the first cause of everything. This objection is rooted in the need for a proper explanation, which self-existence provides.

So, why a necessary being rather than no being? Isn’t it much simpler to have the latter? Well, of course no being would be simpler, but the universe is very complicated, and as we have learned, nothingness is no explanation at all. This concept touches upon the next episode’s subject matter (why the universe is complicated), but the basic truth is that a simpler explanation would only suffice if reality itself were simple—for example, a dozen lifeless atoms bouncing around in the infinite depths of space. And if that was the case, this intellectual exercise would not exist.

Centuries ago, Thomas Aquinas said that this self-existent being was the ens necessarium—the necessary being. Why? Two reasons. The first reason is a rational one: because something exists right now, then something always had to exist because ex nihilo nihil fit—out of nothing, nothing comes. So, if ever there was a time when nothing existed, the most we would expect now is nothing. Being only comes from being.

The second premise supporting the ens necessarium is ontological necessity. What this means is that this self-existent being isn’t real simply because someone can think through a logical argument on paper. Rather, the ens necessarium possesses the power to be as a function of itself so that it cannot not be. This may seem otherworldly, and that is precisely the point—because in our universe, you and I and every other person is in a state of being that is dependent. We rely, for example, on food, oxygen, blood, and water. Right now, I am living, but there will be a time when I am not. The ens necessarium is in a perpetual state of being that is independent of everything. Going back to Hume’s thought experiment, it would be possible for the eight ball sitting still in the pocket of the pool table to reason backward and ascertain that something had to push it into its current predicament. It would be another thing altogether for the eight ball to reason that it was a pool player with arms, legs, and an intellect. The ultimate cause was beyond the scope of the “laws” of the pool table.

Could more than one self-existent being exist? No. There can only be one because if there were “others” that were also self-existent, they would not be different but of the same substance as all other self-existent beings. In this way, there would be an interpenetrating unity amongst the self-existent beings.

Interestingly, the idea of necessary existence does not apply only to an ethereal, mystical realm where the passions and dreams of poets dwell. Rather, this idea has appreciation in the field of math and metaphysics in that some uphold the idea that numbers exist necessarily provided that they do exist.[15] Indeed, it would be difficult to think of a world without numbers or, for example, a world in which the number seven went missing. The point is that necessary existence is not just an abstract idea but something concrete that has palpable effects in real life.

Notably, if we reason back to the beginning of time and say that, logically speaking, a self-existent being must exist, this does not prove that a self-existent being does exist. Yet, as long as a self-existent being is a reasonable option, the demand that everything has a cause is baseless, not because it mounts a barrier to the existence of a self-existent being, but because it refuses to listen to the sensible conclusions of reason and logic and responds by regurgitating illogicality from an infinite abyss of absurdity. And if one were to object to reason and logic as a reasonable means to reach such a conclusion, then they would already dwell in that dreaded abyss. Accordingly, the line of reasoning that leads up to a self-existent being makes a reasonable argument using rationality. This is how basic decisions are made—otherwise one would be left with foolishness. Indeed, existence is very different from its predicates, and reason alone cannot know conclusively whether or not a self-existent being exists or does not exist. The question now becomes, What can reason reasonably ascertain based on logic and empirical evidence?

So, there is a plausible explanation as to why the universe came into existence with an eternal, self-existent being. Is this being God? Well, there is no way to neatly connect these dots for everyone with an, “Aha!” piece of evidence. By the same token, what else would a practical person call an eternal, self-existent being that is the first cause of the entire universe?


What I hope I have made clear throughout this episode is that I never, at any point, made the leap from dismantling one assertion with reason to saying, “Therefore, it can’t be God” or “Therefore, it must be God.” Either position need not be assumed just to fill a gap in knowledge or to rationalize a worldview. For the atheist, however, “nothing” is not a real answer to why, and such a position is therefore untenable. Adopting “nothing” as a reflexive response to theism is also simply unacceptable. Furthermore, other non-theistic propositions (that the universe created itself and that the universe is eternal) are, clearly, not only not plausible, but they have significant evidence weighing against them. Subsequently, what we are left with is a working hypothesis of a self-existent being without any reference to any theistic truth claims. In other words, reasonable people sitting down and chatting over the course of a long afternoon with a bottle of wine could—by themselves—produce all of the postulations in this episode using their minds and what has been discovered about the universe.

Does what we have discovered dismantle any theistic truth claims? Indeed, it does, so instead of having a belief system tell you traits of a self-existent being, you can formulate a rational working framework and compare notes. Hence, it quickly becomes clear that many modes of theistic belief are inherently nonsensical (admittedly, this is no surprise to many skeptics): monism[16] is irrational because reality is not, in fact, singular and lacks within itself the necessary being to explain itself; pantheism[17] is irrational because if god is in everything, then god can be reduced to subatomic particles which lack sufficient causal power to yield the effects that created the universe; panentheism[18] is irrational for the same reasons as pantheism and for the fact that mutability of essence negates self-existence; polytheism[19] is irrational because it fails to address the need for an ens necessarium—that is, it begs the question, What explains the plethora of gods? This is exactly why when an atheist asks the question, “What explains God?” this is a perfectly legitimate and reasonable question. In fact, it is a question so legitimate that it dismantles four systems of theistic belief. As far as theism goes, all that’s left is monotheism.

Does what we have discovered support any theistic truth claims? In other words, Are there any theistic truth claims in which God claims to be self-existent and eternal, validating everything we have learned thus far? Amazingly, the answer is yes.

First, the opening verse of the Christian Bible and the Hebrew Torah reads, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” This implies a fundamental ontological distinction between the Creator (first cause) and what was created.[20] This is anticipated from the ens necessarium in a model of “two-ism” where there is the universe that we know (two) and the self-existent being that made it (one).

Second, the God of the Bible is known by a particular name in Hebrew: ’ehyeh (Yahweh or YHWH).[21] Names in our world are usually easily explicable; typically, parents give their child a name, often for specific reasons. There is, however, only one explanation for the name of God in the Hebrew Bible, and it comes from the book of Exodus. So, when Moses is speaking to God through the burning bush, he asks God what His name is. God responds by saying, “I Am Who I Am.”[22] The Hebrew root of “I Am” is ’ehyeh. As Norman Gottwald says in The Hebrew Bible:

“Exodus 3:14 regards the divine name as formed from the Hebrew verb hyh, ‘to be.’ If this verb is understood in this simple stem, ’ehyeh means ‘I will be’ or ‘I am,’ and Yahweh is understood to mean ‘he will be’ or ‘he (always) is.’ The Greek translation of the Old Testament renders ’ehyeh into ‘I am the one who (eternally) is.'”[23]

This is quite captivating because in God’s first revelation to the person that would lead the first major group of followers (the Israelites), God answers by giving a name that denotes eternal being and self-existence. God did not answer by saying, “My name is Bob,” or “I am the one who is always becoming,” or “He who was and now is something different.” God used a permutation of the verb to be in the present tense to name Himself. On top of that, verses within the Christian Old Testament and Hebrew Tanak refer to God as both eternal[24] and self-existent.[25], It is quite fascinating that an unsophisticated, unscientific, and simple tribe in the Middle East thousands of years ago could worship a God that provides an answer to a cosmological and existential question that we are still asking thousands of years later—equipped now with presupposed enlightenment, technology, and a vastly deeper ocean of knowledge. That is fact well beyond coincidence or conspiracy.

In the end, we have to put all of this together and, when making an inference to the best explanation, ask ourselves what makes more sense: that a self-existent something made something that was derivative or that our universe has either no explanation or an explanation that can be dismantled using words on paper? The universe is not just a brutal fact, because that line of reasoning can lead anyone to believe anything that the heart desires. It is more than reasonable to conclude that an eternal, self-existent being is the reason there is something rather than nothing.

Looking Ahead: Episode Four

In this episode, we considered why anything exists in the first place. But this actually is a very small question in a series of much bigger and much more complicated existential questions and our search for ultimate truth. After all, it’s one thing to have something as opposed to nothing, but it is an entirely different playing field when we contemplate the complexity, design, and fine-tuning of the universe. Reality could just be a bunch of molecules in a cold, dark corner of the cosmos. But as we all know, reality is tremendously grander than that—we have outer space, comets, the seasons, oxygen, night and day, CERN, and NASA. A very small variation from equilibrium is vastly more probable than the gigantic variation necessary to create everything as complicated as the universe in which we live. Even more, we could have lived in a very bland, generic reality, but we have the beauty of sunsets and supermodels. So, I hope you will join me next time for TruthFinder, episode four, through which we will search for clarity and meaningful answers to the critical question, “Why is there life instead of things?”


Dr. C. H. E. Sadaphal


[1] Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (New York: Viking, 2006), 244

[2] Notably, this also presupposes the existence of time, which means you are starting with something else before the universe creates itself.

[3] Sproul, Classical Apologetics, 118.

[4] Paul Edwards and Arthur Pap, eds., A Modern Introduction to Philosophy (New York: Free Press, 1957), 478

[5] Copleston raises the idea of a necessary being to get the process started. We will visit this idea in the next response.

[6] For a discussion, see William Lane Craig, On Guard, 78–87.

[7] The scientific models to validate the Big Bang were independently discovered in the 1920s by the Russian mathematician Alexander Friedman and the Belgian astronomer Georges Lemaitre, who both relied on Einstein’s theory of relativity. Their findings were later confirmed in 1929 by Edward Hubble, who depended on observations he made at the Mount Wilson Observatory in California. Basically, when Hubble looked far, far away into distant galaxies, the light emitted was more red than expected. To account for this finding, it was postulated that that the light was moving away from us, therefore producing a “redshift” in perception. The effect is analogous to the Doppler effect, or the change in the frequency of sound waves when something is moving away from you. In “redshift,” the received frequency of light waves is different because things are moving away from an observer on Earth. This means that the universe is expanding, and therefore pointed to a central cosmic event (the Big Bang) that initiated this expansion.

[8] I am using this word to simplify matters because, in actuality, there was no “explosion” as we think of it, but rather a rapid expansion of space.

[9] Even the model proposed by Stephen Hawking (“no boundary”), in which there is no discreet point of origin of the universe, still contains a finite past and assumes that the laws of physics hold everywhere. Of course, this does not explain where said laws come from, and we’re back to square one.

[10] J. M. Wersinger, “Genesis: The Origin of the Universe,” National Forum 76, no. 1 (Winter 1996): 1–12

[11] Alexander Vilenkin, Many Worlds in One (New York: Hill and Wang, 2006), 176

[12] Sylvie Braibant, et. al., Particles and Fundamental Interactions: An Introduction to Particle Physics (New York; Springer, 2012), 1.

[13] G. W. F. von Leibniz, “The Principles of Nature and Grace, Based on Reason,” in Leibniz Selections, ed. P. Weiner (New York: Scribner’s, 1951), 527

[14] Philosophically speaking, concrete objects cause effects in the real world and exist in time and space. Concrete objects include humans, stars, and gravity. Abstract objects are those things that do not exist at any particular time or place, like an idea.

[15] Andrea Bottani, et. al., eds., Individuals, Essence and Identity: Themes of Analytic Metaphysics (New York: Springer, 2002), 164

[16] Monism is the belief that all of reality is one without any real distinction: humans, monkeys, and rocks are all the same “stuff.”

[17] Pantheism is the belief that God is identical with the universe and manifests everywhere. So when we “add up” all of reality, what one gets is an all-encompassing, immanent god.

[18] Panentheism is the belief that god is greater than the cosmos and includes and interpenetrates it. Thus, changes to the world also change god, who is woven into the fabric of our reality.

[19] Polytheism is the belief in more than one god.

[20] Christopher J. H. Wright, Old Testament Ethics for the People of God (Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2004), 109

[21] Compare this to the name of the god of Islam, Allah (al-ilāh), which is a more generic word meaning, “the god.”

[22] Exodus 3:14

[23] Norman K. Gottwald, The Hebrew Bible: A Brief Socio-Literary Introduction (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009), 120

[24] Deuteronomy 32:40, 33:27; Job 36:26; Psalm 48:14, 90:2, 102:26–27; Proverbs 8:23; Isaiah 41:4, 102:12; Habakkuk 1:12

[25] John 3:16, 5:36; Revelation 5:1–4, 21:1–27

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