From Nothing to Something

(originally published in: http://www.sunstar.com.ph/davao/opinion/2013/04/04/uyboco-nothing-something-276011)

Photo by Smithsonian Institution
Photo by Smithsonian Institution

I received an email from a reader named Tony which goes:

I am an admirer and follower of your articles which are thought-provoking.  May I request your opinion to the statement “nothing comes from nothing” as this leads me to believe there is a God. Thank you for your free thinking.

Thanks for the kind words, Tony. To address your query, the statement you gave is actually one of the classical arguments for the existence of God. In Summa Theologica, Thomas Aquinas gave the Quinque viæ, the five ways, or five proofs of God. “Nothing comes from nothing” is actually the same as Aquinas’ second argument – the argument from causality.

In simple terms, this argument states that we observe in our world the phenomenon of cause and effect. Everything that exists has a cause, and that cause also has a cause, which also has a cause, and so on. If we keep going back, we will eventually bump into a First Cause that is itself uncaused – and that Uncaused Cause is what we call “God.”

Mike Licona, a well-known Christian apologist, uses this argument against atheism: “The Big-Bang actually creates a tremendous problem for the atheist. If nothing at all existed prior to the Big-Bang, then what exploded? Moreover, the atheistic view, that the universe is all there is, requires that the universe, for no reason, just came into existence out of nothing. But again, this seems absurd.”

Now this is a reasonable argument, but I would like to point out a few things worth thinking about:

  1. The argument itself may point to a creator, however, it tells us nothing about the characteristics or attributes of that being.  So now you have a “God” but how does that affect your life? What does this “God” want you to do? Is it even concerned about you? Is it good or bad? Is it omnipresent, omniscient, or omnipotent? Does it have emotions? And so on and so forth. All these questions cannot be answered by this argument alone. So if a particular religion uses this argument, they still have to make the connection between that creator being and the particular “God” they believe in. In other words, why should I believe that this being is Jehovah, and not Allah or Krishna or Jesus or Zeus?
  2. To claim that it “seems absurd” for a universe to pop into existence from nothing might not be as absurd as you think. On what basis is it absurd? Perhaps in the limited experience of humanity, that is true. But what if there were conditions beyond the current human experience and intelligence, in which something could come from nothing? One never knows. There are a few, natural phenomena which seems absurd at first but are genuinely verifiable, observable and accepted in the scientific community. The wave-particle duality of light, for example, which I cannot discuss here in detail because of space limitations. The short version is: there was an argument whether light was a wave (as in radio waves) or was it composed of particles. It could not logically be both. However, experiments have shown conclusively that it is indeed both, contrary to common sense and logic. Hence, one’s logic must give way to reality.
  3. What if that Uncaused Cause were the universe itself? For all we know, the universe could be one big sentient being and we function in it like our cells function in our body. Our cells live, grow, fight their battles and die without any conscious intervention from us. We could very much be in the same situation. So a deity might exist but it is oblivious to our day-to-day activities and in that sense does not require our worship or even our belief.

Perhaps, the deeper, underlying question here is “What meaning is there in life if there is no god and no afterlife?”

It is a valid question but not one which causes me sleepless nights. My life is meaningful because of the lives I touch and the lives that touch me – my friends and family. The way I see it, I get one shot at this life and I want to make the most out of it as I possibly can.

In the words of Seth Andrews, “Life is a precious, brief, fragile, amazing thing. And instead of being so fixated on living after death, I want to truly live before it. And be thankful, that against incredible odds, I was able to witness this particular part of the universe, with my own eyes, firsthand.”

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