The Evidence for God: The Universe
by Graham Veale
This is sometimes referred to as the “cosmological argument”; thinkers from Wittgenstein to Sartre to Weinberg have all wondered why there is something rather than nothing. The cosmological argument insists that theism provides the only reasonable answer to that question. There are several versions of this argument that seem persuasive. Here we will focus on cosmological arguments that ask “what is the explanation for the universe’s existence?”
Onesuch argument is based on the principle that there is some explanation for everything that happens or exists. This idea seems compelling. Scientists and historians examine the world believing that there are explanations for the facts they discover; they do not do so in vain. But if laws of nature, billions of fundamental particles, relativistic quantum fields – if entire universes, in effect – can exist without explanation, why should we assume that there are explanations for everything that happens in the universe? Why not give up when we fail to find explanations for something mysterious. There is good reason to accept the principle, whereas denying it seems to lead to scepticism.
So we need to provide an explanation for the existence of the universe. Now some speculative physicists have tried to demonstrate that the universe could come to exist out of nothing. We should note that they have conceded that we should not treat the existence of the universe as a brute fact, in
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no need of further explanation. We should also note that “nothing” always turns out to be “something”. These accounts always make use of laws of nature and strange fields or unimaginable forces. By “nothing” they mean “nothing-like-our-space-time-universe”.
But in metaphysics, and indeed, in ordinary language, “nothing” typically means “nothing- at -all!” No laws, no energy, no potential, no activity; this is why we find it so difficult to imagine “nothing”. We immediately think of a black, empty space. In which case, of course, we are imagining something. We are imagining a space and darkness. But nothing actually means “non-being”; there isn’t anything to imagine. It cannot be described by the laws of physics. There is nothing to describe!
Perhaps we could argue that each state of the universe is explained by the state just prior to that. If scientists explain, one by one, all the physical reactions and transformations that have taken place within the universe won’t they explain why the whole universe exists? And suppose the universe is infinitely old. Each state of the universe will then have a full explanation. Won’t we have an explanation for the existence of the universe at that point?
Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the case…