When nothing is not “not anything”

historyofbigbang

In one sense, Genesis 1:1 is the most important verse in the Bible: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” If we can believe this verse, no other verse in the Bible should be a problem. For example, if God can create the whole universe, then raising people from the dead and causing a virgin to conceive would be easy beyond words.[1] In addition, in this one verse, the validity of other religions is rejected.[2] Conversely, if we can’t trust this verse, then nothing else in the Bible makes sense. Since this verse is so foundational, it is not surprising that atheists have feverishly attacked this concept. Some of the attacks are childish, while others have a thin veneer of philosophy or the assumption of advanced science. We will go through some of these.

The Bible doesn’t attempt to prove that God exists—it proclaims this truth as obvious. But a common question from little children and littler-minded atheists is: “If God created the universe, then who created God?” Or, “If everything has a cause, then who caused God?” The main argument is: 1. Everything which has a beginning has a cause.[3] 2. The universe has a beginning. 3. Therefore the universe has a cause.[4,5]

The universe requires a cause because it had a beginning, as will be shown below. God, unlike the universe, had no beginning, so He doesn’t need a cause. In addition, Einstein’s general relativity, which has much experimental support, shows that time is linked to matter and space. So time itself would have begun along with matter and space. Since God, by definition, is the creator of the whole universe, he is the creator of time. Therefore He is not limited by the time dimension He created, so has no beginning in time—God is ‘the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity’ (Is. 57:15). Therefore He doesn’t have a cause.

Despite this, the favorite philosopher of modern atheists, the Scotsman David Hume (1711–1776), disagreed. He taught that one might conceive of something coming into being without a cause. However it is hard to argue cogently that anyone really conceives of any such thing.[6]

To paraphrase a typical example, suppose that a banana suddenly appeared on your plate. You would not think, “This banana really did come into being without a cause.” Instead, you would think, “How did that banana get there?” and look for the likely cause. Maybe there was a hole in the ceiling above it, or in the plate below it. If that can be ruled out, then maybe you were temporarily unaware of your surroundings, and in that time, someone placed the banana there without you noticing it. Failing that, maybe a magician’s trick, or even a miracle, was the cause. Regardless, even an unknown cause would be more likely than no cause.

Further, we would be less likely to think that this banana came into being than that it already existed and was somehow moved to the place. (i.e. the cause was in transportation not in creation out of nothing.[7,8] )

Also, if there is no cause, there is no explanation why this particular universe appeared at a particular time, nor why it was a universe and not, say, the above banana which appeared on the plate. This universe can’t have any properties to explain its preferential coming into existence, because it wouldn’t have any properties until it actually came into existence.

A lot of misrepresentation of the concept of nothing comes from the misuse and faulty teaching of the concept of zero. We tend to teach that if you have “zero” items then you have no items or not anything. Not true. “Zero” is something, it is a placeholder in our numbering system, and it is the position between positive and negative numbers. “Zero” is something, “zero” is not “not anything”- it has a value of “nothing”. That is different than “not anything.”

In contrast, there is good evidence that the universe had a beginning. This can be shown from the Laws of Thermodynamics, the most fundamental laws of the physical sciences. 1st Law: The total amount of mass-energy in the universe is constant. 2nd Law: The amount of energy available for work is running out, or entropy is increasing to a maximum. If the total amount of mass-energy is limited, and the amount of usable energy is decreasing, then the universe cannot have existed forever, otherwise it would already have exhausted all usable energy. So the obvious corollary is that the universe began a finite time ago with a lot of usable energy, and is now running down.

Now, what if the questioner accepts that the universe had a beginning, but not that it needs a cause? It is self-evident that things that begin have a cause—no-one really denies it in his heart. All science and history would collapse if this law of cause and effect were denied. So would all law enforcement, if the police didn’t think they needed to find a cause for a stabbed body or a burgled house. Also, the universe cannot be self-caused—nothing can create itself, because that would mean that it existed before it came into existence, which is a logical absurdity.

Some physicists assert that quantum mechanics violates this cause/effect principle and can produce something from nothing. For instance, Paul Davies writes: … spacetime could appear out of nothingness as a result of a quantum transition. … Particles can appear out of nowhere without specific causation … the world of quantum mechanics routinely produces something out of nothing.[9]

But this is a gross misapplication of quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics never produces something out of nothing. Davies himself admitted on the previous page that his scenario ‘should not be taken too seriously.’ Also, theories that the universe is a quantum fluctuation must presuppose that there was something to fluctuate—their ‘quantum vacuum’ is a lot of matter-antimatter potential—not ‘nothing’. So this is a fallacy of equivocation.

This suggests a very simple test for those who wish to talk about nothing: if what you are talking about has properties, then it is not nothing. If I hold out my hand then there is “not anything” in it. If I put that magical banana in it, then I have one banana in my hand. If you come and take the banana, then I have no banana (I’ve been wanting to say that for several hundred words now). I have nothing- but it was at one point something- a banana, but only if we continue to discuss this poor browning banana. If we no longer care about it and I open my hand again then I have “not anything” once again.

Scientific theories are necessarily theories of something, some physical reality. Equations describe properties, and thus describe something. There cannot be equations that describe not-anything. Write down any equation you like—you will not be able to deduce from that equation that the thing that it describes must exist in the real world.

In Summary 1) The universe (including time itself) can be shown to have had a beginning. 2) It is unreasonable to believe something could begin to exist without a cause. 3) The universe therefore requires a cause, just as Genesis 1:1 and Romans 1:20 teach. 4) God, as creator of time, is outside of time. Since therefore He has no beginning in time, He has always existed, so doesn’t need a cause. Objections There are only two ways to refute an argument: 1. Show that it is logically invalid 2. Show that at least one of the premises is false. a) Is the argument valid? A valid argument is one where it is impossible for the premises to be true and the conclusion false. Note that validity does not depend on the truth of the premises, but on the form of the argument. The argument in this paper is valid; it is of the same form as: All humans have a backbone; I am a human; therefore, I have a backbone. So the only hope for the skeptic is to dispute one or both of the premises.

b) Are the premises true? 1) Does the universe have a beginning? Oscillating universe ideas were popularized by atheists like the late Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov solely to avoid the notion of a beginning, with its implications of a Creator. But as shown above, the Laws of Thermodynamics undercut that argument. Even an oscillating universe cannot overcome those laws. Each one of the hypothetical cycles would exhaust more and more usable energy. This means every cycle would be larger and longer than the previous one, so looking back in time there would be smaller and smaller cycles. So the multicycle model could have an infinite future, but can only have a finite past.

2) Denial of cause and effect Some physicists assert that quantum mechanics violates this cause/effect principle and can produce something from nothing. Theories that the universe is a quantum fluctuation must presuppose that there was something to fluctuate—their ‘quantum vacuum’ is a lot of matter-antimatter potential—not ‘nothing’

Conclusion The Bible presupposes that God began the universe. The fact of the universe’s beginning points strongly to a Creator consistent with the biblical God. Some atheists, following Hume, have asserted that something can begin without a cause, but this is not only unreasonable, it is arguably inconceivable. The ‘New Atheists’ have resorted to quantum bluffing to claim that something really can come from nothing. But they must equivocate about the word ‘nothing’. This really should mean nothing—no properties. However, their proposed quantum vacuum is not nothing; it must be something, with properties—e.g. the quantum vacuum, which is being bound by the laws of quantum physics, so that it can ‘fluctuate’. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” It stands to reason.

——————————–

[1] I have an article coming soon “The logic of science and miracles.”

[2] There are a variety of lists that can be provided evidence of this statement. If you wish to contact me I will provide the references.

[3] Actually, the word ‘cause’ has several different meanings in philosophy. But in this section, we are referring to the efficient cause, the chief agent causing something to happen.

[4] This is called the Kalām Cosmological Argument. It goes back to the church theologian Bonaventure (1221–1274), and was also advocated by medieval Arabic philosophers. The word kalām is the Arabic word for ‘speech’, but its broader semantic range includes ‘philosophical theism’ or ‘natural theology’. The kalām argument’s most prominent modern defender is the philosopher and apologist Dr William Lane Craig (1949– ): The Kalām Cosmological Argument, Barnes & Noble, New York, 1979. Unfortunately, Dr Craig compromises on the plain meaning of Genesis—see William Lane Craig’s intellectually dishonest attack on biblical creationists.

[5] Other apologists have used different arguments. For example, the leading medieval theologian and apologist Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225–1274), while he believed that the universe began in time because the Bible said so, didn’t think this could be proved philosophically. Instead, in his famous ‘five ways’ (Summa Theologiae, Question 2, The existence of God) he argued that even if the universe had no beginning, then it would still not exist or undergo change here and now unless there were a necessary being, ‘prime mover’, and ‘first cause’, who upholds the universe in its moment-by-moment existence. “This all men speak of as God.” That is, while the Kalām argument concerns God’s creative work, Aquinas’s arguments are for God’s sustaining work since He finished His creation on Day 7 (Genesis 2:1–3). Then Aquinas spends hundreds of pages arguing that the ‘God’ with these properties would be perfectly good, all-powerful, and all-knowing.

[6] Anscombe, G.E.M., “Whatever has a beginning of existence must have a cause”: Hume’s argument exposed, Collected Philosophical Papers, Volume 1, Basil Blackwell, 1981.

[7] Anscombe, G.E.M., Times, beginnings and causes, in her Collected Philosophical Papers, Volume 1 Basil Blackwell, 1981.

[8] Feser, E., The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism, Kindle Locations 5253-5254, St. Augustine’s Press. Kindle Edition, 2012.

[9] Davies, P., God and the New Physics, p. 215, Simon & Schuster, 1983.

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