Why is there Something Rather than Nothing? ~ A Brief Overview


The general question often asked is, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” but I believe this question is misleading because it fails to distinguish between two tightly-knitted questions: “Why does there exist something rather than nothing?” and “Why is there this thing rather than some other thing?” A few arguments have been presented for why there is a universe and why it takes one form or another- such the universe necessarily exists, the universe caused itself to exist, the universe had to exist for us to question its existence, all possible worlds exist and ours is such possible world, and the question doesn’t make sense .While each argument brings about some interesting philosophical problems, I believe each do suffer from some crippling philosophical response. My argument would be that if we can arrive at the conclusion that the universe had an origin, that the origin of the universe also meant the origin of space and time, then the answer to both questions would be divine creation.

Five Arguments:

I. The universe necessarily exists.

For this argument to work, it would appear that we must be able to discover some property of the universe that would make the universe’s existence necessary. Necessity, while making use of technical modal terms, could be sufficiently understood as, “The property which states that the universe could not have not existed, or there are no possible worlds in which our universe doesn’t exist.” But, as far as we know, the universe doesn’t bear such a property – the universe is easily conceivable as not existing or existing in some other state than the one it is currently.

However, even if we do grant that such a property could be found, there appears to be an additional argument that would go unanswered, “Why does the universe have this necessary property?” As St. Aquinas in his Summa Theologicae mentions, if we desire to avoid an infinite regress of necessary explanation, necessary objects must obtain their necessity from some object who’s necessity is explained in itself.

Some have made further suggestions that perhaps the universe has no explanation (it’s a brute fact) or that the reason for the existence of the universe is beyond human understanding. Both seems to cut investigation short.

II. Backward causality.

This argument proposes that there was some future state Et which caused E1 – the initial existence of our universe. This argument runs afoul of many metaphysical principles or requires us to make metaphysical assumptions that become absurd. For example, it would require us to believe that some object x could exist prior to object x’s existence to cause x’s existence. We would not only run into a problem of explanation (ie. Why does x exist) but run into problems trying to understand how we attribute a non-existent object the property of physical causality.

III. The universe had to exist for us to question its existence.

This is a popular response in some of the most unusual places.Thomas Nagel’s example in Mind and Cosmos handles this point quickly. Suppose I am flying in an airplane and I ask the pilot, “If the airplane depressurized, why would we all suffocate?” And he responds, “Well, because if the plane were to depressurize, we wouldn’t be here to ask the question.” The answer provides no explanation concerning the original question. Or, put another way, we could equally say, “Well, if God hadn’t created this universe, then we wouldn’t be here to answer it.” That fails to explain anything.

IV. All possible worlds exist, and our world is one such possible world.

This argument requires us to believe that all-possible worlds must exist. However, just like the first argument, there doesn’t appear to be any reason for the ontological existence of possible worlds, though they may be useful in counter-factuals. The reason this argument tends to come up is because we need an explanation for our current state of affairs. But that would be circular.

V. It doesn’t make sense to say, “What happened before the spatio-temporal universe?”

This argument appeared several times in Sober’s and Maitzen’s essays and holds us to the commitment that, given science can only explain some event E1 there must be some separate, though casually and priorly connected, event E0 , it would make no sense to ask the question, “What happened before the first event Ei?” The distinction cuts down the line of two types of questions: Local and Global.

While I understand the appeal to the nature of science, I believe, if we get into the basement of the argument, it is the same sort of argument as 1, or one of the sub-responses. The universe is either necessary, or any reason for its existence is beyond our ability to attain. And the counter responses are equally the same – we are provided no explanation, we have simply defined our way out of the problem.

My Response:

My response is in tune with Kant’s critiques. If we are to provide a philosophically convincing argument for why there is something rather than nothing, then our response needs to answer the questions, “If there is infinite time, then how have we arrived at the present?” and “Why did the Big Bang happen at some time versus some other time?” So we must provide an interpretation of time that side-steps these questions.

I believe the best response is to say that, while Time does have an absolute existence, Time is just before/after/simultaneous relations. The origin of the universe would then simply be the relational question, “How can we explain the shift from the state E0 to E1?”
However, it is this question that I find to be the missing question concerning our two original questions: “Why is there one thing rather some other thing?” and “Why is there this thing rather than some other thing?” The former question, in light of the third question, appears to invoke personal agency, whereas the latter question seems to invoke a question of design.

The causal explanation for the shift from E0 to E1 seems to be binary: personal or impersonal agent. If it were an impersonal agent, then Kant’s critique, “Why did the universe begin at one point rather than some other point,” is still in effect in terms of asking, “What actualized the potentiality of E0 to E1?” It doesn’t appear that an impersonal agent shifts from one state to another on it’s own.


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