Why is There Something Instead of Nothing?
by Rich Deem


The Nothing?

Stephen Hawking and Victor Stenger have the answer as to why there is something instead of nothing—nothingness is unstable and automatically produces matter, energy, space and time at will. Is this really true?

Rich Deem

A theist and anti-theist are arguing about the existence of God. The theist has discussed the anthropic principle (that the universe is designed to support human life), but isn't getting very far and decides to use his "ultimate" question to stump the atheist; "Why is there something instead of nothing?" Instead of getting the blank stare he expects, the theist is bombarded with a slew of science that "proves" that universes can be created from nothing. The theist is left stammering—defeated again by science and logic. Should Christians pack up their Bibles and go home?

The "Nothing"

Back in 1984 there was a movie called The NeverEnding Story, followed by a few ill-advised sequels. In the story, "The Nothing" was destroying the imaginary world of Fantasia, which was saved by a little boy's imagination. A modern version of the movie might feature the new atheism's imaginary worlds, which are created by the "nothing," although this "nothing" also includes more than a little imagination and some slight-of-hand by its proponents.

The science

Is it really true that entire universes can appear from nothing? This "science" is based upon the real science of quantum mechanics, which has shown that particles can appear from "nothing" and disappear into "nothing." Atheist scientists say that "nothing" is unstable and spontaneously produces somethings. Although the statement is true in a limited sense, atheists aren't telling you the whole story. Why is that? Although these virtual particles appear based upon some probability statistic, they also disappear spontaneously, based upon the same probability. In other words, these particles are not stable and do not behave like the stuff we regularly encounter in our macroscopic world. One would never expect a tennis ball to spontaneously appear or disappear, although it is theoretically possible. The reason why a macroscopic object would never behave like a quantum particle is that so many unlikely events would have to transpire simultaneously for such an event to occur. The fallacy that Victor Stenger and other anthropic principle antagonists promote is that probabilistic quantum events apply to the macro world. They never provide any evidence that such an assumption is true.

Stenger's logical errors

An even more fundamental error is the assumption that the universe is all that exists. Stenger assumes that there is nothing "outside the box." In essence he is saying that by measuring the stuff in the box, we can know that nothing exists outside the box. How does he know that? Of course, he doesn't.

Stenger also wants you to believe that we can ascribe creative properties to "nothing" on the basis of measurements within the box. Of course, that assumption is also false. There is no "nothing" in the universe from which we can make measurements. Space, time, matter and energy all came about during the event referred to as the Big Bang, some 13.8 billion years ago. The entire universe is bathed in the cosmic background radiation of the Big Bang—in every square angstrom of space-time. The problem has gotten more extreme recently, with the discovery of dark energy—a component of the universe that also effects everything, including the very fabric of space-time. Of course, the laws of physics, including quantum mechanics, operate throughout the universe. So, there are no examples of nothing within the box. Stenger ignores the possibility that the box was designed to promote the creation and conversion of matter because it was necessary to its operation.

"Uncaused" events?

Christian apologists use the argument that all things that come to exist have a cause, and, therefore, since the universe began to exist, it too must have a cause. Stenger's unbelievable rebuttal is that not all things that come to exist have a cause:

"Once again, this ignores quantum mechanics, in which events commonly occur without cause. This is the case for the atomic transitions that give us light and the nuclear decays that give us nuclear radiation. They all happen spontaneously, without cause."1

The "non-caused" cause of radioactive decay is that certain atoms contain too many or too few neutrons compared to protons, which results in nuclear instability. When I do an experiment using a radioactive tracer, do I fret that some departure from quantum probability and the weak nuclear force will render my experiment ruined? No! In the macro world in which we live, there are no significant departures that separate cause from effect, simply because quantum mechanics is acting on the system at the quantum level. Although we cannot predict exactly when any particular atom will decay, we can predict very accurately an average rate of decay for any macroscopic sample of such atoms. The idea that nuclear decay and chemical transitions are devoid of cause is anti-science superstition. The claim that quantum mechanics is not the cause of anything is ludicrous. Stenger wants you to believe that since we cannot predict individual quantum events that such rules apply to appearance of universes—the ultimate antithesis of quantum particles.

Net energy of the universe

Stenger says that because the kinetic energy of all the bodies in the universe is exactly balanced by their negative gravitational potential energy, the universe is the ultimate free lunch. The implication is that since no laws of thermodynamics are violated, the universe could have been produced spontaneously—energy free. The problem with such a claim is that there is no physical principle operating within the universe that would cause the separation of this kinetic and gravitational energy from nothing. So, atheists appeal to the magical multiverse, which "knows" how to make such miracles happen, complete with a reshuffling of the physical laws to eliminate fine tuning requirements.

Fine tuning?

Victor Stenger thinks he has solved the "problem" of evidence for the fine tuning of the universe. For the expansion rate of the universe (which is fine-tuned to 1 part in 1055), and the mass density term (which is fine-tuned to 1 part in 1059), Stenger says the problem is easily solved by cosmic inflation. According to inflation theory, the universe expanded by 1026 times during a tiny fraction of a second only 10-35 seconds after the initiation of the Big Bang. The theory was originally "invented" by Alan Guth in 1980 to try to address the flatness and horizon problems of standard Big Bang cosmology (a sort of fudge-factor, complete with its own theoretical particle, the inflaton). Surprisingly, inflation has predicted several findings of the WMAP satellite, providing a degree of observational evidence for its validity. However, contrary to Stenger's claim, substituting finely tuned inflation for other finely tuned parameters does not solve the fine tuning problem. For one, inflationary theories tend to evolve, so that those that fit the observational evidence better become "good inflation" theories, while others are discarded. With a plethora of theories to choose from, one has to ask the question whether inflation is really falsifiable. Roger Penrose, in considering all the possible configurations of the inflaton and gravitational fields, found that obtaining a flat universe without inflation is much more likely than those that produce inflation—by a factor of (1010)100.2 So, instead of solving Stenger's fine tuning problem, inflation actually makes it much worse.

Dark energy is a mystery to atheists, since it is exquisitely fine tuned at 1 in 10120—making up nearly three-quarters of all the "stuff" in the universe. Stenger provides only a half-hearted attempt to explain away dark energy fine tuning:

"A simple calculation indicates that the energy density of the vacuum is 120 orders of magnitude greater than its experimental upper limit. Clearly this estimate is wrong. This calculation must be one of the worst in scientific history!"3

In his book, The Fallacy of Fine Tuning, Stenger claims to solve part of the dark energy fine tuning "problem" by appealing to supersymmetry at low energies, which is not supported by observational evidence. However, even pulling this data from thin air reduces fine tuning to 1 in 1050—certainly not a very significant improvement. He also appeals to a speculative concept called the "holographic universe," where the universe is really two dimensional, existing on the surface of a gigantic black hole.4 Accordingly, the apparent three-dimensional nature of the universe we observe is merely an illusion. Although such a scenario might mathematically get rid of the dark energy problem, it is at odds with the observational evidence and is extremely unlikely to be true. Proponents of the theory have yet to explain how there can be black holes within our universe's black hole existence. Maybe there infinite levels of black holes with Lilliputian worlds galore! Stenger's approach to the evidence for the fine tuning of dark energy is amazingly backward, from a scientific perspective. In science, one is supposed to accept the data and modify one's hypothesis based upon it. However, Stenger rejects the data and keeps his failed hypothesis. Amazing!

Beginning of the universe

As much as atheists would love to get rid of a beginning to the universe, it is apparent that it did begin to exist some time in the past. The Borde-Guth-Vilenkin Theorem5 shows that there is no way to get rid of a beginning to any universe that is characterized by cosmic expansion (Hav > 0). Since our universe is characterized by cosmic expansion, it must have had a beginning.

"I do not know of a single working cosmologist today who says that the universe began with a singularity."1

Biblical Model

The biblical model for creation does not suffer from the inability to explain fine tuning. In fact, it is quite likely that God used fine tuning as evidence for His creative input into the origin of the universe, although He could have created the universe with no evidence for fine tuning. But, since the Bible says that the creation declares God's handiwork,6 we would expect to see such evidence for design. Atheists are always complaining about the lack of evidence for belief—while going to extreme lengths to try to explain it away. So, it doesn't really matter how strong the evidence is—atheists will always look for a way to disbelieve. Although the Bible does not give a detailed explanation of the creation of the universe, it does tell us that God "spreads out the heavens" (an expanding universe)7 and that the visible parts were made from the invisible (Hebrews 11:3),8 both ideas supported by modern cosmology. Why did God want to create the universe? According to the Bible, God wanted to spend eternity with other spiritual creatures so that they could share love among one another. However, God did not want to force those spiritual beings to love Him, but gave them a choice by creating a temporary universe where such choices could be made. For more information on biblical models for creation, see our Biblical Creation section.

Why quantum mechanics?

Let's say that Christianity is true and that God wanted to create a world in which He could perform creation miracles and occasional other miracles, but with reliable physical laws, that insure an experience of consistent causes and effects for creatures living in this creation. The perfect solution to the design problem is to make the creation subject to both time and quantum mechanics. Since God is not subject to time, He can manipulate quantum events to perform miracles, including those that create new designs composed of matter. However, at the macro level, quantum mechanics does not interfere with the principle of cause and effect. Although we can discover God's "secret" we are unable to manipulate the system to perform god-like miracles, because we are subject to the limitations of time.

Conclusion Top of page

Atheists say they have the answer to why there is something rather than nothing—the nothing created it! However, their explanation takes science and turns it on its head—performing miracles of creation through unknown physics or mechanisms that are extremely unlikely to occur. The simplest explanation for the existence of all the something we see is that an extremely intelligent being, God, willed it to happen for His own purposes, and left evidence of that purpose in the nature of His creation and His communication with the creatures He created. The important things in life are not derived from the stuff we can see, but from the One who created it.

The heavens declare His righteousness, And all the peoples have seen His glory. (Psalms 97:6)

References Top of page

  1. Stenger, V. 2010. Reality Check—Did the Universe Come from Nothing?  Skeptical Briefs 20.4, December 2010.
  2. Steinhardt, Paul J. 2011. The inflation debate: Is the theory at the heart of modern cosmology deeply flawed? Scientific American, April, 2011, pp. 41.
  3. Stenger, V. 2006. Reality Check—Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing? Skeptical Briefs, June 2006.
  4. Frampton, P.H. 2010. Considerations of Cosmic Acceleration. arXiv:1004.1285v3.
  5. Borde, A., A. H. Guth, and A. Vilenkin. 2003. Inflationary spacetimes are not past-complete. Phys. Rev. Lett. 90: 151301.
  6. ...The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. (Psalms 19:1)
    The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. (Romans 1:18-20)
  7. The following verses suggest that God created the universe through an expanding universe - what science has called the Big Bang. In many cases the Hebrew text indicates present tense - a process still continuing.
    • Who alone stretches out the heavens, And tramples down the waves of the sea; (Job 9:8)
    • Covering Thyself with light as with a cloak, Stretching out heaven like a tent curtain. (Psalm 104:2)
    • It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in. (Isaiah 40:22)
    • Thus says God the Lord, Who created the heavens and stretched them out, Who spread out the earth and its offspring, Who gives breath to the people on it, And spirit to those who walk in it, (Isaiah 42:5)
    • Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, and the one who formed you from the womb, "I, the Lord, am the maker of all things, Stretching out the heavens by Myself, And spreading out the earth all alone" (Isaiah 44:24)
    • "It is I who made the earth, and created man upon it. I stretched out the heavens with My hands, And I ordained all their host." (Isaiah 45:12)
    • "Surely My hand founded the earth, And My right hand spread out the heavens; When I call to them, they stand together." (Isaiah 48:13)
    • That you have forgotten the Lord your Maker, Who stretched out the heavens, And laid the foundations of the earth; That you fear continually all day long because of the fury of the oppressor, As he makes ready to destroy? But where is the fury of the oppressor? (Isaiah 51:13)
    • It is He who made the earth by His power, Who established the world by His wisdom; And by His understanding He has stretched out the heavens. (Jeremiah 10:12)
    • It is He who made the earth by His power, Who established the world by His wisdom, And by His understanding He stretched out the heavens. (Jeremiah 51:15)
    • The burden of the word of the Lord concerning Israel. Thus declares the Lord who stretches out the heavens, lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him, (Zechariah 12:1)
  8. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. (Hebrews 11:3)

Last Modified May 1, 2012


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