1. Why does the universe exist?

July 31st, 2019

When thinking about possible evidence for the existence of God, it seems logical to start with the big picture, and work our way down to the more personal. So we start by considering the universe and the explanation of its existence.

What is the universe?

This may sound like the dumbest of questions, for we know our universe is all the matter and energy that inhabits space and time. It began with the big bang almost 14 billion years ago.

But many cosmologists now believe there are other “universes”, and perhaps our universe arose from one of them. The whole group of universes, if there are indeed more than one, is commonly called the multiverse.

So what caused it all?

It is a natural question to ask where did our universe come from? What caused it? Most people in the world believe in a God or some supernatural force, and I suppose most think that God had something to do with it all. But it isn’t quite that simple.

So let’s consider the bigger picture. What could be the explanation for all the matter and energy existing in space and time? What are the possibilities?

Cause or no cause?

Either something caused the universe to exist, or else it exists without any cause. That is simple logic. And it seems that there are two ways each of these possibilities could be imagined. Let’s look at the four possibilities:

1. No cause, it has always existed

Perhaps the multiverse doesn’t have a cause because it never began, it has always existed from infinite time past? But there are a number of reasons to think this isn’t the answer:

  1. There are many scientific hypotheses or models that address the beginning of the universe, and it turns out that most of them entail a beginning.
  2. According to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, everything is slowly running down, moving from a state of highly uneven temperature and distribution of matter, to a state of being homogeneous. If the universe was infinitely old, the universe would have already reached this state. The fact that it hasn’t shows that it cannot be infinitely old.
  3. Mathematically, it is impossible to count to infinity, so it seems to be equally impossible to count down from an infinite past time to now (though not all mathematicians agree on this). It seems that a chain of events like the universe cannot be infinitely old.
  4. Even if the universe was infinitely old, we still wouldn’t have an explanation of why it exists. And a hypothesis which cannot explain the facts is generally considered to be a poor hypothesis.

So this option doesn’t appear to help us answer the question of why the universe exists.

2. No cause, no explanation, it just happened

Perhaps the universe just began for no particular reason. In quantum physics, fundamental particles can appear apparently out of nothing for no apparent cause. So couldn’t the universe have been one gigantic quantum event?

Again, there are good reasons to suppose this isn’t a reasonable explanation.

In quantum events, the particle doesn’t appear out of nothing for no reason (despite some people portraying it this way). A quantum event happens because of a fluctuation in a quantum field, which is composed of energy and occupies space. So a quantum field, especially one powerful enough to create a universe, is far from nothing! A quantum field is already part of the universe or multiverse, and thus part of what we are trying to explain.

So this “explanation” turns out to be no explanation at all. It simply says that the universe appeared out of nothing for no reason. This is contrary to everything we know about the universe, where everything that happens has a cause of some kind. The idea of cause and effect is logical, and there is no reason to suppose that the beginning of the universe should be any different.

3. Perhaps the universe caused itself?

So it seems that the universe probably had a cause, but could it have caused itself?

It is hard to take this bizarre idea seriously. How could anything cause something if the cause doesn’t exist to do any causing? (That sentence is a bit of a mouthful! Perhaps you should read it again, slowly?)

Surely the universe had to first exist to cause something else …. or itself?

4. So perhaps something caused it?

This is the intuitive and simplest answer to our question. Something outside the universe or multiverse caused it to come into being. And because the multiverse contains all the physical matter and physical energy that exists in space and time (by our definition), then this cause must be non-physical and outside space and time.

Most people would call this “God”, but we might more carefully say it would have to be some kind of god or supernatural force (I can’t think of any other options). He, she or it would have created the universe out of nothing, which provides a sensible and understandable explanation for why the universe exists. Of course it’s not a total explanation, because we still don’t know why such a being might create. There’s more to come in this story!

This explanation make sense. It conforms to our experience that everything in this universe has a cause, and so it satisfies our sense of logic. But there are still unanswered questions, like ….

So what caused God?

If everything we experience has a cause, surely God also must have a cause, right? Doesn’t this take us right back to square 1? There are two answers to this.

(1) Our experience is of the physical world. Everything in the physical world has a cause. But we don’t know if this applies to something non-physical like God.

(2) Everything we experience is “contingent”. That is, it had a beginning, it was caused by something else, and it could have been different. We can always ask why is it the way it is? The only way we are going to find an explanation for the universe is to find something that isn’t contingent, isn’t dependent on something else and couldn’t have been different. Clearly this isn’t the universe, which (the cosmologists tell us) could have been different for all we know, and is (as we have seen) dependent on whatever caused it. But it seems much more plausible that an eternal God, outside the universe, might be non-contingent, not dependent on anything else for its existence.

So it seems to make more sense to look to God as the ultimate explanation or ultimate fact than to look to the universe.

So where does this leave us?

We have looked at four options. None of them is certain, but I can’t think of any other options, so we must choose from among them. Most of them provide no explanation at all, have little or no evidence to support them, seem wildly improbable.

But the “God” explanation is at least based on logic and our common experience of cause and effect. It provides an explanation of why the universe exists. Thus it makes more sense, and surely must be more likely, than any of the other options.

Putting it another way: if there is no God, there’d be no reason to expect a universe to exist, but if there is a God, it wouldn’t be a surprise that the universe exists.

As Terence McKenna said: “Modern science is based on the principle: ‘Give us one free miracle, and we’ll explain the rest.’ The one free miracle is the appearance of all the mass and energy in the universe and all the laws that govern it in a single instant from nothing.”

One step at a time

It would be an enormous overstatement to consider this a “proof” of God’s existence. But the universe is one piece of evidence that seems to make God’s existence more probable.

Photo: NASA

One Comment

  1. if matter came from nothing & our universe is 14 billion old …What was before ? There would

    be an eternity of time ,as nothing happened until big bang ..The only logical explanation for a

    start would be outside action …. A force of energy … from a source of energy … Lets say God ?The obvious question …Why would God create it ?.. As one scientist said ” Its as tho’ the Universe was expecting us “

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