Even as an atheist, I understood the challenge offered by the “Standard Cosmological Model” (the Big Bang Theory) when examined from my naturalistic worldview. This model infers a “cosmological singularity” in which all space, time and matter came into existence at a point in the distant past. In others words, “everything” came from “nothing”. I knew this presented a problem for me as a naturalist; if the universe had a beginning, the “principle of causality” inclined me to believe there must have been a cause. But, what could cause something as vast as the universe? Could it have caused itself to come into existence, or must the first cause of all space, time and matter be non-spatial, atemporal and immaterial? How could “everything” come from “nothing”?
One way to navigate this dilemma is simply to redefine the terms we are using. What do we mean when we say “everything” or “nothing”? At first these two terms might seem rather self-explanatory, but it’s important for us to take the time to define the words. By “everything” we mean all space, time and matter. That’s right, space is “something”; empty space is part of “everything” not part of “nothing”. For some of us, that’s an interesting concept that might be hard to grasp, but it’s an important distinction that must be understood. When we say “nothing”, we mean the complete absence of everything; the thorough non-existence of anything at all (including all space time and matter). These two terms, when defined in this way, are consistent with the principles of the Standard Cosmological Model, but demonstrate the dilemma. If everything came from nothing, what caused this to occur? What is the non-spatial, atemporal, immaterial, uncaused, first cause of the universe? A cause of this sort sounds a lot like a supernatural Being, and that’s why I think many naturalists have begun to redefine the terms.
Lawrence Krauss, Arizona State University Professor (School of Earth and Space Exploration and Director of the Origins Initiative) wrote a book entitled, A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing. As part of the promotion for the book, Krauss appeared on the Colbert Report where he was interviewed by comedian Stephen Colbert. During the interview, Krauss tried to redefine “nothing” to avoid the need for a supernatural first cause:
“Physics has changed what we mean by nothing… Empty space is a boiling, bubbling brew of virtual particles popping in and out of existence… if you wait long enough, that kind of nothing will always produce particles.” (Colbert Nation, June 21st, 2012)
Now if you’re not careful, you might miss Krauss’ subtle redefinition. In describing the sudden appearance of matter (“particles”), Krauss assumes the prior existence of space (“empty space”) and time (“if you wait long enough”). If you’ve got some empty space and wait long enough, matter appears. For Krauss, the “nothing” from which the universe comes includes two features of “everything” (space and time). This leaves us with the real question: “Where did the space and time come from?” Krauss avoids this inquiry by moving space and time from the category of “something” to the category of “nothing”. Krauss may have an explanation for why matter is here, but doesn’t provide us with an explanation for why space and time are here.
If you’ve got a teenager in your house, you might recognize Krauss’ approach to language. I bet you’ve seen your teenager open the refrigerator door, gaze at all the nutritious fruits and vegetables on the shelves, then lament that there is “nothing to eat.” Teenagers often redefine the term “nothing” in situations such as these. It’s not that the refrigerator is truly empty; it’s just that your teenager doesn’t want to acknowledge the value of the stuff that’s in there. That stuff’s not really food; it’s nothing worth eating, and your teenager is willing to redefine the term to win the point. Like Krauss, many naturalists want to redefine the term in order to win the point. But changing the language won’t eradicate the dilemma. We still have to account for the sudden appearance of space and time. The Christian worldview provides an explanation for the cosmological singularity described by the Big Bang because Christianity proposes an eternal, non-spatial, immaterial, uncaused, first cause that is capable of creating “everything” from “nothing”.