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”?
I’ve written about this in my new book, God’s Crime Scene: A Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe. In this book, I examine the universe as a “crime scene” and investigate eight different pieces of evidence through the filter of a simple investigative question: “Can the evidence ‘in the room’ be explained by staying ‘in the room’? This question is key to determining whether a death scene is a crime scene, and I typically play a game I call “inside or outside the room” whenever I am trying to determine if a death is, in fact, a murder. If, for example, there is a victim in the room with a gunshot injury lying next to a handgun, but the doors are locked from the inside, all the DNA and fingerprints in the room come back to the victim, the gun is registered to the victim and there are no signs of an outside intruder, this is simply the scene of a suicide or accidental death. If, however, there exist fingerprints or DNA of an unknown suspect, the gun does not belong to the victim, and there are even bloody footprints leading outside the room, I’ve got to reconsider the cause of this death. When the evidence in the room cannot be explained by staying inside the room and is better explained by a cause outside the room, there’s a good chance I’ve got a murder. When this is the case, my investigation must shift direction. I must now begin to search for an external intruder. I think you’ll find this investigative approach applicable as you examine the case for God’s existence. If all the evidence “inside the room” of the universe can be explained by staying “inside the room”, there’s no need to invoke an ‘external’ cause. If, on the other hand, the best explanation for the evidence “inside the room” is a cause “outside the room”, we’ll need to shift our attention as we search for an “external” intruder.
One of the key pieces of evidence in the universe is simply it’s origin. If our universe began to exist, what could have caused it’s beginning? How did everything (all space, time and matter) come into existence from nothing? One way atheist physicists have navigated this dilemma has simply been to redefine the terms they have been 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. As I’ve already stated, 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 common features of “everything” (space and time), and something more (virtual particles). This leaves us with the real question: “Where did the space, time and virtual particles come from (given all our evidence points to their origination at the beginning of our universe)?” Krauss avoids this inquiry by moving space and time from the category of “something” to the category of “nothing”.
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.”
An Illustration from God’s Crime Scene
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, time and matter (even if we are simply talking about “virtual” particles). 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”.