Monday, January 24, 2011

Blog Wars! Round 1

Why is there something rather than nothing?  Mankind has never had to answer a more difficult question than this, and I have been given a space of only 1600 words in which to do it.  I am not qualified to answer this question, but I am qualified to demonstrate that a worldview which conforms to the principle of Occam’s Razor is.  My opponent and I will be debating whether theism or atheism is better suited to answer the previously stated question.   

I shall erect a case that demonstrates the existence of the universe can be explained without invoking a god and that a theistic worldview is incapable of answering the question “why is there something rather than nothing?”  I shall support this case with three arguments:

1.       A theistic worldview cannot account for many features of our universe that an atheistic worldview can account for. 

2.       There are natural explanations for why a universe would exist instead of nothing.

3.       There is no explanation for why a god would exist instead of nothing.

 A Theistic Worldview Cannot Account for Many Features of Our Universe

Let us examine the universe that we live in.  Our planet, Earth, is one of eight (get over it, Pluto lovers) orbiting a medium sized star.  That star is just one of half a trillion stars in our own galaxy.  Many of those others are suns with planets of their own.  The nearest of them are only a few years of travel-time away from us—if you are a photon that is!  Traveling at the fastest speed humans have ever gotten a vehicle up to, your ETA is closer to 2 million years.  In fact, ever physically traveling to anywhere outside of our solar system seems almost impossible, because the speeds needed to get to any other stars within a human lifetime are disallowed by certain laws of physics.  Not to mention the fact that our galaxy is just one amongst a collection of over 100 billion in the universe! 

An atheistic worldview has no trouble whatsoever accounting for a universe of this size.  The heavy elements forged in the first generations of stars after the Big Bang were formed by gravity into planets upon which complex chemistry eventually produced life on (at least) one of a hundred billion trillion planets in existence.  Life is not the goal of the universe, just a quirk of it, like the storms on Jupiter or the methane lakes on Titan.  Easy.  

The theistic worldview, however, provides no such easy answer.  The Christian claims the universe was created for the benefit of us, the creation.  So why the excess?  Why, if the universe is a gift to us, are we limited to just one of a hundred billion trillion planets?  Why is most of the universe constructed of empty space that is deadly to us?  Why are all of the planets within our reach also deadly to us, with their crushing gravity, sulfuric acid rain or freezing temperatures?  Why is everything outside our solar system kept off-limits to us by overwhelmingly vast distances and the laws of physics?  The idea of a god creating this universe for a species limited to just one planet seems like renting out all of Disney World for just one child then telling that child she can only ride the Tea Cup merry-go-round.  And nothing else. 

Genesis tells us that the stars exist so that we can mark the seasons.  Well, most stars in our own and other galaxies are not visible with the naked eye, so that can’t be it.  Maybe god was giving us something pretty to look at for when we invented telescopes?  Or perhaps god has other projects going on on distant planets, each with their own E.T. Jesus, nailed to some kind of extraterrestrial cross? 

I am being facetious, of course.  There is no good reason for the universe to be so large and so hostile if it was designed for us.  There is a very good reason for it to be this way if it was not.  When considering the universe, atheism clearly has greater explanatory power than theism. 

There Are Natural Explanations for Why a Universe Would Exist Instead of Nothing

Due to a series of recent advancements in scientific knowledge, we now have a very well-established explanation of why the universe exists and why it is the way it is.  This narrative could not possibly be further from the one given in genesis. 

We now know that the spontaneous creation of matter does actually happen; particles pop into existence for brief moments in time.  In his book, The Grand Design, Stephen Hawking explains how this fact converges with certain naturally emergent properties such as gravity to inevitably create a universe. 

“Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.”

A brief explanation for why the universe exists as it is as follows.

  1. From the Big Bang, energy—and therefore antimatter and matter—are created. 
  2. Matter and antimatter are created in unequal amounts, with more matter than antimatter; therefore our universe becomes ‘matter dominated'. 
  3. Initially, most of this matter exists as hydrogen, which collects into pockets across the universe.
  4. These pockets form the first generation of stars, which cook the hydrogen into heavier elements, like carbon, oxygen, and iron.
  5. When the first generations of stars go supernova, they seed the universe with the heavier elements which allows future generations of stars to also create planets, upon which complex chemical reactions take place.    
  6. On (at least) one of these planets, a reaction causes a molecule to become self-replicating.  Because that replication process is flawed, evolution by natural selection, given billions of years, develops the distant progeny of that molecule into complex life forms like us.  

None of this requires divine intervention—just naturally emergent properties like gravity. 

Unfortunately, due to special constraints, I cannot elaborate on this further.  Suffice it to say that these assertions have all been demonstrated by the scientific method to the satisfaction of the vast majority of the scientific community. 

There is No Explanation for Why a God Would Exist Instead of Nothing

Now I will proceed to establish the most important point in my case—that there is no reason why a god would exist instead of nothing. 

This point is important because of how the topic question for this debate is structured.  The question is decisively not “why is there a universe instead of nothing?”  Rather, it is “why is there something rather than nothing?”  This distinction is a small but significant one, because while I am proposing that only the universe exists Mr. Cook is proposing that something exists outside of the universe.  He is proposing that there is an intelligent being, capable of monitoring every movement of every particle at every point in time, capable of orchestrating the dance of 100 billion galaxies across empty space, capable of manipulating evolution in order to create one very specific species of primate, and capable of feeling human emotions like love and sadness.  Such a being requires an explanation for its existence, just as the universe does (perhaps more so.)  

If Mr. Cook cannot provide an explanation for why such a being should exist instead of nothing, then he cannot be considered the winner of this debate. 

Unfortunately for modern apologists, the ancient Hebrews neglected to write a “back-story” for Yahweh, the way the Greeks, for instance, did for their better thought out mythologies about Zeus and company.  Genesis gives no account for Yahweh prior to his creation of the Earth other than to say his spirit floated on some great body of water. 

Now, I am going to be very careful here because I am flirting with an Argumentum ad Ignorantium and I want to make sure no one can read a fallacy into this argument.  What I am not saying is that because Mr. Cook cannot explain the existence of a god, one cannot exist.  That would be fallacious.  What I am saying is that if parts of the theistic worldview require inexplicable phenomenon, a theistic worldview cannot be have greater explanatory power than an atheistic worldview.  That is a key distinction to keep in mind, least Mr. Cook charge me with constructing an Argument from Ignorance.  Remember, we are not debating whether or not a god exists—we are debating which worldview is better able to answer the question “why is there something rather than nothing?” 


In conclusion, you have heard here three good reasons to believe that an atheistic worldview is more capable than a theistic worldview of answering the question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?”  Those reasons are: 

1.       A theistic worldview cannot account for many features of our universe that an atheistic worldview can account for. 

2.       There are natural explanations for why a universe would exist instead of nothing.

3.       There is no explanation for why a god would exist instead of nothing.

If Mr. Cook wishes for you to believe that he has won this debate, he will have to tear down all three of these arguments and erect a case of his own in their place that establishes how a theistic worldview answers the question “why is there something rather than nothing?”  Good luck to him—he will need it.

My opponent's opening argument can be found here:


  1. I typically put it this way:

    An all-powerful, all-knowing, intelligent being with the capacity to create something out of nothing is the LEAST likely explanation that I can think of for the origins of the universe. (Even "creators" need raw materials to make things anyway, right?)

    To think that an intelligent being with unlimited powers somehow just "existed" BEFORE anything else did is even more ridiculous than believing that things always "just were."

    To believe in that kind of "creative" power is to believe in magic: an all powerful genie out of a lamp just "poof" created everything from nothing and yet existed somehow prior to all of it. That is the most far-fetched explanation I can possibly imagine.

  2. Wow, what a great blog and thank you for that wonderfully put arguement. Although I do believe in everything you just said and although I do not base any of my assumptions on a book written 2000 years ago by many different writers and changed over the centuries I do "feel" there is something outside the physical Universe, that which I choose to call God. I guess it is the energy that made everything happen, and keeps all the atoms goin. Atoms are made up of 99.99 percent energy and 0.01 percent stuff. It is the energy I think of as God. It is outside our 5 senses, but it is real. I do not view God as a man who sits on a thrown, holds judgement and created everything. I rather look at everything as God, as everything holds 99.99 percent energy or God. I have no arguement for this, other than I chose to believe it and it makes me feel good and purposeful in this world (believing too that thoughts are things and part of the 99.99 percent). It is interesting that the more spiritual I have become, the more I understand the view of the atheist and value it. There is no judgement there, and I often feel compelled to lean that way, yet I prefer to keep God in my life. In my opinion the ateist theory wins hands down. Sorry Cody, liked your arguement, just don't buy it.

  3. @Anonymous 2, Thank you for your comment! Hopefully the debate will continue to be interesting to you in the next round, which will be posted on Thursday.

    Your position on "god" is called pantheism--the idea that god and the universe are the same thing--one that was actually shared by Einstein and, in his early days, by Stephen Hawking (although Hawking has began to self-identify as an atheist now.)

    It definitely makes sense that you would be more sympathetic to my position than Cody's, as the difference is just a small step between pantheism and atheism compared to the vast gulf between pantheism and the Christian belief in a conscious authority that created the entire universe for the benefit of one species of primate on one single planet, that feels human emotions like love and sadness and that transformed himself into a primate in Bronze Age Palestine in order to sacrifice himself to himself to get around a rule he made himself.

    In fact, your sensibility of interconnectedness is entirely warranted when you consider the fact that every atom that makes up your body was cooked in the oven of an ancient star, and that the atoms in your right hand were formed in a different ancient star than those in your left!

    If you do believe that god is energy, though, I would go as far as to call you as much of a materialist as me. After all, Einstein demonstrated that energy and mass (therefore matter) are the same with his famous equation E=MC^2. I have no disagreement with you other than a semantic one over your use of the word "god".

  4. I should clarify how an atom is configured in light of Anonymous2's comment. Yes, as Ben said, matter and energy are the same. In fact you may call matter a condensation of energy. However, Anonymous2 is incorrect on the structure of the atom. In reality, an atom is 0.001% of this matter/energy and 99.999% empty space.

    Now, on to read Mr. Cook's argument.

  5. Comment 1:
    "In fact, ever physically traveling to anywhere outside of our solar system seems almost impossible..."

    This is not the case. Such trips could easily be made within a human lifetime. Say you had a ship that could travel at 99% the speed of light. Then a trip to nearby Earthlike planet, Gliese 581 g, would be just under 35 months. The kicker is that in that time, everyone on Earth would have aged about 21 years.

    Comment 2:
    "...each with their own E.T. Jesus..."

    Be careful. You are bordering on an appeal to ridicule here. Let the evidence speak for itself.

    Comment 3:
    "3. There is no explanation for why a god would exist instead of nothing."

    Perhaps this needs to be reworded? There are plenty of explanations. What we need is a 'good' explanation--one that can easily be shown incorrect when presented with contradicting evidence. For example, say you have an explanation of the existence of God based on the complexity of life but are then shown that life emerges naturally from biochemical processes. You can easily change your explanation to say that God created the biochemicals, or the chemicals or the fusion of the atoms... etc. Perhaps you should say something like:

    "There is no explanation which is unique under examination of the universe for the existence of God."

  6. Thanks for the clarification on the atom, TM! Always good to have a science guy around.

    Comment 1: It is my understanding that as an object approaches the speed of light, it increases its mass to extremely high levels, making doing so practically impossible. This was the physical law that I was referring to. You seem to be more knowledgeable on this subject than I am, though, so please correct me if I am under a misapprehension.

    Comment 2: Here I was presenting a reductio ad absurdum, which is typically considered a legitimate way to argue.

    Comment 3: I think you may have misunderstood me. Here I was not saying that there is no explanation(good or otherwise) that proves the existence of a god. I was actually saying there is no reason why a god would exist in the first place. Essentially, nothing to create the creator.

    We can explain why humans exist by referencing evolution by natural selection. But since god is not physical and exists outside of time, a process like that could not explain how a god came to exist or why a god exists necessarily.

    Does that clarify my point a bit? I apologize if my wording was not clear.

    Thank you very much for your well-articulated and intelligent feedback, TM!

  7. No, reductio ad absurdum becomes a logical fallacy in this case, since Mr. Cook's assertion is that mankind is special over other animals, terrestrial or otherwise. This statement misrepresents your opponents position.

  8. I forgot to address your understanding of special relativity. In the reference frame of the Earth, one would see a space ship get more massive, reduce in length, and experience time more slowly. This mass is a relativistic mass which includes the energy an object has from moving a high velocities (remember mass and energy are the same thing). However, from the reference frame of the ship, one would see a higher relativistic mass of the Earth, a reduction in length of the distance to the destination planet, and so forth. These two seemingly contradictory viewpoints are reconciled physically and mathematically by the fact that both observers view light to travel at the same speed.

    The point to walk away with is that the physical changes always take place in reference frames other than your own.

  9. Sounds good to me, but I've never studied logic or debating so I can't address that aspect.

    The ET Jesus isn't as whimsical as you think - I think it was Catholicism that, when it became clear that there could be intelligent life on other planets, debated whether Jesus would have to die on each one, or the one time would work for everyone! That brings up the question...if he only had to die once, does that mean we were the first intelligent life?

    Reaching the speed of light might be difficult, but a reasonable fraction might suffice. However, (1) we aren't even close to being able to do that and (2) the effects of the high acceleration on the human body would be an even more serious consideration.

  10. Yes, I left a lot of real engineering out of my space ship. But we don't need to be limited by the effects of the acceleration. Say we had a ship that could accelerate to mimic Earth's gravity, i.e. accelerate at g = 9.8 m/s^2. Then we would reach 99% the speed of light in less than a year simply by experiencing the same conditions we experience everyday. The rub is supplying the energy required and protecting the ship from the incoming blue-shifted radiation.

  11. I think that there is something rather than nothing simply because it could happen. IMO, everything that can happen will happen eventually given enough time and that obviously includes us.

    I also think that an omnipotent entity would need absolutely nothing, including the universe and us. Deliberate creation of a universe would necessarily need to satisfy a need of some kind whatever that need may be. It would otherwise be pointless.

  12. Atheists don't need to explain why there is something rather than nothing in order to show that "godidit" is not an answer.

    "supernatural explanations are always empty explanations. That is to say, 'the gods did it' is invariably a bad explanation because, as you can see, to invoke that explanation I didn't even have to say what it is they did. It could 'explain' anything whatsoever and hence actually explains nothing."

    Dr David Deutsch.

  13. Too many weak arguments. Incorrect ones as well.

    For instance:
    "Genesis informs us that the stars exist so that we can mark the seasons."

    Genesis also tells us that stars emitting light serve other functions. Stars also continually bombards Earth with photons. Stars are also used for signs.

    Stars do effectively mark seasons. Just because there are extra stars we cannot see with the naked eye, does not make this statement false. So what, extra stars exist.

    Stars are very important for time reference and serve as celestial clocks. The Earth is continually bombarded by photons emitted by stars we cannot see with the naked eye. We make creative use of this light in countless ways when making time based calculations and establishing references. Astronomers and physicist conduct numerous experiments, making observations, collecting data that goes into very important work that is carried out here on Earth.

    Who's to say what creative potential we possess. Scriptures clearly indicate the vastness of human potential. We have far too limited understanding of things for you to make such limiting statements.
    Genesis 11:6
    Daniel 12:4

    PS: You are referring to the God of the Bible. Which is a proper noun requiring capitalization. Note that I am not correcting you are grammar here. The more I debate people who presuppose the non-existence of God, the more I see through their red herring arguments. On the surface, people of your ilk are not really debating the existence of God. It is much deeper than this. You're attempt at constructing sophisticated scientific and philosophical arguments is nothing more than a fig leaf to hide behind. There's nothing wrong with your head. This is a matter of the heart. God cannot be mocked. You are working yourself into a very dangerous corner. You will ultimately prove yourself out of existence.

  14. XO, you make a good point. The general concensus is to capitalize the "God of the Bible" and not general "gods". I always capitalize God just as I would capitalize the proper name of any other fictional character, like Goldilocks, or Moses.

    The purpose of Blog Wars wasn't to prove God's existence or nonexistence but to argue which perspective was better to answer the question "Why is there something rather than nothing?" Actually, I just read a book that gives the answer from a scientific perspective - there is "something" because "nothing" is unstable!

  15. Thanks SueT.

    First, a quick grammar check on myself s/You're/Your/ ;).

    I wasn't attempting to create an argument outside of the context of this series. Just developing supporting arguments to drive home a raised point.

    The theme for this BLOG (and the author's BIO) is strongly typed by the global banner located at the top of this article, viz. Psalm 14:1.

  16. XO,

    Sorry, I didn't mean to imply that you were out of bounds. I just wanted to put the arguments you saw in context. Maybe it will help, but maybe not!

    You're right, it is a matter of the heart, as stated in Psalm 14:1!

  17. The light of consciousness is shown to us by God. Without this light, you do not exist. Spirits embodied, and then freed...shown the way to a communion of spirit that will forever glow amongst the vast darkness. There is "something"...and...there is "nothing".