You can find part 1 here.
As I said in the last post, my friend UnkleE gave me a series of questions recently that he believes present difficult problems for an atheist’s worldview. I had forgotten, but we’ve actually had similar discussions before, and you can find them here, here, and here (thanks for the reminder, Howie).
Anyway, this time around, one of the questions UnkleE asked was this:
How did something arise out of nothing? (Or how can a series of events have no start?)
As my regular readers know, I was a devout, fundamentalist Christian for many years. When my doubts began reaching their peak, I still didn’t seriously question the existence of God. While I was approaching certainty that the Judeo-Christian god couldn’t be real, questions like the one above led me to join the camp of numerous others who were certain that there must be some kind of creator.
But as time went on, I began to realize that there’s a gigantic assumption built into that question. We’re looking at the observable state of things that assuming that “NOTHING” must have preceded it. But how do we know that?
Those who believe in some kind of creator are asking if we accept Big Bang cosmology, then what preceded the singularity that caused the Big Bang? And of course, no one knows. But we should not assume that the default state of things is “nothingness.” If there were no stars in our universe, we might say that it’s empty and that “nothing” is there. But that would make as much sense as being in a room with absolutely no light and saying that “nothing” is there, too. Empty space is actually full of all kinds of particles and forces that scientists puzzle over, so it’s not really true to call it “nothing” or even “empty.” In fact, true “nothingness” has never been demonstrated. We can’t be certain that it’s even a possibility.
And this, to me, is the center of the problem with this question. It’s very possible that the question itself is nonsensical, and if that’s the case, it can’t be used as the basis for an argument.
When it comes down to what caused the Big Bang, we just don’t know. And since time and space appear to be intertwined, perhaps it doesn’t even make sense to talk about something that predates spacetime. Again, we don’t know.
Atheism, as I use it, is just lack of belief in a god. I’m always open to the possibility that one exists, or that reality as we know it is dependent upon something way beyond our current understanding. We’re learning new things all the time. But as has been pointed out by plenty of people before me, the time to believe in a thing is when sufficient evidence has been provided for it. The question “How did something arise out of nothing?” may not be a good question. And even if it is, perhaps there’s a natural answer to it — we simply don’t know. But it certainly does not count as evidence for the supernatural, much less a supernatural, powerful being with its own personality.
Simply put, I don’t find this to be a difficult question for atheism. But even if it were, I don’t think theism would be in a much better position to answer it. If this universe is so complex that people can’t imagine how it could exist without a creator, what does that say about a creator complex enough to create such a universe? And of course, the typical response to that is to define God as eternal, thus not needing a cause. But why couldn’t such an explanation apply to the elements and forces that preceded the Big Bang?
To put it another way, ignorance is not the basis for an argument. Thousands of years ago, no one knew what caused lightning. Many people were happy to suggest that it was caused by the gods. Anyone skeptical of that suggestion at the time couldn’t offer a better hypothesis, but that certainly didn’t mean that those who had a guess were right. Nor were they justified in believing those claims, because ignorance is not evidence.