In the beginning God created—or was it a quantum fluctuation?
Published: 21 November 2013 (GMT+10)
In one sense, Genesis 1:1 is the most important verse in the Bible: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” If we can believe this verse, no other verse in the Bible should be a problem. For example, if God can create the whole universe, then raising people from the dead and causing a virgin to conceive would be easy beyond words.
Also, in this one verse, all other false religions are rejected:1
|Atheism: there is no God.2||
|Agnosticism: it is impossible to know whether God exists.3||
|Dualism: Good and Evil are eternally co-existent (as Zoroastrians believe).||
|Finite-god views (e.g. Open Theism and Process Theology).||
|Evolutionism: that goo became you via the zoo.||
|Humanism: man is the measure of all things.||
|Materialism: Matter (or mass-energy) is the only reality. This is a synonym of:
Naturalism: natural laws describe all things.
|Pantheism: all is god; god and creation are the same thing.||
|Panentheism: “all is in god”.||
|Polytheism: there is more than one god||
|Unitarianism (that God is an absolute unity, e.g. Islam, modern Judaism, Jehovah’s Witness doctrine, classical unitarianism).||
Conversely, if we can’t trust this verse, then nothing else in the Bible makes sense. Since this verse is so foundational, it is not surprising that atheists have feverishly attacked this concept. Some of the attacks are childish, while others have the veneer of philosophy or advanced science.
Who created God?
The Bible doesn’t attempt to prove that God exists—it proclaims this truth as obvious. But a common question from little children (and not-so-little atheists) is: “If God created the universe, then who created God?” Or, “If everything has a cause, then who caused God?” But no serious apologist ever argued that way. As we have pointed out in several articles and books, one of the main real arguments is:
- Everything which has a beginning has a cause.5
- The universe has a beginning.
- Therefore the universe has a cause.6,7
The words in bold are important—it is not everything that has a cause, but only everything which begins to exist. The universe requires a cause because it had a beginning. This can be shown by the Laws of Thermodynamics. The First Law of Thermodynamics states that natural processes can neither create nor destroy mass-energy (mass-energy interchange can occur according to E = mc2, but the total remains the same). But the Second Law states that the amount of energy available for work is running out, or entropy is increasing to a maximum. If the total amount of mass-energy is limited, and the amount of usable energy is decreasing, then the universe cannot have existed forever. Otherwise, it would already have exhausted all usable energy—the ‘heat death’ of the universe. For example, all radioactive atoms would have decayed, every part of the universe would be the same temperature, and no further work would be possible. So the obvious corollary is that the universe began a finite time ago with a lot of usable energy, and is now running down.
In addition, Einstein’s general relativity, which has much experimental support, shows that time is linked to matter and space. So time itself would have begun along with matter and space, an insight first pointed out by Augustine in the fourth century. Since God, by definition, is the Creator of the whole universe, he is the Creator of time. Therefore, He is not limited by the time dimension He created, so has no beginning in time—God is “the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy” (Isaiah 57:15). Therefore, He doesn’t have a cause.
Cause and Effect
It is a metaphysical principle that things which begin have a cause, but it is also self-evident—no-one really denies it in his heart.
All science and history would collapse if this law of cause and effect were denied. So would all law enforcement, if the police didn’t think they needed to find a cause for a stabbed body or a burgled house. Also, the universe cannot be self-caused—nothing can create itself, because that would mean that it existed before it came into existence, which is a logical absurdity.
Despite this, the favourite philosopher of modern atheists, the Scotsman David Hume (1711–1776), disagreed. He taught that one might conceive of something coming into being without a cause.
However, British analytic philosopher (and conservative Roman Catholic) G.E.M. (Elizabeth) Anscombe (1919–2001) argued cogently that no one really conceives of any such thing.8 To paraphrase one of her points, suppose that a banana suddenly appeared on your plate. You would not think, “Hume was right after all—this banana really did come into being without a cause.” No, you would think, “How did that banana get there?” and look for the likely cause. Maybe there was a hole in the ceiling above it, or in the plate below it. If that were ruled out, then maybe you were temporarily unaware of your surroundings, and in that time, someone placed the banana there without your noticing. Failing that, maybe a magician’s trick, or even a miracle, was the cause. Regardless, even an unknown cause would be more likely than no cause.
Further, Anscombe pointed out, we would be less likely to think that this banana came into being than that it already existed and was somehow moved to the place. I.e. the cause was in transportation not in creation out of nothing.9,10
So even though Hume claimed that one could easily conceive of something coming into being without a cause, in reality, he likely never really conceived any such thing. Indeed, it seems impossible to conceive. Hume himself, in more lucid moments, even admitted as much:
But allow me to tell you that I never asserted so absurd a Proposition as that anything might arise without a cause: I only maintain’d, that our Certainty of the Falsehood of that Proposition proceeded neither from Intuition nor Demonstration; but from another Source.11
Universe from nothing?
Despite the above, a number of atheists have claimed that the universe really came from ‘nothing’. For example, an article about Alan Guth (1947– ), the pioneer of the inflationary universe (see ch. 6), stated:
The universe burst into something from absolutely nothing—zero, nada. And as it got bigger, it became filled with even more stuff that came from absolutely nowhere. How is that possible? Ask Alan Guth. His theory of inflation helps explain everything.12
More recently, physicist and atheistic propagandist Lawrence Krauss (1954– ) has promoted this notion, and even wrote a book, A Universe from Nothing,13 which had a glowing afterword by prominent atheist Richard Dawkins.14 However, Luke Barnes, a non-creationist astrophysicist who is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Sydney Institute for Astronomy, University of Sydney, Australia, is scathing about Krauss and those who argue like him:
First and foremost, I’m getting really rather sick of cosmologists talking about universes being created out of nothing. Krauss repeatedly talked about universes coming out of nothing, particles coming out of nothing, different types of nothing, nothing being unstable. This is nonsense. The word nothing is often used loosely—I have nothing in my hand, there’s nothing in the fridge etc. But the proper definition of nothing is “not anything”. Nothing is not a type of something, not a kind of thing. It is the absence of anything.
Some of the best examples of the fallacy of equivocation involve treating the word nothing as if it were a type of something:
- Margarine is better than nothing.
- Nothing is better than butter.
- Thus, margarine is better than butter.
We can uncover the fallacy by simply rephrasing the premises, avoiding the word nothing:
- It is better to have margarine than to not have anything.
- There does not exist anything that is better than butter.
The conclusion (margarine is better than butter) does not follow from these premises.15
Does a quantum fluctuation solve the problem?
Some physicists assert that quantum mechanics violates this cause/effect principle and can produce something from nothing. For instance, Paul Davies writes:
… spacetime could appear out of nothingness as a result of a quantum transition. … Particles can appear out of nowhere without specific causation … the world of quantum mechanics routinely produces something out of nothing.16
But this is a gross misapplication of quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics never produces something out of nothing. Davies himself admitted on the previous page that his scenario ‘should not be taken too seriously.’ Also, theories that the universe is a quantum fluctuation must presuppose that there was something to fluctuate—their ‘quantum vacuum’ is a lot of matter-antimatter potential—not ‘nothing’. So this is another equivocation.
However, Krauss is still resorting to these fallacies, as Luke Barnes points out, explaining in more detail how the term ‘nothing’ is misused:
Now let’s look at Krauss’ claims again. Does it make sense to say that there are different types of not anything? That not anything is not stable? This is bollocks. What Krauss is really talking about is the quantum vacuum. The quantum vacuum is a type of something. It has properties. It has energy, it fluctuates, it can cause the expansion of the universe to accelerate, it obeys the (highly non-trivial) equations of quantum field theory. We can describe it. We can calculate, predict and falsify its properties. The quantum vacuum is not nothing.
This suggests a very simple test for those who wish to talk about nothing: if what you are talking about has properties, then it is not nothing. It is pure equivocation to refer to the quantum vacuum as nothing when a philosopher starts asking the question “why is there something rather than nothing?”. She is not asking “why are there particles rather than just a quantum vacuum?”. She is asking “why does anything exist at all?”. As Stephen Hawking once asked, why does the universe go to all the bother of existing?
We can now see that this question cannot be answered by any of the methods we normally call scientific. Scientific theories are necessarily theories of something, some physical reality. Equations describe properties, and thus describe something. There cannot be equations that describe not-anything. Write down any equation you like—you will not be able to deduce from that equation that the thing that it describes must exist in the real world. Existence is not a predicate, as Kant memorably explained.17
Barnes’ objections to Krauss’s equivocations are shared by philosopher David Albert, professor of philosophy at Columbia University, NY, who also has a doctorate in theoretical physics. He reviewed Krauss’s book critically in the New York Times, not known for friendliness to orthodox Christianity:
Where, for starters, are the laws of quantum mechanics themselves supposed to have come from? Krauss is more or less upfront, as it turns out, about not having a clue about that. He acknowledges (albeit in a parenthesis, and just a few pages before the end of the book) that everything he has been talking about simply takes the basic principles of quantum mechanics for granted. …
Krauss seems to be thinking that these vacuum states amount to the relativistic-quantum-field-theoretical version of there not being any physical stuff at all. And he has an argument—or thinks he does—that the laws of relativistic quantum field theories entail that vacuum states are unstable. And that, in a nutshell, is the account he proposes of why there should be something rather than nothing.
But that’s just not right. Relativistic-quantum-field-theoretical vacuum states—no less than giraffes or refrigerators or solar systems—are particular arrangements of elementary physical stuff. The true relativistic-quantum-field-theoretical equivalent to there not being any physical stuff at all isn’t this or that particular arrangement of the fields—what it is (obviously, and ineluctably, and on the contrary) is the simple absence of the fields! The fact that some arrangements of fields happen to correspond to the existence of particles and some don’t is not a whit more mysterious than the fact that some of the possible arrangements of my fingers happen to correspond to the existence of a fist and some don’t. And the fact that particles can pop in and out of existence, over time, as those fields rearrange themselves, is not a whit more mysterious than the fact that fists can pop in and out of existence, over time, as my fingers rearrange themselves. And none of these poppings—if you look at them aright—amount to anything even remotely in the neighborhood of a creation from nothing.18
Krauss’s is just the latest in a series of philosophically inept books by the soi-disant ‘new atheists’. It’s hard to disagree with the Thomist19 philosopher Edward Feser, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Pasadena City College:
The spate of bad books on philosophy and religion by prominent scientists—Dawkins’ The God Delusion, Hawking and Mlodinow’s The Grand Design, and Atkins’ On Being, among others—is notable not only for the sophomoric philosophical and theological errors they contain but also for their sheer repetitiveness. Krauss’ fallacious account of how something can come from nothing, though presented as a great breakthrough, and praised as such by Dawkins in his afterword, is largely a rehash of ideas already put forward by Hawking, Mlodinow, and some less eminent physics popularizers. Dawkins has been peddling the “Who created the creator?” meme since the eighties.
Critics have exposed their errors and fallacies again and again. Yet these writers keep repeating them anyway, for the most part simply ignoring the critics. What accounts for this? To paraphrase a famous remark of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s, I would suggest that a picture holds these thinkers captive, a picture of the quantitative methods of modern science that have made possible breathtaking predictive and technological successes.20
The Bible presupposes that God began the universe. The fact of the universe’s beginning points strongly to a Creator consistent with the biblical God. Some atheists, following Hume, have asserted that something can begin without a cause, but this is not only unreasonable, it is arguably inconceivable. The ‘New Atheists’ have resorted to quantum bluffing to claim that something really can come from nothing. But they must equivocate about the word ‘nothing’. This really should mean nothing—no properties. However, their proposed quantum vacuum is not nothing; it must be something, with properties—e.g. the quantum vacuum, which is being bound by the laws of quantum physics, so that it can ‘fluctuate’.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” It stands to reason.
- Similar lists are in Morris, The Genesis Record, A scientific and devotional commentary on the Book of Beginnings, p. 38, Baker Book House, Grand Rapid, MI, 1976, p. 38; and Fruchtenbaum,A.G., The Book of Genesis, p. 35, Ariel’s Bible Commentary, Ariel Ministries, San Antonio, TX, 2009. Return to text.
- See this comprehensive analysis and refutation: Ammi, K., Atheism, creation.com/atheism, 11 June 2009; and Christianity for Skeptics, ch. 3. Return to text.
- This is the ‘hard’ form of ‘agnosticism’, as coined by ‘Darwin’s Bulldog’, T.H. Huxley (see also Grigg, R., Darwin’s bulldog—Thomas H. Huxley, Creation, 31(3):39–41, 2009; creation.com/huxley). A ‘soft agnostic’ merely claims himself not to know that there is a God. Return to text.
- Theologians first used the word ‘omnipotent’ (all-powerful) to mean that God has no limitations from outside Himself. See Sarfati, J., If God can do anything, then can He make a being more powerful than Himself? What does God’s omnipotence really mean? creation.com/omnipotence, 12 January 2008. Return to text.
- Actually, the word ‘cause’ has several different meanings in philosophy. But in this section, we are referring to the efficient cause, the chief agent causing something to happen. Return to text.
- See also Christianity for Skeptics, ch. 1. This is called the Kalām Cosmological Argument. It goes back to the church theologian Bonaventure (1221–1274), and was also advocated by medieval Arabic philosophers. The word kalām is the Arabic word for ‘speech’, but its broader semantic range includes ‘philosophical theism’ or ‘natural theology’. The kalām argument’s most prominent modern defender is the philosopher and apologist Dr William Lane Craig (1949– ): The Kalām Cosmological Argument, Barnes & Noble, New York, 1979. Unfortunately, Dr Craig compromises on the plain meaning of Genesis—see William Lane Craig’s intellectually dishonest attack on biblical creationists. Return to text.
- Other apologists have used different arguments. For example, the leading medieval theologian and apologist Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225–1274), while he believed that the universe began in time because the Bible said so, didn’t think this could be proved philosophically. Instead, in his famous ‘five ways’ (Summa Theologiae, Question 2, The existence of God) he argued that even if the universe had no beginning, then it would still not exist or undergo change here and now unless there were a necessary being, ‘prime mover’, and ‘first cause’, who upholds the universe in its moment-by-moment existence. “This all men speak of as God.” That is, while the Kalām argument concerns God’s creative work, Aquinas’s arguments are for God’s sustaining work since He finished His creation on Day 7 (Genesis 2:1–3). Then Aquinas spends hundreds of pages arguing that the ‘God’ with these properties would be perfectly good, all-powerful, and all-knowing. Return to text.
- Anscombe, G.E.M., “Whatever has a beginning of existence must have a cause”: Hume’s argument exposed, Collected Philosophical Papers, Volume 1, Basil Blackwell, 1981. Return to text.
- Anscombe, G.E.M., Times, beginnings and causes, in her Collected Philosophical Papers, Volume 2, Basil Blackwell, 1981. Return to text.
- Feser, E., The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism, Kindle Locations 5253-5254, St. Augustine’s Press. Kindle Edition, 2012. Return to text.
- Hume, D., letter to John Stuart, 1754. Return to text.
- Lemley, B., Guth’s grand guess, Discover 23(4):32–39, April 2002; discovermagazine.com. Return to text.
- Krauss, M., A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather than Nothing, Free Press, 2012. See also review by Reynolds, D.W., J. Creation, 27(1):30–35, 2013. Return to text.
- Hear also this radio episode, Militant anti-Theism, hijacking science and Dawkins & Krauss on Redemption Radio, Redemption Radio, 22 February 2012, where I was interviewed for about two hours to critique a misotheistic love-fest between Krauss and Dawkins at Arizona University, redemptionradio.podbean.com/2012/02/22/militant-anti-theism-hijacking-science-and-dawkins-krauss-on-redemption-radio. Return to text.
- Barnes, L., Out of nothing, letterstonature.wordpress.com, 1 April 2011. Return to text.
- Davies, P., God and the New Physics, p. 215, Simon & Schuster, 1983. Return to text.
- Barnes, Out of nothing, Ref. 13. Return to text.
- Albert, D., On the Origin of Everything: review of A Universe From Nothing, by Lawrence M. Krauss, New York Times, 23 March 2012; nytimes.com. Return to text.
- That is, a follower of Thomas Aquinas and his Aristotelian approach to metaphysics and apologetics. Return to text.
- Feser, E., Not Understanding Nothing, A review of A Universe from Nothing, First Things, June/July 2012; firstthings.com. Return to text.