ONE SELDOM HEARS PHILOSOPHICAL PRINCIPLES SUNG IN BROADWAY MUSICALS, even accidentally. But when Maria and Captain von Trapp confess their love for one another in The Sound of Music, through the song “Something Good” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k_ukUlu0x5k), they sing out one of the most basic philosophical intuitions: “Nothing comes from nothing! Nothing ever could!” The theme of the song is that their love must have sprung from something good in their past; it couldn’t have just sprung up from nothing at all.
Ex nihilo, nihil fit: “Out of nothing, nothing comes.” This is one of those philosophical concepts that is just common sense clarified (and given a Latin translation), like cogito ergo sum: “I think, therefore I am”. If you think about it, you can’t really doubt your own existence (try it sometime), and—unless you are a small child and can literally engage in “magical thinking”—you can’t really believe that things can pop into existence all by themselves from absolutely nothing, or for no reason at all. This idea goes back at least to the Greek philosopher Parmenides, around 500 BC. It received a definitive Christian exposition from the medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas, who used the concept in his argument that the universe required a First Cause to account for its existence. More recently, Christian philosopher William Lane Craig incorporates the concept of ex nihilo, nihil fit into his re-working of the cosmological argument for God’s existence (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6CulBuMCLg). The cosmological argument shows that the universe—the cosmos—logically requires a Creator God to explain its existence. The form of Craig’s argument is as simple as “one, two, three”:
1 Everything that begins to exist has a cause for its existence.
2 The universe began to exist.
3 Therefore, the universe has a Cause for its existence.
Craig finishes his argument by pointing out that this cause for the universe cannot be part of, or within, the universe, so the cause must be non-material, spaceless, timeless, and personal. The “personal” part is required for the decision to create a universe in the first place, since only persons make willful decisions. A “non-material, spaceless, timeless, personal Creator of the universe” sounds like a pretty good basic definition of God. Craig argues that the only two alternative possibilities, that the universe is eternal—it has existed forever—or that it somehow sprang uncaused out of nothing for no reason at all, violate basic common sense and clear philosophical intuitions.
But, about the universe not being eternal, that’s not all—as Craig, and many other philosophers and scientists also point out. The best scientific evidence is that the universe had an absolute beginning about 13.8 billion years ago in what has come to be called the Big Bang. The Big Bang itself was not the cause of the universe, it is simply the description of the very beginning of the universe—the coming into existence of time, space, matter, and energy.
IF THE UNIVERSE BEGAN TO EXIST, IT HAS A CAUSE FOR ITS EXISTENCE—God, the Maker of Heaven and Earth. This implication of the Big Bang has been well-known—and still often fought against tooth-and-nail—since the theory was first proposed. Avoidance mechanisms abound to try and side-step a finite universe with an absolute beginning and a cosmic Creator; avoidance mechanisms such as physicist Lawrence Krauss’ contention that the universe could have arisen from “nothing” as a fluctuation in a quantum vacuum (see A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing), or physicist Alexander Vilenkin’s multiple universe theory (see Many Worlds in One: The Search for Other Universes). But Krauss has been criticized for seriously misunderstanding the concept of “nothing” and for not even touching on the “why” question in his theoretical exposition. Vilenkin himself admits that even if the multiple universe theory is true, this still does not avoid a beginning: “All the evidence we have says the universe had a beginning” (http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/vilenkins-verdict-all-the-evidence-we-have-says-that-the-universe-had-a-beginning/).
Robert Jastrow (d. 2008)—astronomer, NASA scientist, and founding director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies—writing in 1978 summed up the scientific situation concerning creation, which still prevails today:
“At this moment it seems as though science will never be able to raise the curtain on the mystery of creation. For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountain of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.” (from God and the Astronomers)
EVEN BEFORE THE THEOLOGIANS, THE PROPHETS AND APOSTLES declared the God who in the beginning created the heavens and the earth. As Paul wrote: “Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Romans 1:20); and David proclaimed, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalm 19:1).