When we speak of God’s act of creation, we speak of “ex nihilo” creation. If you’re Latin’s a little rusty, “ex nihilo” means “out of nothing”; so we are talking about God creating the universe out of nothing. But is that just nonsense? What about the idea that “out of nothing, nothing comes”? You might remember Julie Andrews singing something similar in The Sound of Music, (“…Nothing comes from nothing / Nothing ever could…”), but that’s actually a much older idea that dates back to the ancient Greeks, who believed in an eternal universe. Were they right? Let’s investigate that.
There are some prerequisite propositions that need to be understood. We propose first that God exists “necessarily”, and second, that nothing else does. This then requires creation out of nothing. What do these propositions mean, and what warrant do we have for them? Necessary existence means that God is not contingent, that there is no possible time or place, no “possible world” or alternate dimension, where God does not exist. Even in a scenario where there were no universe, God would still exist. You and I, however, are contingent. The world was moving along fine before we arrived and will keep right on going long after we’re gone. In fact, all of humanity – all of life – is contingent. On this, Christians and atheists can agree. While we claim to know how life first arose (based on the revelation from God, the author of life, in the Bible), atheists continue to search for a naturalistic mechanism to explain abiogenesis (life arising from nonlife). So we agree that life didn’t always exist. But matter, energy, space, and time are a different story.
That brings us to our second proposition: there can only be one necessary existence, whether that’s a being, or a force, or an object. Everything else is contingent on that one, whether directly or indirectly through a long chain of dependencies. If a second something could necessarily exist, then the first necessary existence wouldn’t really be… well, necessary. For both the Christian and the atheist, there is ultimately no escape from the Law of Causality. Cause and effect invariably has to lead back to a necessary, uncaused first cause – that is, something without beginning, or eternal. For everything that has a beginning must have a cause. For the Christian, that first cause is obviously God. God has power, knowledge, the ability to choose, and transcends space and time. God is therefore easily eligible to be considered a first cause.
For the atheist, however, there are some serious complications. If “out of nothing, nothing comes,” then something has to be eternal. Before the Big Bang was proposed, this was assumed to be the universe. But now we have roughly a century of scientific confirmation that the universe can’t fulfill that role. Whatever your thoughts on the Big Bang theory and the age of the universe currently assigned to it, one thing it won’t let us say is that the universe is static, and therefore eternal. The universe is a material thing – planets, comets, asteroids, stars, interstellar dust, and so forth. These things exist in space and time. But now we understand that space and time are tied together and both had a definite beginning point. It’s not that matter came into existence in an eternal empty universe; it’s that there was no space for matter to occupy until that singularity called the Big Bang (or Creation). It’s hard to have a materialistic origin of the universe when it’s impossible for material to exist. More recent attempts to postulate a “multiverse” of universes are ultimately only semantics that simply kick the proverbial can down the road. Likewise, appeals to matter coming into existence from “fluctuations in quantum vacuum fields” assume there is still some space for these fields to exist, but at the origin of the universe, space doesn’t exist yet.
Despite the varied confirmations that the universe had a beginning at some kind of singularity, scientists have struggled to postulate a purely materialistic origin scenario for that singularity. The laws of physics appear to break down at that point. Any potential traces of prior material existence (like a cyclical universe) are completely obliterated in the singularity. Even if a purely natural origin of the universe were true, it could never be scientifically proven because there’s no way to observe any evidence of what led up to that moment. This puts the atheist in the awkward position of having to trust in the hope that science will “someday” find evidence for what appears to be an untestable, unfalsifiable gamble against God as Creator. This sounds like the “blind faith” that atheists often accuse Christians of having….
But what of the alternative? Does God, as described in the Bible, match what we see in nature? We see from science that time and space had to be caused by something outside of time and space. The Bible tells us that God is both immaterial and eternal. Science tells us that time and space both had a beginning. The Bible tells us that “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Why does it just say “in the beginning”? Because time did not exist prior to that; it really was the beginning of time. So, can something come from nothing? Yes, science points us to this conclusion as the time-space continuum comes into existence at the cosmic singularity commonly known as the Big Bang. The Bible tells us that God is He who “calls into being that which does not exist.“ The critical distinction here is that while something can come into existence from nothing, it can’t come into existence by nothing. Everything that has a beginning must have a cause, including the universe. And the only answer that makes sense of what we observe is God.