The nature of existence

Some people believe that in the beginning there was nothing except God. Then God created everything. Other people say God had nothing to do with it, that there was a big bang which resulted in the universe in which we live. But what was there before the Big Bang? Has matter existed forever? The people who say that God created everything believe that matter does not have the power of self-existence, matter cannot create itself. If matter can only exist as the result of a creative act of God, then could matter continue to exist if God ceased to exist? In response to my “It was an act of God” post, Perry said, “A creator can make something but then not be involved in what happens with the invention. For example, I could sew up some juggling bean bags, sell them and not be involved in their subsequent juggling.” But there is a crucial difference. Perry did not cause the materials to come into existence that the bean bags are made of. Perry can take preexisting items and cut, sew and glue them, but he cannot cause them to exist out of nothing. No one knows what it means to be able to create something out of nothing. The pyramids continue to exist even though the Pharoahs are long gone. But how do we know if matter would continue to exist if God could somehow cease to exist? On the other hand, if matter has always existed and never had a beginning and will never have an end, then it seems to me that there is no need for a creator.

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32 thoughts on “The nature of existence

  1. Saying that God always was and always will be is the same as saying that energy always was and always will be. Both statements require a blind leap of faith. I find that people who submit to evolution or the big bang, refuse to “submit” to religion. Often times they find it mundane and pointless. Not to mention they would hate giving up that kind of control over their life. They believe that what ever they believe is truth, egocentric. On the other hand you will find that those who favor the religious point of view refuse to look at all the facts. They pick and choose, and just repeat themselves when something they can’t explain happens. They will close their minds when the thinking is outside their realm. The truth is we are all just looking for an answer to our existence and we can’t prove it either way.

    As for your question of creation. Does an idea require existing materials? Can you not imagine something that doesn’t currently exist? As the creator of a universe I would imagine that is all it would take; as humans we are very limited in our creation in reality, but in our minds we can think of the impossible. I can imagine my own universe where beings fight over whether I was always there or if the universe is a recycling of energy and it doesn’t make their existence any less real in my mind.

  2. @Gothamghost – You make some interesting points but I would disagree that a belief in the Big Bang or Evolution is the same as a belief in Religion.

    Belief in scientific principles are based on available evidence. If there was some compelling enough evidence to the contrary I would abandon a belief in the Big Bang or Evolution. In science, no truth is ever settled. It has nothing to do with control.

    I don’t actually believe we are in control of anything. Everything that is anything started at the Big Bang. It then followed specific laws of physics that were inevitable based on the starting conditions. Every thought, action, and idea is a result of an inevitable chemical reaction. The notion of control is merely an illusion.

    What happened before the Big Bang? No one has an answer to that…yet.

  3. Dedwarmo, I think your comments are very insightful, though I would suggest a slight modification of your last sentence to, “If matter possessed the power of self-existence, then it seems to me that there is no need for a creator.” This slightly refines your phrase, “always existed.” Even then, it seems that matter would have to possess some additional properties, such as free will, in order to be responsible for our existence. Otherwise, it would simply be subject to the laws of thermodynamics and would eventually come to a state of maximum entropy, assuming that the universe is a closed system. Therefore, it seems that matter alone is quite insufficient as an explanation for the existence of the universe.

  4. Bobmo, you said, “Therefore, it seems that matter alone is quite insufficient as an explanation for the existence of the universe.” I agree in that all explanations are insufficient as explanations for the existence of the universe.

  5. All but one, that is. You are familiar with the explanation articulated by William Lane Craig. He argues that the cause of the universe must be an uncaused, changeless, timeless, and immaterial being of unimaginable power. A being with those properties seems to be the only sufficient explanation of the universe.

    In his debate with Massimo Pigliucci, he said, “If the cause were an impersonal set of necessary and sufficient conditions, then the cause could never exist without the effect. If the cause were timelessly present, then the effect would be timelessly present as well. The only way for the cause to be timeless and the effect to begin in time is for the cause to be a personal agent who freely chooses to create an effect in time without any prior determining conditions. Thus, we are brought, not merely to a transcendent cause of the universe, but to its Personal Creator.”

  6. First why does William Lane Craig believe these things?

    1. The effect had a beginning
    2. The cause must have existed without the effect.

    Second, why does anyone pretend to know how or when universe came into existence?

  7. Dedwarmo wrote:
    First why does William Lane Craig believe these things?

    1. The effect had a beginning

    He bases this belief on scientific and philosophical arguments that the universe is not eternal. Here are four arguments against the eternality of matter and energy (Craig makes #4 in his debates).

    1) Matter does not have the power of self-existence, so it could not be the cause of itself.
    2) According to the second law of thermodynamics, the total amount of entropy in any closed system is always increasing, so if matter and energy were infinitely old, maximum entropy would have been reached an infinite amount of time ago.
    3) Matter does not have a free will, so it could not cause the effect in time.
    4) Logical contradictions result from an infinite number of past events.

    Do you think there are any good arguments for the eternality of matter and energy?

    2. The cause must have existed without the effect.

    Because, by definition, the cause must precede the effect.

    Second, why does anyone pretend to know how or when universe came into existence?

    Have you stopped beating your dog?

  8. “According to the second law of thermodynamics, the total amount of entropy in any closed system is always increasing, so if matter and energy were infinitely old, maximum entropy would have been reached an infinite amount of time ago.” This seems to be true.

    And I also have to agree that causes exist prior to and in absence of their effects.

    I wrote this post to support my argument that if God created the Universe then everything that happens in that Universe is an act of God. By learning about a work of creation you learn something about the nature of the creature. I was wondering if it is possible for anything to happen that wasn’t caused by God.

    My last question was poorly worded. Why does anyone say they know how or when the universe came into existence? Really isn’t it a mystery?

  9. @Josh – People who think scientifically & logically accept that the default position for any claim is one of disbelief. When enough evidence is provided to prove a claim is more likely true than not, then the belief is accepted as true. If further evidence demonstrates the belief is mistaken, then it is abandoned.

    There is no proof of God’s existence so there is no compelling reason to believe in one.

    If anyone could provide empirical evidence of God’s existence, I’d be happy to change my mind.

  10. @Bobmo – By your own logic, it seems God doesn’t exist.

    1. All things that exist have a cause
    2. God has no cause
    3. God does not exist

    or

    1. All things that exist have a cause
    2. God exists
    3. Something caused God to exist

    So, what caused God?

    Unless the initial premise that ‘all things that exist have a cause’ is mistaken. And if things can exist without a cause, then the matter & everything else in the universe could exist without a cause…as Stephen Hawking asserts, no God required.

    “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,” Hawking writes.

  11. @Perry

    1) You said that the default position for any claim is disbelief. Does that apply to your claim about the default position for any claim?

    2) I do believe that the initial premise in the syllogism you supplied is mistaken. However, I have never claimed that to be my position. I don’t believe that everything must have a cause and I don’t know of any Christian apologist who does. I do, however, believe that whatever begins to exist has a cause. For the use of this statement as part of an argument for the existence of God, See William Lane Craig’s Kalam Cosmological Argument available here and here. (You may need to create an account to read these articles.)

    3) On the face of it, Stephen Hawking’s new argument seems illogical. Gravity is a physical force that acts upon matter and energy, but if there were ever nothing, there would be no law of gravity and nothing for gravity to act upon! He seems to be saying that 1) At one point, there was nothing. 2) Gravity, acting on this nothing, created the universe. Does this make sense to you?

    @Dedwarmo
    Why does anyone say they know how or when the universe came into existence? It’s probably because they believe there are good arguments for their position. But, I think an equally interesting question is, which arguments are more rational, which ones are more internally and externally consistent, especially given our very basic presuppositions?

    You may never find the absolute proof you are seeking, but you can analyze the arguments. And surely, not all arguments are equal. I believe Craig’s arguments for the existence of God are more rationally consistent than any argument for atheism.

  12. @Perry

    1) You said that the default position for any claim should be disbelief. Does this apply to your claim about the default position for any claim?

    2) I do believe that the initial premise in the syllogism you supplied is mistaken. However, I have never claimed that to be my position. I don’t believe that everything must have a cause and I don’t know of any Christian apologist who does. I do, however, believe that whatever begins to exist has a cause. For the use of this statement as part of an argument for the existence of God, See William Lane Craig’s Kalam Cosmological Argument available here and here. (You may need to create an account to read these articles, but I highly recommend them.)

    3) On the face of it, Stephen Hawking’s new argument seems illogical. Gravity is a physical force that acts upon matter and energy. But if there were ever nothing, there would be no law of gravity and nothing for gravity to act upon! He seems to be saying that 1) At one point, there was nothing. 2) Gravity, acting on this nothing, created the universe. Does this make sense to you?

    @Dedwarmo
    Why does anyone say they know how or when the universe came into existence? It’s probably because they believe there are good arguments for their position. But, I think an equally interesting question is, which arguments are more rational, which ones are more internally and externally consistent, especially given our very basic presuppositions?

    You may never find the absolute proof you are seeking, but you can analyze the arguments. And surely, not all arguments are equal. I believe Craig’s arguments for the existence of God are more rationally consistent than any argument for atheism.

  13. @Bobmo – Let me restate

    1. “whatever begins to exist has a cause”
    2. God has no cause
    3. God does not exist

    or

    1. “whatever begins to exist has a cause”
    2. God exists
    3. God has a cause.

    If so, what caused God?

  14. Perry,

    Both syllogisms are logically invalid because the conclusions do not follow from the premises. In both of them, you incorrectly equate “begins to exist” with “exists.”

    Here is the first one with the correct conclusion:

    1. “Whatever begins to exist has a cause”
    2. God has no cause
    3. God did not begin to exist

    To make the second one logically valid, you would have to change premise (2) to “God began to exist.” The conclusion would still be false, because Premise (2) is false, but the logic is valid.

    1. “Whatever begins to exist has a cause”
    2. God began to exists
    3. God has a cause.

    Here’s the correct argument:

    1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause
    2. God did not begin to exist
    3. God did not have a cause

    Here is one of Craig’s arguments for the existence of God:

    1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
    2. The universe began to exist.
    3. The universe had a cause.

    By the way, do you have an answer to my question about the default position for any claim?

  15. Then this is equally valid…

    1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause
    2. Matter did not begin to exist
    3. Matter did not have a cause

    And Craig’s argument…

    1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
    2. God began to exist.
    3. God had a cause.

    ————
    “1) You said that the default position for any claim should be disbelief. Does this apply to your claim about the default position for any claim?”

    My statement is not a claim, it is an opinion.
    And it does not apply to my opinion.

  16. 1. What is your evidence that this premise is true?

    ‘Whatever begins to exist has a cause’

    2. Can you provide an example of anything that ‘begins to exist’?

  17. @Perry:

    My bad logic

    Both of your syllogisms are logically valid, but there are no reasons to believe that either conclusion is true. In fact, there are very good reasons to believe that premise (2) in the first one is false, and no good reason to believe premise (2) in the second one is true.

    Borde, Guth, and Vilenkin have demonstrated that that no universe can be infinite in the past. This so-called includes multiverses. And Stephen Hawking has stated that science does not support the idea of an eternal universe. Therefore, matter had to have a beginning. Furthermore, the idea of an eternal matter leads to logical contradictions, such as the impossibility of an actually infinite series of past events. And, as I’ve mentioned before, if matter were infinitely old, the universe would have died a heat death an infinite amount of time ago. You may believe matter did not begin to exist, but you do so on faith.

    On the other hand, Craig’s argument shows that the matter and energy had a cause by appealing to scientific evidence for the beginning of the universe. If premise (1) and (2) of his argument are both true, it logically follows that the universe had a cause. And if the universe had a cause, that cause had to be outside of space and time, and therefore could not be a material cause. This is a scientific argument for the existence of God.

    I’m not sure of the purpose of your second syllogism. Unless there is some reason to believe premise (2) is true, there is no reason to believe the conclusion. What possible case could be made that God began to exist?

    Evidence for Premise (1)

    You asked about my evidence that this premise is true: “Whatever begins to exist has a cause.”
    Do you believe that things can begin to exist without a cause? If so, can you provide a counterexample that falsifies the premise?

    Can I provide an example of anything that ‘begins to exist’? Sure. This blog post.

    @Gothamghost:

    Yes I do think that thoughts can begin to exist. In fact, in my case, not enough thoughts exist yet!

    The default position for any claim

    You said your statement about the default position for any claim is not a claim, but an opinion. So, you don’t claim that your statement is true. It’s just your opinion. And you don’t claim that your opinion is true. So why express an opinion if you don’t think that it’s worth believing, or that it’s even more likely true than false. Are we supposed to respond to any claim with disbelief, but respond to opinions with belief? Does that make sense?

  18. Default position for any claim:

    Your questions make no sense because you are not asking a specific question. This opinion…

    “The default position for any claim should be one of disbelief.”

    …covers an infinite number of claims. The words “any claim” is a substitution for all possible claims about anything.

    Which specific claim do you want to know the truth about?

  19. Evidence for Premise 1.

    I didn’t claim that it wasn’t true, I simply asked for your evidence that it was true. My ability to disprove your claims has no bearing on whether the claim is true. Thus far the evidence you’ve provided is…

    1. It’s true because I can’t prove it’s false.
    2. It’s true because you said so.

    Both of these are logical fallacies the first being “Argumentum ad ignorantiam” and the second being “Argumentum ad verecundiam”

    As far as evidence that something begins to exist, I disagree with your example. This blog post did not begin to exist. It already existed in Dedwarmo’s mind and the representation on the screen is merely a change from one form (thoughts in his mind) to another form (pixels on a screen).

    Just as ice melts to become water, his existing ideas changed to become this blog post.

    I contend that we have no evidence that anything “begins to exist.” Empirically, we can only demonstrate that the existence of anything is a result of a change from something that already existed.

  20. Perry,

    Default position for any claim

    Webster defines to claim as, “To assert in the face of possible contradiction,” and to maintain, which means, “To affirm in or as if in argument.”

    In your post of 9/18/10, you made a claim. And if every claim should be met with disbelief, then the claim you made should be met with disbelief. To claim that it’s an opinion or that because it contains other claims it therefore should be exempt from the rule is playing with words. The statement is illogical and self-defeating and you can’t avoid that fact by redefining it.

    But just in case I’m not being clear, here are some specific questions as you requested.

    1) Do you claim that the statement you made is true?
    2) If not, why did you make the statement? If so, is that a claim?
    3) Or, to put it another way, do you believe that the statement “It is true that the default position for any claim should be one of disbelief” has the same content as the statement, “The default position for any claim should be one of disbelief.” This would be the position of someone who holds to the Deflationary theory of truth.

    Evidence for Premise 1

    In your comment on 9/19/10, you made up two arguments, attributed them both to me, and then said that my logic shows that God doesn’t exist! I never made those arguments, of course, and I would challenge you to show me where I did.

    Now, you’ve erected another straw man by saying that I claimed my argument is true because you can’t prove it’s false and “because I said so”. Where did I say that? I challenged you to disprove the premise, but nowhere did I claim that your inability to do so was evidence for the truth of the premise.

    You dispute the truth of the premise by claiming that nothing has ever come into existence (a claim which I should greet with disbelief, of course.) However, I provided an example of something that has come into existence: this blog post. I didn’t say it came into existence ex nihilo, but it did begin to exist. And, my comments didn’t exist in Dedwarmo’s mind (nor in mine until recently!) Many things have begin to exist, including you and I. The fact that the raw materials existed prior to us, only shows that we didn’t come into existence out of nothing.

    Furthermore, the prevailing view among cosmologists is that the universe itself began to exist, and I’ve given arguments (which you have not disputed) showing that matter and energy cannot be eternal.

    If everything that begins to exist has a cause, and the universe began to exist, it follows that the universe had a cause.

  21. Bobmo, why do you believe that God has always existed?

    You said, “Furthermore, the idea of an eternal matter leads to logical contradictions.” Do you believe matter will cease to exist one day?

    The existence of a blog post is very different from the existence of matter in general. A blog post is just a specific arrangement of matter no whatever the medium. The matter existed in a different arrangement before I thought of it and typed it up.

  22. Bobmo, you said, “But, I think an equally interesting question is, which arguments are more rational, which ones are more internally and externally consistent, especially given our very basic presuppositions?” Do you believe in degrees of rationality?

  23. Bobmo,

    What you misunderstand is that the following is not the claim being made.

    “the default position for any claim should be disbelief.”

    In this sentence, the term “any claim” is a representation of all claims that could
    be made.

    The actual claim being made is that you should be skeptical of…
    claim 1, claim 2, claim 3,…claim infinity.

    ‘Any claim’ is not a claim itself in the same way that a mountain does not exist if you remove all of the rocks that make it up. When you remove all the claims that ‘any claim’ is meant to represent, it no longer holds any meaning.

    ————-
    1. My opinion is that the statement is true. I have no supporting evidence of it’s ‘truthiness’ beyond my own observational evidence of my life. But the statement that I claim to be true is the actual claim I’m making, not the English shorthand representation.

    2. Since my statement represents a strategy on determining truth (there are others) it’s an opinion not a claim. If you could present a different strategy for determining the truth of a claim, and demonstrate the superiority of this method, I would change my opinion.

    3. If the phrase ‘any claim’ in your question is a representation of all claims possible, then I agree with it. If the phrase ‘any claim’ is has some meaning after removing all other claims, then I don’t.

  24. @Bobmo –

    “Now, you’ve erected another straw man by saying that I claimed my argument is true because you can’t prove it’s false and “because I said so”. “

    You implied the claim with the following questions.

    “You asked about my evidence that this premise is true: “Whatever begins to exist has a cause.” Do you believe that things can begin to exist without a cause? If so, can you provide a counterexample that falsifies the premise?”

    You answer my question with a question of your own implying that if I can’t provide a counterexample, that somehow provides evidence for your claim.

    I could be mistaken in what I’m reading into your question.

    Why did you ask for some counterexample?

    Was there some other reason beyond trying to demonstrate that if I couldn’t provide a counter-example, then that provides evidence for your claim?

    ————
    Incidentally, you still haven’t answered the original question. What is your evidence for “Whatever begins to exist has a cause”?

  25. @Dedwarmo – I would not agree with these characterizations, instead I would say there are only 2 responses to a claim.

    1. Indifference
    2. Interest

    Response 2 then takes on a continuum of belief from Credulity to Skepticism. Although to simplify, you can just say there is only skepticism to varying degrees.

    No claim is ever 100% true so there is always a level of skepticism as it might be proven false in the future.

    (incidentally Bobmo, the phrase ‘No claim’ in the previous sentence is merely a substitution for the infinite number of claims I could’ve written given time & space and is not actually a claim itself).

    Credulity depends on the evidence that you are willing to accept.

  26. @Dedwarmo:

    “Bobmo, why do you believe that God has always existed?”
    In part because whatever created space and time has to be outside of space and time. Therefore, God must be timeless, which means that He could not have begun to exist.

    “Do you believe matter will cease to exist one day?”
    I cannot think of any reason to believe that matter will cease to exist one day.

    “The existence of a blog post is very different from the existence of matter in general….”
    Right. But both share the property of having begun to exist. And if no one would argue that things can be made of other things without a cause, then the statement that matter itself requires no cause seems more obviously untrue.

    “Do you believe in degrees of rationality?”
    I guess you’d have to give me an example. I do believe that some statements can be closer to the truth than others. And some statements can contain more truth than others.

    @Perry:

    Saying that, “The default position for any claim should be disbelief” is not itself a claim is playing with semantics to avoid an obvious contradiction. It’s your opinion that it’s true, but you don’t claim that it’s true? That’s clearly illogical. According to Webster, if you made an assertion, you made a claim. And you made an assertion. To avoid the contradiction, you must either deny that you made an assertion or take issue with Webster’s definition. In one case, your statement is meaningless; in the other it’s self-contradictory.

    “No claim is ever 100% true…”
    How is that different from saying “No statement is ever 100% true”?

    About, “Whatever begins to exist has a cause,” you asked why I asked for a counterexample.
    First, providing a counterexample is an excellent way of disproving any universal claim. If I said, “All birds can fly,” all you have to do is show me one bird which cannot fly and the debate is over. Secondly, “Argumentum ad ignorantiam” follows from claiming that a proposition is necessarily true because it cannot be (or has not been) proven false. I never made such a claim. But a positive case for something can include the fact that there are good reasons to believe it, and the fact that there are no good reasons not to believe it. I believe that there are good reasons to believe that “whatever begins to exist has a cause” and no good reasons not to believe it.

    Some reasons to believe it are:

    1. The statement is consistent with our experience and empirical data.
    2. The statement is consistent with our intuitions.
    3. Denial of the statement leads to a logical contradiction and requires that at some point something had to come from nothing. Since nothing has no properties, it cannot give rise to anything.
    4. Therefore, in the absence of a defeater, it is perfectly rational to believe that any proposition which meets (1) and (2) and (3) is true.

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