The Problem with “Something Can’t Come From Nothing”

For a great look at this topic, read “A Universe from Nothing” by Lawrence Krauss – interesting stuff to think about.

“Something can’t come from nothing, so their must be a God” (cosmological, or First Cause, argument) is not only a non sequitur when defending ones religious claims, it is also not a very good argument on its own merit.  It seems that religious people are trying to hijack a “reasoning” or “scientific” method of approaching the argument, and it just doesn’t work.  Here’s why:

We can prove that Something can come from Something because we can understand and analyze the properties of all Somethings, and we can also use that information to make predictions.  I know steam can come from boiling water, and I know that a human baby can NOT appear from boiling water.  However, I know that a human baby can come from a pregnant human female, and not from a pregnant elephant, or from an inanimate object such as my shoe.  Etc. Etc.  Basically, we can observe the cause and effect of all Somethings that are observable and make educated predictions based on their properties.

Next, and most importantly, no one has ever observed Nothing (absence of space, time, matter) so no one can make predictions regarding what Nothing can or cannot do.  What if somehow we could observe Nothing and we found that it creates more Nothing – which is likely.  Or, the properties of Nothing lend themselves to turn some kind of vacuum energy into Somethings to fill the void (I am obviously not educated in quantum mechanics or string theory enough to give a good example here, but you get the idea).  Point is, we cannot make any predictions about Something coming from Nothing if we don’t know what Nothing is and have never observed it.

This might seem like I am using semantics, but really think about it – we exist in a Something universe so it is hard to contemplate Nothing.  We can’t even understand the forces that drive our own universe as it is right now, let alone what kind of hidden forces might lurk in a universe of Nothing, or the Nothing into which our universe is apparently expanding.

I think that most people think of this question like, “A person just can’t pop out of thin air,” or “The Earth can’t just pop from outer space.”  The flaw in the thinking is that air and space are actually made of Somethings, though they look to the subjective human eye like Nothings.  For example, air contains gases, light particles, radiation, etc and therefore is a Something that we can make predictions about – and we know that a spontaneous person can NOT be the effect of an air-cause.  We can draw the same conclusions about space, matter, gravity, energy, etc. and that ‘space’ is a Something, not a Nothing.

So, when people use this argument, they are equating the principles of a universe of cause-and-effect-Somethings with the principles of a universe of Nothing, which may have been around 14 billion years ago before the universe of Something exploded into action.  Nothingness may not operate under the same laws of physics by which Somethingness operates, so we cannot assume anything about the physics within Nothingness.  Since we cannot observe this in our universe’s history, we can’t really say for sure what Nothing is and what Nothing is capable of.

One other approach is to say that matter cannot be created or destroyed, so matter could not have come from non-existence. However, matter appears to have come from – and is expanding into – Nothing.  And again, we are using physics from a Something-universe to define Nothing – but we just don’t have an idea what Nothing is.  Nothing could actually be a Something of a totally different species, if we could observe it.

I’m going to stop there.  However, thinking about the questions this way does redefine this classic argument in a way that we really take a hard look at what Nothing might be since it might actually exist somewhere, or existed before our universe. So, we can’t just fly through the premise and accept it within a theist’s structure of the debate – we need to scrutinize the premise a bit more to see if it warrants a blind acceptance.

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9 thoughts on “The Problem with “Something Can’t Come From Nothing”

  1. Just a bit of my own insight:

    If “God” has always been, and is responsible for creating the entirety of everything is it not also possible that everything has always existed? The reasoning behind this begins with another question; “Where did the first thing created (whether it was a single atom or the big bang itself) come from?” A proper Christian would provide the answer “God created everything.” A question that could then be asked is “What created God?”
    “God has always been.”
    This is where the first question comes into play. “If God has always been said to have existed, is it not just as logical to believe that everything has always existed, and therefore does not need a creator?” Unfortunately, this dilemma is purely metaphysical in nature, and therefore, cannot be determined.

    1. “If God has always been said to have existed, is it not just as logical to believe that everything has always existed, and therefore does not need a creator?” – I think this is a good point and another way of responding to the cosmological argument. Thank you for the comment!

      1. Ok but why would the universe just Exist ? There’s no reason … God gives us a reason and to believe that the universe just existed is saying that the universe is random and that is a lot harder to believe then the universe being created as a result of intelligent design.

      2. Sometimes there are no reasons for things. No “whys.” You can’t have an answer for everything (which is what religion tries to do – have an answer for everything – science, on the other hand, often admits to what is unknown and uses that as a catalyst for more curiosity and innovation) Things just happen and maybe there isn’t one specific reason, but a series of things that just ended up the way it is. Evolution is nothing close to random – the elements that make up the universe and people are animate objects, not inanimate. So, they have functionality to them (which is why the “airplane out of the junkyard” or the “watchmaker” arguments fail – the objects are inanimate). Just because we exist doesn’t prove that an intelligent designer created us. That is a non sequitur. You look at life the way it is and find the meaning in it, make your life meaningful, focus on what is important to you – and that is your own “why” for your life. Everyone’s “why” is different. My reason for living might be for my kids, whereas a suicide bomber’s reason for being is to kill the infidel, and a greedy person might live only for money, etc. You look at how things are and focus on what is important to you. And there is no reason to make an irrational leap to then point and say, “A god in the sky must exist simply because I’m hear” – and then even make the further leap to use that as a starting point for why the Bible is truth -and even more remote non sequitur.

  2. There is a good reason as to why something cannot come out of nothing. Nothing means absence of space, time, matter etc. If from this nothing something now comes, then we are admitting that some change is occurring, because initially there was nothing and then appears something from that nothing. But the precondition for any change to occur is that either space or time will have to be there, because change can only occur either in space or in time or in both. So if we say that something can come out of nothing, then we are admitting that space and time were already there that enabled something coming out of nothing. But space and time are something, and so here actually something is coming out of something.

  3. You just can’t redefine nothing to mean something scientific a scientific nothing. We are discussing nothing the absence of all things. Where did that nothing operating under different scientific laws come from and if its filled with things its a something. You just cant assume that people cant grasp nothing in their minds because we’re surrounded by things even things that look like nothing. Everyone understands the philosophical definition of nothing absence of all things. If you want to make an argument you have to say there is no such thing as nothing in the universe and say that the universe has only somethings. It looks to me like you’re making assumptions. How did the universe begin was it a step by step process or is it multiple things occuring at the same time changing into something else. If its one thing occuring at a time creating some thing else where did that first thing come from if its a set of things what outside of the set caused it. Oh by the way I’m an atheist but reconsidering my position after reading articles like this.

  4. This theroy will always come back to the same conlusion over and over ..That is if something can come from nothing and nothing is in fact something then that something that came from nothing which made the new something started somewhere and that itself is a mystery only THE UNIVERSE/GOD can answer

  5. When all is said and done, and still no one knows everything there is to be known but whatever is there to be known it is sufficient to the human limitations, hence we are certain of one thing that is everyone is going to die. No man has ever existed to give us a cure for old age or a cure for death but if any man has a cure for old age he must first have first the cure for death. Simply for the very reason, Because of, what point of a cure for old age if death still lurks around your door step. Why bother to cure old age if death still cease upon your life. Thus is why I put my trust in God through Christ unto to whom the only person ever lived and conquer death by the resurrection from death.

    The question is how did he conquer death and what causes death. Your time is coming and what profit a man if he gain and loose his own soul, or what can man give in exchange for his own soul

    [23] For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Romans 6:23

    [12] Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: [13] (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law.

    [14] Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come. [15] But not as the offence, so also is the free gift.

    For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many. [16] And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification.

    [17] For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.) [18] Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation;

    even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.
    [19] For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.

    [20] Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: [21] That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.Romans 5:12-21

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