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Something Instead of Nothing

April 28th, 2007 by Jason · 5 Comments

In my half-awake slumber this morning I kept trying to picture what Hawkins describes in The Theory of Everything: our tiny world speeding around a tiny sun, which in turn is part of a galaxy that is steadily speeding away from every other part of the galaxy which is all slowly cooling off, burning out, and slowing down. Space, the universe, is certainly beautiful, but it is a kind of cold, sterile kind of beauty. Thinking of space, the universe, the beginning of it all brings up these questions that I can hardly wrap my mind around: into what is the universe expanding, how come there is something rather than nothing, and where the heck did it come from?! Stuff does not just appear out of nowhere except in fantasy novels and hazy-morning dreams.

As I thought about these questions more it struck me how much my thoughts have changed in terms of how faith and science intersect. I think most people of some sort of religious belief or another have an area in their faith where doubt arises easiest. Like the earth’s surface there are places where my faith is thick and strong as a mountain and others where it is thin and doubt often times bubbles up. One of those thin areas for me has always been the intersection of faith and science—so much so that in my high school years I basically avoided the topic by reading only “safe” material. Over the past few years I’ve read more on both sides and the closer I’ve looked at the questions the more I’ve become comfortable, and even bolstered by the intersection of faith and science. That doesn’t mean it hasn’t challenged me or forced me to give up some presuppositions. Things like evolution and the old age of the universe which were the flash-points in my youth are now givens and no longer somehow inimical to the Christian faith. And, on the flip side, science no longer offers “proof” for faith as I used to hope it would (be it studies of the effectiveness of prayer or “design” in creation) but instead only varying degrees of confirmation (and sometimes disconfirmation or challenge), but not proof. Besides, I now wonder why all this emphasis on faith as “things hoped for, but not seen” if faith could be somehow proved as a mathematical theorem is proved?

Instead, I experience the interaction of faith and science more like my feeling this morning which simultaneously gives me a sense of awe, finitude, doubt, and reason to believe. The vastness and complexity of the universe and our smallness uncenters me and humbles my confident projections of what I think I know. At the same time it raises the question I so easily forget: why something instead of nothing? Granted, Dawkins, argues that simply to replace one mystery (the existence of the universe) with another (God) is of no value. However, that’s only looking at one side of the “God hypothesis.” Nancey Murphy makes the point in her book, Reconciling Theology and Science, that a hypothesis that provides explanation for more than one phenomena is stronger than one which only explains what it set out to explain. So, if the God hypothesis not only explains why there is something rather than nothing, but also why religion exists at all, and perhaps even why the universe seems fine-tuned for life then it is not just an arbitrary explanation for why matter exists, but a hypothesis that has confirmation from other non-related fields (44).

Additionally, I wonder at the fact that it is not just something that exists, but this universe, with its art, literature, beauty, consciousness, and love? Van Til names this the Robust Formation Economy Principle which is his way of arguing that the fact that the universe is not just a haphazard collection of chaos, but a system “sufficiently robust to account for the formation of the elements of space, of galaxies, of stars, of planets, of plants, of animals, and of human beings” (Science & Christianity, 219) is something that adds additional weight to belief in a creative god. Not that any of this tells how we should speak of this god (theology) or act because of this god (ethics), but it seems a good place to begin since those things are moot if belief in any god is untenable.

Tags: science · theology

5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 David Migl // Apr 29, 2007 at 12:48 pm

    Your thoughts on the intersection of faith and science are interesting to me, since I am currently exploring that realm as well.

    One thought I had about Hawking’s book… I read “A brief history of time” in which he proposed a cyclic universe as a means of achieving a theory of quantum gravity. Such a universe would start with the big bang, in the middle would be a big crunch, and then time would flow backward until it reached the big bang again. However, in another book, “The five ages of the universe”, the authors find that current estimations find that the mass of all matter is only about 20% of what is necessary for gravity to overcome the expansion of the universe and bring about a big crunch. Such disparities within the realm of modern science are interesting.

    And about “what is the universe expanding into?” Well, the answer that I’ve heard is that it isn’t expanding into anything – the very fabric of reality – spacetime – is expanding. Picture dots on a balloon with the dots representing galaxies and the balloon representing spacetime – as the balloon is inflated, the dots move away from each other. That’s why the universe looks the same in all directions from any viewpoint.

  • 2 Jason // Apr 30, 2007 at 8:29 am

    I also noticed Hawking mentioned that 20% number in Theory of Everything. Good point about the balloon expanding, and while it makes sense in my head, the experiential part of me keeps wondering what would happen if I stuck my hand outside the balloon—the concept of nothing is so hard to comprehend!

  • 3 Pavle // May 20, 2007 at 12:38 am

    Jason, I have studied nothingness. Actually, that’s wrong. Nothingness cannot be studied. However, one cannot comprehend nothingness because to comprehend it would make it not nothing. It doesn’t exist inside the Universe! Even dark space with no light in a complete vaccuum isn’t nothing! Time still exists there.

    David, the balloon theory is great, however, the balloon is still expanding!

  • 4 Ray // Aug 8, 2007 at 9:42 pm

    Once you have faith in belief, you can have faith in anything. Once you believe in faith, you can believe in anything. Faith is belief in the absence of sufficient evidence, or in the absence of any evidence at all.

    And, thus, faith, and belief, are the evidence of nothing at all.


  • 5 Alan // Jul 2, 2010 at 2:05 pm

    @ Ray

    For Jesus and Paul, faith is not belief but trust (greek pistis) in someone, that is in something someone (God) said.