“The first question that should rightly be asked is, ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’” This is the question Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) posed in regards to the origin of the universe as a part of his argument for the existence of God.
Here is a brief and simplified explanation of what has come to be known as the Leibniz Contingency Argument, or the Leibniz Cosmological Argument (cosmology being the study of the origin of the cosmos, or universe).
The logic of the argument goes like this:
1. Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence.
2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.
3. The universe exists.
4. Therefore, the explanation of the universe’s existence is God.
As with all such logical arguments, if the premises are true (points 1-3), then the conclusion must be true (point 4). The question is whether or not the first three points or more likely to be true than they are false.
Certainly, everyone would agree that the universe exists, so at least we are safe with point number 3.
But what about points 1 and 2? Is it accurate to say that everything that exists has an explanation for its existence and that the sole explanation for the existence of the universe is God?
Premise 1: Everything that exists has an explanation for its existence
In our everyday experiences, we expect there to be an explanation for the things we encounter. Common illustrations of this given are wandering in the woods and discovering a pocket watch.
We would not be intellectually satisfied with saying that the pocket watch is just there. We would explain its existence by concluding that it was left there by someone…
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Creation “out of nothing” is not testimony to how devilishly clever God is, dispensing as he can with even the most rudimentary raw materials, but to the fact that the world is not the inevitable culmination of some prior process, the upshot of some inexorable chain of cause and effect. Any such preceding chain of causality would have to be part of the world, and so could not count as the origin of it. Because there is no necessity about the cosmos, we cannot deduce the laws which govern it from a priori principles, but instead have to look at how it actually works. This is the task of science. There is thus a curious connection between the doctrine of creation out of nothing and the professional life of Richard Dawkins. Without God, Dawkins would be out of a job. It is thus particularly churlish of him to call the existence of his employer into question.
Someone once said that if you sat a million monkeys at a million typewriters for a million years, one of them would eventually type out all of Hamlet by chance. But when we find the text of Hamlet, we don’t wonder whether it came from chance and monkeys. Why then does the atheist use that incredibly improbable explanation for the universe? Clearly, because it is his only chance of remaining an atheist. At this point, we need a psychological explanation of the atheist rather than a logical explanation of the universe.
It’s true: The Christmas story is humanly strange. A young Palestinian virgin miraculously conceives a boy-child whose Father is God, the Creator of the universe. This boy-child is born in ironic ignominy, yet heralded by a miracle star and angelic hosts, greeted by shepherds and Persian astrologers, and hunted by a homicidally paranoid king.
The strangeness continues through Jesus’s sinless life, miraculous public ministry, his betrayal and horrible crucifixion, and then his resurrection from the dead. This is followed by his ascension after he affirms his promise to return and commissions his small band of followers to preach his gospel throughout the world. His followers carry out this commission and launch the most influential and multi-ethnic religious faith the world has ever seen.
Christianity forms a coherent belief system, but it admittedly sounds foolish to non-believers (1 Corinthians 1:23–25). And atheists are like, seriously?
Atheists Believe Strange Things Too
But to be fair, atheists also embrace wildly far-fetched, strange beliefs of their own.
To be an atheist is almost certainly to be a materialist (i.e. only matter and laws that govern matter exist). And materialists also believe in a miraculous conception and birth — of the universe. They eschew the term “miraculous,” since miracles “don’t happen.” But call it what you wish, they believe at some point in the ancient past the universe (or universes) was born without a parent(s). This wasn’t merely a virgin birth — the universe gave birth to itself, completely unintentionally.
Perhaps the universe was born from nothing, which is quite a thing to believe. In the beginning, Nothing created the heavens and the earth. However many billions of years you tack on to it, the impossibility of existence coming from non-existence does not become more possible. Such a doctrine makes the incarnation tame in comparison.
Atheists often point to the existence of evil as a conundrum for Christians. But the existence of existence is a bigger conundrum for atheists. The origin of evil presents God-sized questions. But still, nothing producing something is far more improbable than something going bad.
Atheists might cry foul. There could have been something that existed that caused the universal Genesis which they just don’t know about yet. Okay, so some non-intelligent, non-living thing eternally existed and somehow unintentionally exploded into everything that exists resulting in our contemplating this right now. That too is quite a thing to believe. If that doesn’t sound at least as improbable as God existing and undertaking the plan of human redemption that we call Christianity, we really haven’t thought it through.
–Jon Bloom, Christianity and Atheism: Choose Your Strangeness