Something Rather than Nothing

The Cosmic Microwave Background temperature fl...
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We take the fact that we exist for granted, don’t we? Most days we forget to be amazed that we are alive. Most days we forget to be amazed that there is something rather than nothing. We forget to be amazed that we are alive on the one planet capable of supporting life in our solar system (and perhaps the only one in the universe). This should fill us with amazement.

There are roughly(and here simplistically stated)  three main answers to the question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?”.

  • This  is just the way things worked out. Our existence is the result of random actions.
  • Multiverses -the idea that multiple universes exist and have existed. If there are enough universes in existence, sooner or later, one will support the development of life.
  • This is the result of the action of a creative,creating intelligence. (This is not to be confused with intelligent design.)
In chapters two and three of his book, God According to God, Gerald L. Schroeder examines the unlikeliness of a universe containing a planet suitable for life and explores the  difficulty of transitioning from non living substances to living, self replicating substances. Schroeder is not saying that we can never know how life and in particular intelligent life came about. He does want to make the case that, however it happened, the processes are incredibly complex. So complex, in fact, it is not statistically possible for them to be the result of chance. Given what we know about the age of the universe and how long life has existed on earth Schroeder argues there simply hasn’t been enough time for an inhabitable planet to form and life to develop if the process was random.
We seem to be alive, to exist on an earth, in a universe that is “just right” for life to exist. Sometimes this idea is referred to as the anthropic principle, ( or the Goldilocks principle). Scientists talk about a universe that appears to be “fine tuned” for life.
Schroeder quotes George Wald, Harvard professor and Noble prize winner;

It has occurred to me lately- I must confess with some shock at first to my scientific sensibilities- that both questions [the origin of consciousness in humans and of life from non living matter] might be brought into some degree of congruence. This is with the assumption that mind, rather than emerging as a late outgrowth in the evolution of life, has existed always as the matrix, the source and condition of physical reality- the stuff of which physical reality is composed is mind-stuff. It is mind that has composed a physical universe that breeds life and so eventually evolves creatures that know and create: science-, art-, and technology- making animals. In them the universe begins to know itself.                                                                    George Wald, “Life and Mind in the Universe,” Quantum Biology Symposium, International Journal of Quantum Chemistry 11 (1984):1-15, quoted in Gerald L. Schroeder, God According to God, page 48-49.

For people of faith, the idea that intelligence preceded the universe rather than being the result of billions of years of development is not surprising. What is interesting is that scientists, serious scientists, are beginning to consider whether some sort of pre-existent intelligence is needed for the universe we live in to exist.

It is important for scientists and theologians to ask hard questions and not to settle for simple explanations. Why is there something rather than nothing? Neither “God did it” nor ” that’s just the way it turned out” are truly satisfying answers. The search for understanding can be difficult, frustrating work. Things can be confusing and even unsettling as old concepts are discarded and new insights take their place. But the quest to understand is worth the effort.

I’d like to know, what do you think?

9 thoughts on “Something Rather than Nothing

  1. The last paragraph says so much … asking hard questions for the quest of understanding, the difficulty and confusing when encountering new ideas, and that it takes effort.

    1. Once I figured out that a certain amount of uncertainty and frustration were part of the process of understanding, things got a bit easier- I developed more patience with the process. Thanks for your comment.

  2. Nancy, I’m glad you like to think about such deep questions, and that you are willing to let us in on the conversations. Thank you. R

  3. I hate to interrupt the “love in,” but someone has to bring some reality to the party. Gerald Schroeder’s error-laden attempt to bring the Genesis creation myth into the world of fact has been shot down time and again, as have his other speculations. He has damaged his credibility. Just look his claims up on the Web. Same for the anthropic principle. Unfortunately, it’s nonsense. Read “The Grand Design” and some other books that are contrary to your ingrained beliefs, and read them fairly and openly as you do the material you want to believe and that makes you feel comfortable (at least in the end). God or something may exist, but human beings will never know it; we think we do, but what we experience is only a reflection of our inner self. We each are indeed “God”; our God. Humans have always wanted to be the center of things, the purpose of God’s creation, yet as knowledge emerges, we get pushed more and more into the margins. Our species can just as easily go extinct as did the Neanderthals It is a sobering thought, but it is reality. Create a good purpose for your life and fulfill it, be happy and have a nice day. 🙂

    1. Nathan, I haven’t read “The Grand Design” (thanks for reminding me of it). But I have read other books by Hawking, as well as Brian Greene, and (the late) Stephen J. Gould and others. I agree that it is a good thing to read widely and to read those who have different points of view. One of the reasons I find Schroeder interesting is that he writes from a deeply Jewish perspective and that is enlightening for me.
      I do think we can know some things about the existence of God, but I also think science will not prove, nor disprove God’s existence. I do agree with you that we humans have always wanted to be the point of “it” all and the reason for the existence of everything. In some recent posts I have made the case that we are not the center of the universe or even the most important species on our planet.
      Thanks for reading and commenting.

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