New Atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking are confident in their atheism; even if they still have a few issues to tackle. Philosophers continue to ask them why consciousness and morality exist. Why do concepts of good and bad, wrong and right persist? Are such things outdated; should they be discarded? Once one begins to ask why certain things exist, it soon becomes evident that we must not only answer these questions but inevitably we must answer the greatest question of all, “Why is there something rather than nothing?”
Can universes or God exist without a cause? Could either one be eternal? What are the inherent problems of a universe that simply came to be? What about a God who has always been? Is it logical to consider God the first cause who needs no other cause?
Dawkins’ assumption that God would need an external cause flies in the face of the longstanding theological assumption that God is a perfect and so necessary being who is consequently self-existent and ontologically independent.1
Stephen Hawking makes a valiant attempt to explain how a universe could simply come into being. Some find his argument elegant and easy to understand; while others suggest it is flawed and ultimately unintelligible. In his book The Grand Design, he first asks, “If the total energy of the universe must always remain zero, and it costs energy to create a body, how can a whole universe be created from nothing?” He quickly goes on to answer this question by saying,
That is why there must be a law like gravity. Because gravity is attractive, gravitational energy is negative. . . . Bodies such as stars or black holes cannot just appear out of nothing. But a whole universe can. . . . Because there is a law like 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. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.2
Hawking maintains that for most things in the universe “it takes something to make something.” You can’t make a mountain of dirt without taking dirt from a hole in the ground. However, the universe, he claims, is the ultimate “free lunch.”3 Quantum physics suggests that subatomic particles can spring into existence out of nothing. I would want to check with other physicists to see if they would agree that this is what is happening at the subatomic level. Perhaps others would express it as, not knowing the source of such particles. But, for the moment, let us concede this point to Professor Hawking. He states that when we consider anti-energy, anti-matter, and other universes, everything sums up to zero. So, as long as the net sum is zero, the universe can come to exist out of nothing (at least nothing in our universe). Yet, for me, questions remain, why is there gravity rather than no gravity? Why are there particles and anti-particles to sum? Why are there other universes? Why is there something rather than nothing?
1 James E. Taylor; “The New Atheists;” The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy; http://www.iep.utm.edu/n-atheis/#H2
2 (Hawking and Mlodinow 2010, 180)
3 Some of this paragraph is a re-phrasing of a previous blog found here.
Hawking, Stephen, and Leonard Mlodinow. The Grand Design.
New York: Bantam Books, 2010.