Does God Explain Why There is Something, Rather Than Nothing?
“Why is there something rather than nothing?” Or better put, “Why is there anything at all?”
This article will focus on the best necessitarian-theistic answers to this fundamental philosophical question. Specifically, it will review the cosmological arguments put forth by polymath Gottfried Leibniz and the kalām cosmological argument revitalized by Christian apologist William Lane Craig.
As you’ll see, these necessitarian-theistic responses claim that the answer to this fundamental question is that something, in this case God, necessarily has to exist, therefore making the concept of complete nothingness impossible.
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz was one of the most important logicians, mathematicians, and philosophers of the Enlightenment period. Leibniz is considered the co-discoverer of calculus, along with Sir Isaac Newton.
Leibniz is also credited with having perhaps the best argument for God’s existence, as detailed in part seven of his work, The Principles of Nature and Grace. His argument is paraphrased as follows:
- Whatever exists has a sufficient reason for existing (The Principle of Sufficient Reason).
- The fact that there is something, rather than nothing, cannot be explained by the series of contingent things (that is, “bodies and their representations in souls”).
- Therefore, the explanation for the existence of “something” must lie outside the series of contingent things, in a being that exists necessarily.
Let’s break these ideas down.
Leibniz first makes use of a powerful and controversial philosophical principle called The Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR). This statement is usually attributed to Leibniz himself, but it actually dates back to the dawn of philosophy and comes from a Greek philosopher called Parmenides of Elea.
The principle essentially means that things can’t exist as brute facts or appear ex nihilo (out of nothing). Everything we know has some sort of cause behind it. In other words, if you find an apple on the ground, it didn’t magically appear there. It either fell from a tree, someone dropped it, or some other factor caused it to end up on the ground.
Many philosophers believe we have some logical reasons to accept The Principle of Sufficient Reason.
For instance, if the PSR was false, we would have no reason to believe anything was real. Neurons might fire in our heads without a cause, resulting in a distorted picture of reality. In such a case, our fundamental standards of rationality would be undermined.
American Philosopher Edward Fesser writes, “We… suppose that our cognitive faculties track truth and standards of rational argumentation, rather than leading us to embrace conclusions in a way that has no connection to truth or logic… But if the PSR is false, we could have no reason for thinking that any of this is really the case… To reject PSR is to undermine the possibility of any rational inquiry.”
Premise two of Leibniz’s argument states that basically, this chain of causes can’t go on forever into infinity. Some initial cause has to have started everything — a main cause of the causes.
Premise three is where he concludes that God necessarily exists in all possible worlds and that a state of pure nothing — no concrete objects, no abstract objects — is logically impossible. Something has to exist outside of this series of contingent things that is a cause unto itself.
At this point, the Leibniz argument doesn’t construct an explanation for contingent beings. After all, the deity or cause that caused itself didn’t have to create the universe as we know it.
However, Leibniz does further his argument, asserting that the reason we’re here is that God has selected the best of all possible worlds (our world) as the actual world, and his benevolence has brought it forth.
The Leibniz argument is not to be confused with the kalām cosmological argument, which is similar in that it also contends for a beginning cause of existence, but with some differences.
Although this argument is older, it’s been revitalized thanks to Christian theologian William Lane Craig and goes something like this:
1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.
Craig defends that the Universe had a beginning by citing a proof, created by 11th-century Persian Muslim philosopher Al-Ghazali, that actual infinity is impossible. You see, if actual infinity is possible, and an infinite number of real things exist, then one could argue that those things had an infinite number of causes and effects.
That’s the kalām argument in a nutshell. So, given its conclusion, Craig appends a further conclusion based upon an analysis of what caused the universe, as follows:
4. The universe has a cause.
5. If the universe has a cause, then an uncaused, personal Creator of the universe exists, who without the universe is beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless and enormously powerful.
6. Therefore, an uncaused, personal Creator of the universe exists, who sans the universe is beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless and infinitely powerful.
What’s the difference between this and the Leibniz cosmological argument?
The kalām cosmological argument does not have to appeal to the Principle of Sufficient Reason and asserts only that everything that begins to exist has a cause. God, as an ultimate being, does not need a cause. The Leibnizian argument asserts that only things which do not exist by a necessity of their own natures have causes. In this case, God is his own cause, which Craig says “commits no taxicab fallacy (dismissing the Principle of Sufficient Reason like a cab when one arrives at one’s desired destination).” The destination in question here is the existence of a metaphysically necessary being.
Craig’s argument also goes into more detail about why a theistic God is the only reasonable answer to why our specific world exists, by outlining attributes such as omniscience, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence.
In other words, something exists (God) because an uncaused cause has to exist that operates outside of nature and natural laws and yet could conceive of our universe and reality the way it is. It appears this cause is all powerful, all-knowing, and all-benevolent because we’re here in existence contemplating the issue. This argument matches the traditional Judeo-Christian definition of God and his attributes.
Is God Really the Best Response to the Fundamental Question?
Is God really the answer to why anything exists at all? Let me know what you think of these arguments.
Of course, other arguments for God have been proposed, including other types of cosmological arguments. However, many philosophers consider these to be the most sound logically.
In a future article, I’ll explore some reasons why these theistic-type arguments may not work, including the idea that perhaps no explanation is needed for why anything exists at all.
So, make sure to subscribe below for more articles on existence coming up soon from me.
The Rest of the Articles in This Series Including the Best Answer:
Part 1. Questioning the Question and Types of Responses:
Part 2. The Probabilistic Argument for Existence (Nozak & Van Inwagen): https://thinkingdeeply.medium.com/the-probabilistic-argument-for-why-anything-exists-at-all-examined-van-inwagen-nozick-6fd7f209d11d
Part 3. Modal Realism and Probable Worlds Argument (David Lewis): https://medium.com/curious/does-modal-realism-explain-why-anything-at-all-exists-db3c43a45df9
Part 4. Necessitarian Theistic Argument (Leibniz & Craig) https://thinkingdeeply.medium.com/does-god-explain-why-there-is-something-rather-than-nothing-1ba79fd90639
Part 5. The Brute Fact Argument (Hume & Russell) https://thinkingdeeply.medium.com/does-the-brute-fact-argument-explain-why-is-there-something-rather-than-nothing-189eb0289aa9
Part 6. Axiological Arguments (Leslie, Rescher, Tegmark) https://thinkingdeeply.medium.com/do-abstract-objects-explain-why-anything-exists-at-all-axiological-arguments-for-existence-fc9b194a3af9
Part 7. Is the Question Meaningless? (Wittgenstein, Edwards, Positivism, Smith) https://thinkingdeeply.medium.com/is-the-question-why-is-there-anything-at-all-actually-meaningless-1c8f2ce96703
Part 8. The Best Response: https://thinkingdeeply.medium.com/why-is-there-something-rather-than-nothing-the-best-answer-e568f468459a
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