By Barbara Smoker
The author’s summary of a talk she gave to the Bromley Humanist Group on 10th April 2014. Those wishing to read the whole article can find it in the May/june issue of the bi-monthly ‘Philosophy Now’.
“Why is there something rather than nothing?” This question, framed by the secular mathematician Leibniz three centuries ago, is often pressed by modern Christian theologians, in the mistaken belief that an answer to is must include a purposive creator. I agree with them that unless the incipient universe somehow came into existence from nothing, we are forced to assume the existence of a first cause, independent of the universe – but not that this would have to be a conscious and purposive entity.
While “first cause” is a theological term, the concept is not necessarily theist. Theologians do not allow for the possibility that something else – say, and earlier universe, or the wider cosmos, or incipient energy, or simply time – has always existed. (Although, within the universe, time is inseparable from space, maybe time without space existed before the big bang brought the material universe into being.)
Many theists go on to embrace the arrogantly anthropocentric belief that the whole complexity of time and space was specifically devised by their god with the sole motive of producing human beings on Earth, as “objects of His love”. What sort of love is it, however, that would ordain all the suffering endured by earthlings, including ourselves, whether caused by parasites, predators, diseases, natural disasters, or human inhumanity – not to mention basing evolution on the principle of the weakest going to the wall?
Though it is impossible to be 100% certain that no conscious, supernatural entity created the universe, we can be 100% certain that He (to use the traditional pronoun for God!) was not simultaneously omnipotent and beneficent, as supposed in the Abrahamic theology. (Is God willing to prevent evil but not able? Then He is not omnipotent. Is He able but not willing? Then he is malevolent.”)
The naïve theistic explication for existence not only, therefore, fails to answer the Leibniz question, why there is something rather than nothing – since a creator god would still be something -- it also inculpates the supposed creator, if all-powerful, as immoral.
Admittedly, the only answer we atheists can offer to the question why there is something rather than noting is that (like many inappropriate “Why” questions put by small children) it is unanswerable. More to the point, though, is why, in the 21st century, children are still taught to believe in an unnecessary and manifestly uncaring creator. And why atheism should still be widely regarded as pernicious.
Atheism is backed by science. Physicists are in the process of discovering how, given certain physical conditions, our universe may have actually created itself. At the same time, emergencies of life through a combination of particular chemicals form self-replicating matter. For contemporary theologians to ignore all this ongoing scientific research suggests, at least, and lement of wishful thinking in their faith and of evasion in its advocacy. [The End]