“Why is there something rather than nothing?” This, according to German mathematician and philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, is “the first question that should be rightly asked.” Centuries before him, Aristotle was also struck by the same idea that lies behind this question, who could not help but concur that this must indeed be the most profound question a human being can ever ask, a question that sooner or later would point the inquiring mind towards the beginning of the universe. And this question, he said, no one can ask without being engulfed by a sense of wonder.
The necessary Self-Existent Being
Unable to escape the ramifications of this question, Leibniz concluded that something exists rather than nothing because Something, or to be more precise than the way he chose to put it, Someone, out there must have existed all by Himself for all eternity whose existence is the very reason for the existence of all that exist. Philosophers have called this Something or Someone the eternal, uncaused, incorruptible and indestructible Necessary Being. Theologians have simply called Him the Self-Existent, Self-Sufficient One in response to the biblical revelation which rightly calls Him simply as He is (in such a way that many philosophers and some theologians have failed to realize) – the Great I Am, who Himself is the beginning and the end, the first and the last, the Alpha and the Omega.
Starting with the Age of the Enlightenment up to our so-called postmodern Age of Information, this rather profound idea celebrated by people of great minds and hearts in history has nonetheless become a major object of criticism and ridicule by self-proclaimed academic intelligentsia. Operating through the atheistic philosophical belief system called naturalism, these skeptics posed a follow up question to all the answers already given in response to Leibniz’s question: Is it not possible that the material universe must have been the necessary Self-Existent Being?
Probably first posited by the Enlightenment philosopher David Hume to the discussion table of academic inquiry, this question was popularized by not a few atheists, like Bertrand Russell, Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking, and only recently, echoed by the so-called new atheists of the fundamentalist stream like Richard Dawkins, Samuel, Harris, Christopher Hitchens and Daniel Dennett.
The implication of what this question seeks to convey, however, has long been invalidated even by these atheists’ fellow staunch evolutionists in the scientific arena, who, so as to discredit the biblical account of creation by the Creator God, speculated on the idea of the Big Bang theory. But if there is such a thing as the so-called Big Bang (and where did the Big Bang come from is the next question that still remains unanswered), it then follows that the universe has its own starting point, as many scientists would say, some 15 billion years or so ago.
Regardless of contrary opinions surrounding this question about the origin of the universe, an undeniable conclusion must be admitted if one is to avoid the fate of anti-intellectualism: that there was a point in time when the universe was not (provided that time had been already there before the universe came to existence). If that be the case, the material universe cannot be the necessary Self-Existent Being.
The human sense of wonder
More so, the universe, considered even for at least a moment as the necessary Self-Existent Being, does not in any way invite a real sense of wonder. The alternative is rather true. This sense of wonder comes when a human being finds himself or herself in a direct encounter with the one and only true Necessary Self-Existent Being whom the Bible calls as God. This sense of wonder is ultimately expressed in an act of worship and an outburst of praise, and is maintained by a life of faith and joyous obedience, unfamiliar to those who have no knowledge whatsoever of what this is all about.
Before this, however, there first comes a deep sense of uneasiness and fear as the sinful human heart is confronted by the reality of Him who is the Self-Existent One. For He is also known as the Wholly Other, set apart from that which is created, and is more appropriately called as the Holy One, set apart from that which is morally depraved. Only when the sinfulness of the human soul is accommodated by an act of forgiving grace on the part of Him who alone is holy, without overlooking what divine justice requires of sin, dealt with head on once and for all on the cross of Christ, only then is there a room for this sense of wonder on the part of the recipient of grace.
This has nothing to do therefore only with the question of origin but also has a lot more to say about the drama of redemption and the consummation of time.
- William Lane Craig, The Cosmological Argument from Plato to Leibniz (London: Macmillan, 1980).
- David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, edited by Norman Kemp Smith (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill. 1947).
- G.W. Leibniz, “The Principles of Nature and of Grace, Based on Reason,” in Leibniz Selections, edited by Philip P. Wiener, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1951).
- A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (New York: HarperCollins, 1961).