Friday, November 26, 2010

Does the Universe Need to Exist?

The universe: everything that physically exists. From galaxies to human beings to quarks, we’re learning more about how it all works every day, but here’s a question that the modern world has put on the back burner: does the universe need to exist? I’m not talking about beginnings or physical causes, I’m talking about necessity. Even if the universe has always existed, which science does not support, does it need to exist? In this context, if something is necessary, it must happen. If something is unnecessary, it may or may not happen, depending on external factors. If left to itself, it will not happen, so if something unnecessary happens, then its occurrence must be contingent upon something else. I’m not talking about physics here, but let’s consider an analogy using physical forces in place of existence with the same definition of necessity.  If I let go of a book, does it need to fall? Well, it could fall or it could not fall depending on the forces applied to it, so it’s unnecessary. In this case, it does fall. Why? Its falling is contingent upon the force of gravity. If a book is sitting on a table when I let go of it, it doesn’t fall. Why? Because the normal force of the surface counteracts the force of gravity, so it’s as if there are no external forces applied at all. Falling is not necessary for the book, but contingent, and so it simply won’t happen unless an outside force compels it to fall. This analogy with physical forces illustrates what I mean by necessity and contingency. Shouldn’t it be the same way with existence?

Does the universe need to exist - was there absolutely no possibility of the universe not existing? Everyone with whom I’ve discussed this question, atheist and theist alike, has given the answer “No, the universe does not need to exist.” Now we must ask the question: then why does it? A self-professed atheist and naturalist once told me “the universe doesn’t need to exist, it just does.” While this response may sound almost profound on the surface, a more careful examination of the logic will reveal its fatal flaw – it is intellectual suicide. Let’s return to my analogy with physical forces and consider this answer. If I drop a book, does it need to fall? “It doesn’t need to fall, it just does.” This signals the death of scientific curiosity. This answer demonstrates an unwillingness to pursue the matter any further.  If modern man applied this dead-end logic to science as he does to philosophy, imagine the stagnation of material progress we would experience. Yet the question “does the universe need to exist?” is much more transcendent, important, and poignant than any question regarding physical forces, because it is ultimately linked with the question of who we are and why we’re here. Does the universe need to exist? There seems to be a consensus that it does not, which means that the universe’s existence is contingent. Remember, the universe is everything that physically exists; so if the existence of everything that physically exists is contingent, then there must be something beyond physical existence upon which it is contingent! There’s your proof of the supernatural!

Thomas Aquinas says “Therefore we cannot but postulate the existence of some being having of itself its own necessity, and not receiving it from another, but rather causing in others their necessity. This all men speak of as God.” That’s why we exist, that’s where our meaning and value come from! Why does this necessary being exist? Because it must, that’s the point, since if all existence was unnecessary then nothing at all would exist. That’s why there can’t be an infinite string of unnecessary beings causing the next one’s existence. Infinite contingency is still contingency. There are other philosophical principles which can lead us to understand other characteristics of this necessary being based on logic alone, but I have only covered one today. I’m not trying to say that this one philosophical principle alone can prove the existence of the revealed Christian God with all His unique characteristics; I’m only demonstrating that the possibility of His existence is philosophically sound and answers important questions which cannot be effectively answered otherwise.  Is this simply a “God-of-the-gaps” theology? Well, only if the law of gravity is a “science-of-the-gaps” principle. Have you seen gravity, held it in your hand? No, we only know of its existence because of its effects. We accept gravity because it makes perfect sense of otherwise unexplainable phenomena.  If you are not also an “a-gravitist”, then you should have no excuse to be an “atheist”.
Thanks for listening, God bless!

1 comment:

  1. That's awesome. I've never heard it put quite like that; very well-explained.

    I'm a webmaster for a Catholic group that speaks on various apologetics/evangelism topics. If you'd like to see some of my work, it's available at Click on "Media," two of the videos are mine and I did the podcasts under the name "Daniel Marcum" (that's me).

    I'd love to work more closely with you on evangelizing the digital culture. I'd love to have someone who can make some videos for our group, and maybe work with us on writing some tracts that we can send to Protestant ministers and lay people. If you're interested in helping us out, shoot me an email: Or leave us a voicemail at our phone number: 1-850-EMMAUS-1. I get all the voicemails, so feel free.