Whether we say the Universe has always existed, or God has always existed, we have the same problem: something has had to exist for all “time” (or had the potential to come into existence).
The believer says it is God who has always existed, while the materialist/atheist says that it is the stuff that makes up our Universe, but which explanation is most reasonable?
God vs. the Universe
This is a very difficult question, because there’s still much we don’t know. While there are still gaps in our knowledge, there are a number of factors that might lead us to conclude that it is the Universe (in some form) that is more likely to have always “just existed.”
1. The Universe exists.
This should probably go without saying, but we can directly observe our Universe, we cannot directly observe God. This certainly doesn’t disprove God, but it is a good place to start.
We can pick up a rock and say, “Hey, look! I found a part of the Universe!” We cannot go into a church and say, “Hey, look! I found God!” (Well, we can… but you know what I mean.)
If we have to identify something that has always existed, it seems more reasonable to begin with something that has been shown to exist, than something we cannot confirm.
2. The Universe is far less complex than God.
If something were to “just exist” without cause, a simple thing seems more likely than something with a high degree of complexity.
A God would require an incredible amount of complexity, considering its need to store, retrieve, comprehend, and create. This God would have to know how to bring matter into existence, and intentionally shape that matter into living things. It would need either need to be self-taught, or somehow “just know” all things without ever being educated.
By comparison, energy and particles are pretty dumb. They don’t begin with a high degree of complexity, and must rely on natural laws, chance probabilities, and selection to begin to form any sort of true complexity.
3. The Universe is often wasteful and disorderly.
There is much waste and disorder in the Universe. Why would God carefully design hundreds of billions of galaxies if he only needed one? (We didn’t even know until recently that these other galaxies existed!) Why design entire galaxies, and then crash them into one another? Why make space so deadly for humans? Or place objects so far away that there is no hope of our ever reaching them? Why pelt random moons and planets with space-debris? Is there a reason for this kind of design? Is it intelligent? Or is it random? Nature’s behavior is wasteful, unguided, indifferent, and lacks the thoughtfulness one would expect from an intelligent designer.
4. The Universe would not have to create something from nothing.
If something must always exist, there is one less variable in saying the Universe has always existed (in some shape or form) than saying it was created from nothing.
Sure, we could add a God to the equation, but then we also have to go about proving that non-material life can exist, and can think, and have knowledge, and create matter from nothing. Why not just say that the what exists is what exists?
The theist has to accept:
- Supernatural spiritual beings can exist.
- Spiritual beings can exist eternally without cause.
- Spiritual beings can create new matter and energy from nothing.
- Spiritual beings can exist outside of space and time.
- Spiritual beings can store, retrieve, and creatively process information.
- Spiritual beings are constantly learning, or are able to somehow have knowledge without ever being educated.
- Spiritual beings have needs or emotions that lead them to create things.
The materialist must accept:
- Matter and/or energy has always existed (in some form or another), and occasionally give rise to more complex things.
Because our knowledge is limited, we can only speculate about whether it is God or the Universe that has always existed. Both ideas seem unusual, but in order for us to exist, one must be true.
I can hold a rock in one hand, and while I may not know where it came from, it’s difficult to imagine a time when each of its atoms simply did not exist. If I followed all of its atoms back in time, would I ever reach a time when all of its particles simply didn’t exist? In any form?
In the other hand, I can imagine I’m holding God. I don’t know if he’s really there, and he looks suspiciously like nothing. It’s difficult to imagine that he is there, and that he has always existed, and that he even created the rock in my other hand… out of sheer will.
What I do know is that the rock exists now. Its very existence testifies to the fact that it can exist, it does exist, and it’s possible that it has always existed. The number of variables that must be true in order for the rock to “just exist” are certainly no more than the number required for a god to “just exist.” There will always be far more variables required for an invisible, intelligent, eternal God to create something, than for that thing to have just always existed, in some form, on its own.