There is a trend among humanity to ponder their existence. The following questions have been asked for centuries:
- Do I exist?
- If I exist, what else exists?
- How did I come into being?
In modern times, the questions have been more narrowly focused.
- Did I indeed evolve from other species?
- Does God exist?
- If God exists, what are his characteristics?
- Is matter self-existent?
Many have attempted to answer the question of ontology. Some claim that matter is self-existent. Others argue that matter was created out of nothing by a self-existent God. This post is an adaptation of a treatise that I wrote in university for an atheist philosophy professor. I got an A.
The following are four possible explanations to account for existence1:
- Reality as we encounter it is an illusion
- Reality as we encounter it is self-created
- Reality as we encounter it is self-existent
- Reality as we encounter it was created by something that is self-existent
In order to prove that one of these is true, one would simply need to disprove the other three. This post attempts to invalidate options 1, 2, and 3, leaving option 4 as the only rational choice.
The Matrix, an Oscar-winning film from 1999, portrayed reality as being a great illusion. Could it be the case that all of the things that we see are really just illusions? Are the thoughts that we think really being pumped into our brains from some sort of supercomputer? Do we even have brains? Do I even exist? In the Meditations (2004), Rene Descartes answered these questions by claiming that while one thinks, it must be the case that the thinking one exists. The phrase “I think, therefore I am,” came from Descartes’ theory. Since all of humanity is capable of thinking, it must be true that humanity exists. Furthermore, Descartes discovered that material things exist as well. Thus, the proposition that existence is really an illusion must be false.2
Probably the most prominent view by those other than theists is the idea that reality as we encounter it is self-created. If reality exists and is not an illusion, then either it has been created or is self-existent. If it has been created, either it created itself or was created by something that is self-existent. The claim that the universe and everything contained within it was self-created has a fatal flaw. In order to create itself, something would have to exist before it existed. For the universe to come into being by a combination of space, time, and chance, it would have to have existed in some form beforehand. This view does not account for the creation of the universe—the universe would have to be self-existent or be created by something self-existent. Thus, because it is impossible for
something to be and not be, it is impossible for something to create itself, and this view is therefore invalid.
The two remaining views depend on the reality of self-existence: either reality as we encounter it is self-existent or was created by something that is self-existent. If something exists, and it is not possible for that thing to have created itself, then it must be true that it was created by something else. Therefore, either something self-existent has created all things or all things were created by something that was not self-existent in some sort of chain reaction of creation spanning the ages to eternity past. Because only a self-existent being is eternal, this hypothetical chain reaction must have been started by a self-existent being in the first place. Therefore, if something exists, it is necessary to conclude that a self-existent being exists. The question is now whether all matter is self-existent or whether it was created by a self-existent being. In order for matter to be self-existent, it would have to be eternal. It is generally accepted among the scientific community that matter as we know it came into existence as the result of the “Big Bang” around 15 billion years ago (LaRocco & Rothstein, 1995). This explosion, according to the theory, occurred at a point of singularity and resulted in galaxies growing and being spread across the universe. This theory, if true, would not serve as evidence that matter itself is self-existent, because that matter came into existence at a certain point in time as the result of an explosion. The Big Bang theory begs the question of what caused the explosion to occur in the first place. If it is true that matter is not self-
existent, then it must have been created by something self-existent. Could it be true that the Big Bang was caused by a self-existent being? That is a matter of speculation. Regardless of whether the Big Bang theory is true or false, matter itself is either self-existent or created. Matter itself is by nature found in four forms – solid, liquid, gas, and plasma. It is unstable and subject to change. It is not in a constant state of eternal being. It has been proven by nuclear fission that an atom can be annihilated in order to harness and dissipate its energy, thus destroying matter. Furthermore, it appears to be the consensus in the scientific community that atoms tend to decay over time, resulting in the degradation or destruction of matter. Thus, it is not possible that matter itself is self-existent. Because matter is not self-existent, it must have been created by something that is self existent. Therefore, a self-existent one created the universe.
There are many objections that could be interjected into this argument and, indeed, this topic has been the subject for much debate and many dissertations. Regardless, logical reasoning proves that it must be true that if the first three ontological options are false, the fourth must be true. It is outside the scope of this paper to argue what that self-existent being is, but it must be
transcendent and eternal—two qualities that are typically ascribed only to God.
- This is a comprehensive list and accounts for every possible theory of existence. For more information, see Sproul (2010).
- Descartes’ answer has been the accepted one for centuries. For more information, see Descartes (2004).
- Descartes, R. (2004). Meditations on First Philosophy in which are demonstrated the existence of God and the distinction between the human soul and body. (J. Bennett, Trans.). Retrieved from http://www.earlymoderntexts.com/pdf/descmed.pdf. Original work published in 1641.
- LaRocco, C. & Blair, R. (1995). The Big Bang: It sure was BIG!!. Retrieved from http://www.umich.edu/~gs265/bigbang.htm
- Sproul, R.C. (2010). Defending Your Faith: The Four Possibilities. Retrieved from http://www.ligonier.org/learn/series/defending-your-faith/four-possibilities/. Audio available for free from http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=323101245201