Godless Mom Ponders Something From Nothing
An atheist mom blogs about how something can come from nothing.
KEVIN HARRIS: Dr. Craig, we interact with some top scholarship on this podcast. Occasionally we like to look and just see what the layperson is saying. This is a terrific blog. She’s a great writer. She goes by “Godless Mom.” She’s a mom – a pretty typical mom. She is an atheist, and she blogs on various topics. This particular blog I thought we would look at – “How Can You Believe That Something Came From Nothing?” She starts off:
The height of my science “career” was making paper maché volcanos in grade two that erupted in a pungent, vinegary mess. . . . science blows my mind, but my understanding of it is about the same level of . . . “Woah, cool!”
So she says,
So, when theists ask me, way too often, how I can believe that something came from nothing, you can understand how absurd the question is to me. I mean, I don’t know the first thing about what may have existed before the Big Bang.
DR. CRAIG: I want to interrupt at this point because I think this is the first misunderstanding that Godless Mom evinces here. The question that these theists are asking, “How can something come from nothing?,” is not a scientific question – it’s a philosophical question. It’s a metaphysical question. You don’t need to know anything about the Big Bang. Godless Mom’s ignorance of Big Bang cosmology is irrelevant to the question of how can something come from nothing, which is a metaphysical question. So often I find laypeople are even more naive when it comes to philosophical issues than they are when it comes to scientific issues. I think that is the case here. What these theists that she has spoken to are evidently presupposing is some version of the Kalam cosmological argument. So I am very proud of them to be asking this sort of question. They are presupposing an argument that would go something like this:
1. Whatever beings to exist has a cause.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.
Relevant to the second premise (the universe began to exist) would be the evidence of Big Bang cosmology that she mentions. But that is not relevant to the truth of the first premise – whatever beings to exist has a cause. Things don’t just pop into being out of nothing. That is a philosophical and metaphysical statement about which you’d need to know nothing about Big Bang cosmology in order to assess its truth. The theists are not talking to her about the evidence – philosophical or scientific – for the beginning of the universe. What they are asking her about is the first premise of the argument that whatever begins to exist has a cause, and how can she deny that premise.
KEVIN HARRIS: She says,
I guess, in the forty-two years I’ve been an atheist, I just never got the memo that I was supposed to believe that something came from nothing. My position has always been, instead, that I dunno. It’s a big, fat shrug.
DR. CRAIG: I sure hope this shrug isn’t a shrug of indifference because I think this would show a lack of intellectual curiosity. I think these are profound philosophical questions that merit thinking about. If she isn’t interested in them or simply chooses not to think about them, that’s fine. That is her prerogative. But for those of us who are interested in these profound questions, I think it is very important to think about them and to try to ask where the universe came from and if something can come into being out of nothing.
KEVIN HARRIS: She says,
It’s strange to me that some believers think that atheism is a position on the origins of the universe. That, because we don’t believe a god made all of this, we must have some other explanation. It simply does not cross their mind that our answer might be “dunno.”
DR. CRAIG: What is clear is that, with respect to the origin of the universe, if you don’t believe that a god made all of this, as the theist does, then there must be some other explanation. It doesn't follow, as she says, that the atheist knows what it is. He can confess ignorance – I don’t know the explanation – but clearly if theism is not the explanation of the origin of the universe then there must be some other explanation. So what could it be? If God is not the explanation, it seems to me there are basically only two explanations. Either the universe is past-eternal – that is to say, it never began to exist; it has just always been there – or else it came into being out of nothing. It just popped into being uncaused. The atheist has to take his pick between those two. It is true that atheism as such does not commit you to the universe coming into being from nothing. Instead you could argue for an eternal universe – a past-eternal universe. But that has become increasingly difficult to do – that second alternative. So I think Godless Mom would be really, really surprised at the number of atheists who have been driven to the position that the universe just popped into being uncaused out of nothing.
KEVIN HARRIS: She seems to be curious as to why Christians or theists always tend to lead with this question to her – the question of origins. In one sense, it is because it really is a good conversation starter, I would think. But she seems to be curious – Why are you asking me about something like this? Which she called science, which you corrected – it’s a philosophical question. She says,
It’s the same way they approach everything. They have faith, so we must. They have religious beliefs, and so we must also have religious beliefs.
DR. CRAIG: That is a strange comment. One isn’t foisting some religious belief on the atheist. One is simply asking how could the universe come into existence from nothing. Is that what you affirm? It is not a religious belief. That is a perfectly good philosophical question. It is always open to the atheist to say that the universe didn’t come into being uncaused from nothing; it is past-eternal. Matter and energy have always existed in different configurations and forms. But then you have to answer the philosophical and scientific evidence against the past-eternality of the universe.
KEVIN HARRIS: She says,
It’s just not the case at all, and this question ends up telling us a whole lot more about the asker than it does about the person answering.
DR. CRAIG: I thought this was an interesting statement. I think it does embody a profound truth that perhaps Godless Mom didn’t intend. She says the “question ends up telling us a whole lot more about the asker than it does about the person answering.” I think that is very true. There is a kind of intellectual curiosity and philosophical depth to the person who asks this profound question and who cares about why the universe exists. To me there is a perplexing and bewildering apathy and indifference and lack of intellectual curiosity on the part of those who just say, I don’t care, I don’t want to look into it, it doesn’t bother me. I think she is right here. This question, I think, does say a lot more about the person asking it than some of the people answering it. It betokens the intellectual depth of the person who is asking this question. Honestly.
KEVIN HARRIS: She says,
It tells us that the theist is so uncomfortable with the state of not knowing that he cannot fathom someone okay with it. We must have an answer of our own.
DR. CRAIG: Not that you must have an answer, but there must be an answer.
KEVIN HARRIS: I see this a lot. When I look through the blogs, it is always this: It is OK to say ‘I don’t know.’ Your certainty that you are foisting upon us seems a little contrived.
DR. CRAIG: It is important to help folks understand one isn’t claiming certainty. One is claiming the weight of the evidence or probability. I think it is highly probable that the universe did begin to exist. That seems to be the view that prevails among contemporary cosmologists. Even Lawrence Krauss (a determined anti-theist) in our dialogue in Australia said he thinks it is probable the universe did begin to exist, which is all that I am claiming. That something cannot come into being from nothing, there I think that is overwhelmingly probably true. To me it is a metaphysical absurdity that being should come from non-being. We would just, I think, want to encourage Godless Mom to think about these questions and to begin to explore rather than to be intellectually inert and indifferent about these profound issues. These are questions which have occupied the greatest minds in the history of philosophy. We shouldn’t just ignore them, I think.
KEVIN HARRIS: I like your tact, either in debates or lectures or dialogues. You always say, I think that X is the case and here is why. That offers probably the biggest disclaimer in the world – I think that this is the case, and here is why I think it.
DR. CRAIG: Yes.
KEVIN HARRIS: She says,
The thing is, though, we are okay with not knowing. There are plenty of things we don’t understand at this stage in human knowledge, and the best thing about being able to admit we don’t know is that it leaves room for investigation.
DR. CRAIG: Ah-ha! Now there is the key. Being able to admit that you don’t know leaves room for investigation. That is what I’m pleading for. Investigate. Look into it. See what the arguments and evidence suggest. But don’t simply remain in your ignorance due to indifference.
KEVIN HARRIS: If we can look here, as we wrap it up, at some of the comments. She asks some of her friends on Twitter and her blog, OK, what do you say? What do you say when someone asks you how can you believe something come from nothing? One person replied, “I don't. This is a lie that apologists constantly tell about Atheists. Why not investigate yourself what Atheists actually believe rather than making assumptions?”
DR. CRAIG: This person obviously has not read the atheist literature. Because when you read how atheists respond to this question, as I say, increasingly they are driven to deny the first premise of the argument that whatever begins to exist has a cause. They will try to provide justifications for that. This is not a lie that apologists have said about. This is a position that is prominent in the atheistic literature.
KEVIN HARRIS: “Mr. Spock” says the same thing. He says, “I ask them who made that claim.”
DR. CRAIG: For example, Quentin Smith, my friend and non-believing colleague from the University of Western Michigan, a metaphysician and philosopher of science. Quentin argues strenuously that the evidence of contemporary cosmology requires that the universe is finite in the past and had an absolute beginning. He says that the best explanation of the origin of the universe is that the universe came from nothing, for nothing, and by nothing.
KEVIN HARRIS: He is pretty famous for that. This is interesting – this person Alan says, “I would say the question only makes sense if you assume “nothing” is the default state of reality – an assumption that has no objective basis to take.”
DR. CRAIG: This is an interesting objection. This objection has been made by Adolf Grünbaum, a prominent philosopher of science and atheist from the University of Pittsburgh. While that objection is relevant – oh, boy, here we get a little technical – to the Leibnizian cosmological argument which does not presuppose the beginning of the universe but says that even an eternally existing universe would need an explanation for why there is anything rather than nothing, this objection is not relevant to the argument we are talking about today, the Kalam cosmological argument which says that anything that begins to exist has a cause, the universe began to exist, and therefore it follows that the universe has a cause. That is a deductively valid argument, and I think both of the premises are true and therefore the conclusion follows necessarily. It doesn’t say anything about nothing being a default position.
KEVIN HARRIS: In conclusion, it seems that Godless Mom is identifying perhaps a compliment that Christians often pay atheists. That is – Oh, you are an atheist, then you must be interested in science and philosophy.
DR. CRAIG: You must think about these things, too!
KEVIN HARRIS: Yeah, you must think about these things. And she’s going, No, I don’t! I don’t know! We do tend to lead with, OK, let’s talk about cosmology. Let’s talk about philosophical questions about the beginning of the universe. I think that’s a good conversation starter. And then go through your material with them. I’m trying to see what she is so allergic to here. It might just be that she feels like she’s bombarded with that a lot and she doesn’t know. But, again, I would just say that it is kind of a compliment.
DR. CRAIG: I think it is. It assumes that the person you are having your conversation with is an intellectually curious person, a deep thinker who cares about these deep philosophical questions rather than just sports, entertainment, and celebrities. So I think that it does pay the unbeliever a sincere compliment to ask these sorts of questions.
 https://www.patheos.com/blogs/godlessmom/2020/01/how-can-you-believe-that-something-came-from-nothing/ (accessed March 9, 2020).
 Total Running Time: 16:38 (Copyright © 2020 William Lane Craig)