What Explains the Existence of the Physical Universe?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

If there is one thing we can all agree on, it is that the physical universe exists. I think we can safely ignore anyone who believes that the universe is just an illusion or that we are in the “matrix.”

But if the universe exists, what explains it? Why does it exist? Any worldview worth considering needs an answer to this question. Let’s look at how Christian theism and atheistic naturalism attempt to answer this question and see which worldview offers a better explanation.

Atheistic naturalism has commonly offered a few responses to this question, all of which I believe are unsatisfactory.  First, some naturalists will answer that the question itself is meaningless.  They say that it is a nonsense question that has no answer.  The universe just is and there is no explanation for it.  As an explanation, however, this is no explanation at all.  Everyone but the naturalist seems to know what the question means, so we can safely assume the naturalist simply doesn’t want to answer the question because their worldview has no answer.

Second, naturalists have answered that the universe is self-existent, and that it has always existed.  The problem with this explanation is that is has been soundly refuted by modern cosmology, by one of the very sciences that naturalists claim to be the arbiters of reality.  There is also a philosophical problem with this explanation.  Every physical object we observe in the universe is caused to exist by something else, so how can it be that the whole universe can be uncaused if everything in it is caused?

Here is an analogy.  Let’s say you see a perfectly smooth, 1-foot diameter, glass globe sitting in the grass.  You would conclude, without much thought, that something or someone caused that glass ball to come into existence.  Now take that glass ball, blow it up, and make it the size of Jupiter.  The Jupiter-sized glass ball still needs a cause, doesn’t it?

Now make the glass ball the size of the observable universe.  Wouldn’t you agree that the universe-size glass ball even more obviously needs a cause than the 1-foot ball or the Jupiter-sized ball?  Likewise, to say that even though everything smaller than the universe needs a cause, but the universe doesn’t need a cause, is simply implausible.

A third explanation is that our universe is merely one of an infinite sea of universes that exist.

How is this an answer that naturalists can offer?  Naturalists claim that only what the physical sciences can observe and describe constitutes reality.  But no universe except our own has ever been observed.  In addition, even if there were an infinite sea of universes, the question of what caused all those universes needs to be answered.  Instead of offering a cause of our one universe, the naturalist has multiplied by infinity the number of effects that need a cause, and thus makes the problem infinitely worse.

What is the answer from Christian theism?  Christians answer that the universe exists because a self-existent first cause (God) has brought it into existence and is continuing to hold it in existence.  Why is this a better explanation than what atheistic naturalists offer?

It seems obvious that physical objects in the universe need a cause to bring them into existence.  A thing cannot cause its own existence.  But, in order to avoid an infinite regress of causes, we need a first, uncaused cause.

Here is an analogy from movement.  We can say that a stone is moved by a stick, which is moved by a hand, which is moved by an arm, which is moved by a brain, and so forth and so on.  But eventually the explanations have to stop at something that is not in need of being moved. We need an unmoved mover, and that is God.

Christians recognize that the universe simply cannot be the cause of itself.  The cause must transcend the universe and it must be able to exist on its own, with no need of an outside cause for its own existence.  This cause we call God.

  • Todd

    Self-existent universe is absurd, but a self-existent deity that creates and maintains a universe is sound logic. Anyone else see the contradiction?

  • Mitch

    I’m a Christian and I agree the KCA is powerful but you argued from composition in your article. Saying every thing in the universe needs a cause so the whole universe needs a cause is one big fallacy. Every atom in an elephant is light, does it follow that the elephant is light?? You need to rephrase the argument the way it was meant to be.

  • Ugo

    Everything that begins to exist has a cause(we can see that just by observing the world around us(this is what science is, an observation), there is even a law that says that nothing gets created but everything transform itself), the only type of thing that does not need a cause for its existence is something that has always existed, i.e.: God. God by definition didn’t begin to exist, therefore God does not necessitate a cause for it existence. Do you follow?

    We know because of the second law of thermodynamic that the universe in which we live has not existed since infinity so it had a beginning point which was caused by God.

  • Andrew Ryan

    “there is even a law that says that nothing gets created but everything transform itself”

    So what did God make the universe out of then?

  • Ugo

    Who do you think created the laws of the universe? How can God be limited by the laws that he created himself?

    Just follow the logic :

    As I stated, the universe has not been infinitely going on according to science and this is the reason why they came up with this idea of a big bang that they cannot prove happened because in the universe matters cannot be created out of nothing(the law of conservation of mass).

    The universe had a beginning so there is only 2 choices :
    God(or call it whatever you want) created the universe and did set everything in motion and this is why we find great intelligent design all around us.


    The universe created itself(How can something which doesn’t even exist create itself?), and everything started to move, and their motion was set by nothing, all the physical laws of the universe happened so that matter can hold together and atoms can exist and so forth…

    I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist, the idea of a universe without a God to create it is illogical when you start to analyze the great intelligent design around us and when you compare the evidences for both scenario.

    I apologize if I made mistakes in my english, I’m french.

  • Is it a fallacy to say that if you build a table out of ten wooden parts, that the table is also wooden? Obviously not. Likewise, if the universe simply is the set of all of the contingent physical things in existence, than it follows that the set itself is contingent.

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  • igor

    1. This is an alternative scenario for “necessary” and “contingent”.

    1a. Simple Version – All that is “necessary” is the energy/matter that is inside the universe, plus the laws of physics. The form taken by the energy/matter is transient and “contingent”. Since the Big Bang, everything that has occurred within the universe has depended entirely on the contained energy/matter and the laws of physics. No God required.

    1b. Better Version – All that is “necessary” is the Metaverse content in its fundamental form plus the Metaverse version of the laws of physics. If the density of the fundamental content is less than infinity, the laws of physics may allow clumping (similar to the formation of stars or black holes). One such instance if clumping may have resulted in the “singularity” that became what we call the Big Bang. The resulting universe is “contingent”. No God required.

    So where did this fundamental content and the laws of physics come from? Answer – the same place as God. But the fundamental content and laws did not require any sentience. Thus the simplest explanation is fundamental content plus the laws of physics.