Though consistent with the Catholic Church’s historic teaching, Pope Francis’ recent affirmation of the plausibility of the Big Bang theory has apparently shocked the world. However, the Big Bang is not incompatible with God, because something would have had to exist prior to the Big Bang taking place, for an explosion could not have happened in a state of “nothing.” This “something” is what we refer to as God.
The creation of the universe as a byproduct of an explosion would mean that nothing existed before the explosion. But, as will be demonstrated, it is not possible to have a state of nothing (or a state of non-existence), and even if it were possible, a state of nothing could not create something, because there would be no substance or catalyst from which it could be created. This means there must be a supernatural being that was not created but simply exists, and is therefore intertwined with existence itself.
The concept of existence is the key to any discussion about the origin of the universe. Too often the focus of these discussions is on how visible matter came into existence – human beings, animals, planets, stars, sun, moon and so on. The discussion must go much deeper. It must address questions of how existence came to be and whether non-existence (i.e., nothing) is even possible.
Some argue that it is possible for there to be nothing and that existence can be created from non-existence. Writing in the New Republic, Jerry A. Coyne, professor of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago, said, “We know now that the universe could have originated from ‘nothing’ through purely physical processes, if you see ‘nothing’ as the ‘quantum vacuum’ of space.”
It is interesting that Coyne is certain the universe could have come from “nothing” even while being unsure of how to understand the concept of “nothing.” He suggests it could be a “quantum vacuum of space,” which is the best approximation of “nothing” that science has been able to produce. But quantum mechanics tells us that a “quantum vacuum of space” is not “nothing.” Rather than being truly empty, the vacuum state contains fleeting electromagnetic waves and particles that come in and out of existence. Physicists appear to agree that even when there is an apparent state of nothing, something is always present.
This shows that no matter how much existence is reduced, it cannot be eliminated. Thus, non-existence is not possible. Even if it were possible, a state of nothing would have to be a permanent state, because it is impossible for something to be created from nothing. In order for the creation of anything to have taken place, something must always have existed. This something is God.
For this reason the theory of evolution in no way undermines the existence of God. Even if we accept that human beings evolved from monkeys, the next question is: Where did monkeys come from? The answer to that question prompts another question and so on. Each question illustrates the process of cause and effect: something comes into being as the result of something before it. As we continue to proceed through the chain of cause and effect, we eventually reach the atom (the basic building block of all matter) and wonder how the atom came into being.
At this point, it becomes apparent that there must be a beginning to the cause and effect process – that is, an initial cause that is not the effect of anything else. There must be, as great thinkers like Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas pointed out, an original source or prime mover (i.e., creator) that did not need to be created. Without a prime mover, everything would have been waiting for something else to be created first, meaning that nothing would have been created even to this day, including you and me.
The question therefore becomes who, or what, is the prime mover? Anything related to matter cannot be the prime mover because, as was just demonstrated, the existence of matter depends on the existence of other matter. This means that matter could not have always existed – it must have been created. In addition, matter could not have come into being from a state of nothing because, as we already determined, non-existence is not possible and a state of nothing could not create something anyway.
This can only mean one thing: A higher power outside of matter must have always existed without having been created. Existence therefore is a state of being that transcends matter and has no beginning and no end. This state of being is what we refer to as God. Aside from God, there is no other way to identify a prime mover that had no need of being created, one who simply exists.
God is thus described as “being” and “existence” by St. Augustine in “Confessions.” In addition, when Moses asks God to reveal his name (Exodus 3:13), God replies, “I am who I am. Tell them ‘I am’ sent you.” (Exodus 3:14-15) With this response, God reveals his nature and provides a clue to the mystery of existence. God’s description of himself shows that there is no beginning to existence: there is simply existence. And God, who has no origin, is that existence.
The following passage from Scripture also sheds light on the mystery of existence: “I am the Alpha and the Omega … the one who is and who was and who is to come, the almighty.” (Revelation 1:8) This passage means God has always existed, still exists and will always exist. It makes sense because, as we saw, there is no other possible explanation about the origin of existence.
Since God has always existed, he did not need to be created. In fact, if God had been created, he would not be God (a creator), but a creature. Although it is difficult to understand how a being could simply exist without a beginning, it is much harder to understand how there could be any substance or matter without such a being.
Yet we can understand how God has always existed from this perspective: Existence has always existed (or alternatively, there is no such thing as non-existence), which can only be explained through the existence of a supernatural being that is completely distinct from matter. This being is known as God. Unlike the world, he has no beginning and no end. He is existence itself.
Zach Krajacic, a Lancaster resident, is vice president at 101.7 FM The Station of the Cross Catholic Radio Network, based in Williamsville. He oversees eight stations throughout the northeastern United States as well as iCatholicRadio, a free app heard throughout the world on mobile devices.