In several of his many books promoting atheism, physicist Victor J. Stenger (retired from teaching physics at the University of Hawaii) makes his case for his belief that the universe — that is to say “our universe” — had its beginnings from what he calls “quantum tunneling” from a previous universe, that from our (i.e., his) point of view, is seen as having existed “limitlessly”, by which I guess he means to say, has always existed. In fact, in one of his books, titled Quantum Gods, he spends a whole chapter excoriating against what he calls “Nothingism”, which he seems to consider the loony idea (most recently promoted by cosmologist Stephen Hawking) that you can get a whole universe evolving all by itself from nothing.
I must say that in this I agree with Stenger, inasmuch as one of the cardinal axioms of philosophy, which he now teaches at the University of Colorado, is that when you boil it all down to common sense, you just can’t get something from nothing. But it is also this same common sense which led theologians several millennia ago, long before the “Big Bang” theory of the origins of the universe saw the light of day, to conclude that not only is God the “Creator” of the universe but that the term “creation” means to make something out of nothing. All this is, as Sherlock Holmes used to say to his sidekick Watson, “elementary”.
But let’s just suppose, for the sake of argument, that Stenger is correct, and that our universe, as well as the big bang that first began to produce it, actually is the result of some quantum sleight- of-hand from the collapse, or whatever, of a previous universe. Then the question becomes what in turn produced that previous universe? More “quantum tunneling”? And if so, what before that? And still before that? And so on and so on — ad infinitum.
By now I trust the reader has got my point, which is that an infinite regression of causes solves nothing. Which is also the reason that Stenger slips in that qualifier “from our point of view”, which I take to mean that the previous universe that he is referring to — again from our time-bound perspective (time being, as Einstein said “something we measure with a clock”) — is out of time or as we more often say “eternal”.
But Stenger must know that this eternal or infinite quality of being is considered to be the nature of what most people call “God” or what the philosopher Aristotle called the “Prime mover” or the great medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas called the “uncaused Cause.” So why can’t Stenger make the same logical connection?
The reason becomes clear, I think, when Stenger makes it clear that what he rejects is the childish idea of what he calls the “hands-on God” who listens to our prayers or works miracles. In fact, he even admits (at least kind of) that there are modern theologians who, like the “deists” of several centuries ago, also question such ideas, but he seems to reject them as betraying their own tradition.
Maybe so, but I believe that all this goes to show that Stenger, who claims to have been raised as a Catholic, is himself unaware of the deeper currents of his childhood faith. The idea of God as the
“Ground of Being” (promoted by the liberal Protestant theologian Paul Tillich and the still more liberal non-theistic Episcopalian Bishop Spong) is not something new to well-educated Christians. It goes straight back to St. Augustine, who back in the fourth century described God as “Being in itself” and again to Aquinas who spoke of God’s nature as being simply “sustaining his own being” (ipsum esse subsistens) or other theologians of those times who wrote of God’s primary quality being “aseitas” — that is, having its own being in and of itself. (Notice that none of these people spoke of God as “existing” — the reason being that the ex in “exist” comes from the Latin word meaning “from”, which would imply that whatever we are talking about as “existing” came from something else, which contradicts the basic idea of God to begin with!)
The pity in all of this is that brilliant people like Stenger, who can come up with esoteric concepts like “quantum tunneling” are so uninformed about the tradition that they, like Stenger, apparently early on in life, rejected. Yet in our age of scientific specialization I suppose that is one of the great dangers of higher education, therefore understandable, maybe even forgivable. And at least Stenger, unlike so many of the other “new atheists”, can see the fundamental problem with their “nothingism”.
R W Kropf 6/22/11 Somethingism.doc 11-06-22.html