By David Hegg
Perhaps the most essential question of all is this one: Why is there something instead of nothing? We wake up in the morning, open our eyes and the world is there.
Even before we awake, even before our senses begin importing data from the room around us, we have an abiding consciousness that we exist, and so do myriad other things. Even beyond the material world, we know things exist like emotions, ideas, principles and processes. That we exist and there is something rather than nothing is undeniable. But the question is, why? The academic study of origins tackles this question in scientific and philosophical ways. I can’t begin to do justice to the many elements involved in the theories. My purpose here is to suggest that the way you answer this fundamental question will ultimately determine your ethical bent.
There are only two options, really. One answer is to say that, while something does exist, we can’t fully explain how it came into existence in the first place, and that it doesn’t really matter since we live now and just need to make the best of it. But this is really a dangerous head-in-the-sand mentality built on a half-truth. The reality is that it does matter, and here’s why.
The fact that immaterial things exist – like love and truth and ideas – demands that we explain how they came to be. This is especially necessary in light of the fact evolutionary theory has long posited that physical processes can only produce physical results. You can’t mix chemicals in a laboratory and come up with a test tube full of love, or a beaker full of imagination. You can’t do a brain scan and find creativity, emotion or any number of other immaterial realities. While you can discern their effects on physical parts of the brain and body, these immaterial things don’t subject themselves to the same processes as do the material.
Chief among the immaterial — what we might call spiritual — elements of personhood are the values we carry. In every society we find value judgments of what is right and wrong, what constitutes love and hate, acceptance and disdain. But where did they come from? I maintain that answering this question is every bit as important as any other question of origins.
There is a second way to explain the existence of all things, and it takes into account the Law of Causality. That is, every effect has a cause. If we trace cause and effect backward, we either are trapped by an infinite regress, or we must believe that in the beginning of everything there was an uncaused, self-existent cause. Without this we end up with an infinite set of “and what caused that?” questions.
Further, if we look with open minds at our world, we must admit we see an intricacy that can’t be accounted for through random processes. The uncaused cause must have a high level of intelligence. And if we agree that the presence of immaterial things like love and truth exist, then we must also accept the possibility that they flow from the morality of the uncaused, intelligent cause.
Here’s the point: If we decide it really doesn’t matter how the immaterial things, like right, wrong, good and evil, got here, then we should not be surprised if the moral climate of every society decays over time. If there is no basis, no standard for ethical living outside of ourselves, then we will ultimately bend social conscience to fit our selfishness.
But, if there is an uncaused, intelligent, moral cause that has brought all things into existence, then we are not gods unto ourselves, but are ultimately responsible to the One who is. My belief is we have more freedom and are more satisfied when we acknowledge this, bend our will to the will of God, and live according to his ways rather than ours.
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.