Rather a lot rides on the answer.
The strident American atheist and physicist, Lawrence Krauss, thinks it can. He wrote a philosophically muddled book called A Universe from Nothing in which he speculates that it is possible for a universe to come from nothing, provided some parameters (such as quantum fields and the physical laws that govern them) are already in existence to allow it. He wants to call the empty space of the cosmos ‘nothing’ whilst also insisting that this ‘nothing’ is actually a cauldron of virtual particles which can pop into physical existence when interacting with powerful fields.
Krauss’ great mistake, of course, is to fail to understand what ‘nothing’ really means.
In all human scientific endeavours, scientists have never exhausted the beautiful mathematical order that has underpinned their discoveries. This is even true for the non-intuitive world of quantum physics, and this, I submit, is hugely significant. The esteemed English astronomer and mathematical physicist, James Jeans (1877 – 1946), said in his book The Mysterious Universe: ‘The universe appears to have been designed by a pure mathematician.’[i]
But does God actually exist?
Whether or not he does depends on which sequence of events is true concerning the building of the universe.
Did matter give rise to information (as atheists believe), or did information give rise to matter (as theists believe)?
What do I mean by this? Atheists believe that somehow, as the result of nothing (or because the universe has always existed without reason), a universe existed. In other words, “matter” came to exist. Then, over time, various evolutionary processes took place resulting in this matter generating sophisticated information that allowed life to develop.
Lawrence Krauss is one who believes that matter gave rise to information. He does so by championing the idea that there are an infinite number of universes, each with a different set of physical laws. And because there are an infinite number of universes, we should not be surprised that one universe eventually stumbled on a set of physical laws that allowed life to develop. The significance of our ordered universe can therefore be dissolved in a sea of infinity.
However, if one universe is hard to explain, it is even harder to explain the existence of an infinite number of them. As such, the multiverse hypothesis does not explain anything. It merely lifts the conundrum up to the next level.
Another principle atheists appeal to in order to explain the existence of our universe is to say that a fundamental physical principle – a “theory of everything” exists that makes the development of a life-friendly universe inevitable. (It seems to me that by doing this, they have simply crossed out God, and replaced him with a “theory of everything” – which doesn’t appear to be much of a step forward!)
The other trouble with this thinking is that there is no hard evidence of a theory of everything existing.
A third option available to atheists, is to believe that our universe has always existed – and has done so without reason and without purpose. This, of course, is simply a faith statement. It also suffers from the fact that there is no precedent for anything existing without a cause. In fact, the very idea shatters the law of “cause and effect” which underpins all of science.
Let’s now explore the idea that information gave rise to matter. What do I mean by this?
By suggesting that information gave rise to matter, I am suggesting that creation was an intelligent act. The mathematics we see in the cosmos and the codes contained within living cells have their genesis in a mind – in the mind of God. As such, the information in God’s mind resulted in matter (in the form of the cosmos) existing.
What’s the evidence?
Nothing in the long history of human experience has ever caused complex ordered information to exist other than rational thought. It is therefore reasonable to conclude that rational thought has given rise to a rational universe.
So, what can we say in conclusion?
All science relies on ultimate rationality existing. Christians call this ultimate rationality, ‘God’. And whilst it is important to understand that God is more than cosmic rationality, it is nonetheless a very good place to start!
[i] James Jeans, The Mysterious Universe, (Cambridge University Press, 1930 edition), 134.