Barbara Smoker probes why there is something rather than nothing.

Why is there something rather than nothing?” This question is often pressed by modern Christian theologians – especially, in my experience, the Dominicans – although it was a secular mathematician, Leibniz, who first framed it, three centuries ago.

If you reply “Why not?”, the theologian will insist that if something is not self-explanatory – that is, if it exists but does not have to exist – it is natural to ask why it exists, and there should be an answer. Probably so, you counter – but that is within the system of cause and effect in which we find ourselves, and it cannot apply to the cosmos itself. After all, what the question is apparently demanding is an explanation for the whole of existence, although explanation means finding causal relationships between one event and another, and, you may counter, there is nothing known beside the universe (by the usual definition) to which to relate it.

“Not known in the experiential sense,” agrees the theologian, “but known by inference: unless the incipient universe somehow came into existence from nothing, we are forced to assume the existence of an eternal necessary being – God – independent of the universe, and in a causal relationship with it.

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