Written by Vladimir Moss


Lear. This is nothing, fool.

Fool. Then, like the breath of an unfee’d lawyer, you gave me nothing for’t. Can you make no use of nothing, uncle?

Lear. Why no, boy. Nothing can be made of nothing.

King Lear IV, 4, 122-6.


     It is the simplest, most obvious and yet, for the pagans in modern as in ancient times, most unexpected of the truths proclaimed by Christianity: that the world was created out of nothing. “The idea of Creation,” writes Fr. Georges Florovsky, “was an unexpected philosophical discovery made by Christianity. For the Greek consciousness even the very posing of the question de rerum originatione radicali [on the origin of the world] was foreign and incomprehensible.  The Hellenes were completely in the power of ideas about the Eternal Cosmos, whose structure was static, and whose basic elements were unchanging. This Cosmos simply was. Its existence was necessarily perceived as a datum [given], as a primitive fact that neither thought nor imagination could explain… The question of the ‘origin’ or ‘beginning of existence’ of the world was simply meaningless…”[1]

     However, modern cosmology, that most speculative and insubstantial of sciences, - if it can be called science at all, since it is completely and in principle unverifiable, - wars with ferocious persistence against the idea of creation out of nothing. For a long time, it accepted the steady state theory of the universe, according to which, as in ancient paganism, the world always was and always will be, without beginning or end. But then came the shattering discovery – if it is a genuine discovery, which cannot be proved – that the universe is expanding. This changed everything. For if the universe is expanding, then there must have been a beginning of its expansion, a point of origin. This destroyed the steady state theory and necessitated the hypothesis of a big bang, some 13.8 billion years ago, a point zero beyond which there was – nothing.

     Now human thought, both scientific (in the Big Bang Theory) and commonsensical and religious, sees the history of the universe as going back to a first cause. For if there were no first cause, there would be nothing to set the causal nexus going. However, the first cause must be in some sense outside the causal nexus taken as a whole; and so it must itself be uncaused (and immaterial and non-spatiotemporal). Otherwise, if it were part of the causal nexus, it would itself require a causal explanation. This is recognized by religious thought, which calls God the Uncaused Cause and “Beginning of all beginnings”. But modern cosmological thought cannot accept this. If it accepts a first cause, it is only in the sense of the first of the causes, the big bang itself. It cannot accept that the big band itself must have a cause.

     David Berlinski, a distinguished American academic with qualifications in the fields of physics, mathematics, biology and philosophy who is also a secular Jew and an agnostic, writes: “The universe, orthodox cosmologists believe, came into existence [about 13.8 billion years ago] as the expression of an explosion – what is now called the Big Bang. The word explosion is a sign that words have failed us, as they so often do, for it suggests a humanly comprehensible event – a gigantic explosion or a stupendous eruption. But this is absurd. The Big Bang was not an event taking place at a time or in a place. Space and time were themselves created by the Big Bang, the measure along with the measured… 

     “If the Big Bang expresses a new idea in physics, it suggests an old idea in thought: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. This unwelcome juxtaposition of physical and biblical ideas persuaded the astrophysicist Fred Hoyle, an ardent atheist [and believer in the steady state theory], to dismiss the Big Bang after he had named it. In this he was not alone. Many physicists have found the idea that the universe had a beginning alarming. ‘So long as the universe had a beginning,’ Stephen Hawking has written ‘we could suppose it had a creator.’ God forbid!.. 

     “For more than a century, physicists had taken a manful pride in the fact that theirs was a discipline that celebrated the weird, the bizarre, the unexpected, the mind-bending, and the recondite. Here was a connection that any intellectual primitive could at once grasp: The universe had a beginning, thus something must have caused it to happen. Where would physics be, physicists asked themselves, if we had paid the slightest attention to the obvious?... 

     “If both theory and evidence suggested that the universe had a beginning, it was natural for physicists to imagine that by tweaking the evidence and adjusting the theory, they could get rid of what they did not want [God]. Perhaps the true and the good universe – the one without a beginning – might be reached by skirting the Big Bang singularity, or bouncing off it in some way? But in the mid-1960s, Roger Penrose and Stephen Hawking demonstrated that insofar as the backward contraction of the universe was controlled by the equations of general relativity almost all lines of conveyance came to an end.

     “The singularity was inescapable.

     “This conclusion encouraged the theologians but did little to ease physicists in their own minds, for while it strengthened the unwholesome conclusion that Big Bang cosmology had already established, it left a good deal else in a fog. In many ways, this was the worst of all possible worlds. Religious believers had emerged from their seminars well satisfied with what they could understand; the physicists themselves could understand nothing very well.

     “The fog that attended the Penrose-Hawking singularity theorems (there is more than one) arose spontaneously whenever physicists tried to determine just what the singularity signified. At the singularity itself, a great many physical parameters zoom to infinity. Just what is one to make of infinite temperature? Or particles that are no distance from one another? The idea of a singularity, as the astronomer Joseph Silk observed, is ‘completely unacceptable as a physical description of the universe… An infinitely dense universe [is] where the laws of physics, and even space and time, break down.’”[2]

     The Big Bang theory posits a beginning state of the universe that is contrary to the laws of physics. In other words, it is physically impossible. This is an enormous problem for atheist physics, which assumes the law-governed nature of all things, while rejecting a law-giver, but not for traditional religious thought, which recognizes a Law-giver as well as the law. For if God is the Cause of the entire spatio-temporal universe, then the causality joining God to the universe, as it were, must itself be beyond space and time and not subject to physical laws. For this is not the link between a material cause and a material effect, which expresses a physical law, but the link between the Creator and the whole of His physical creation, that is, all material causes and effects taken together as a single system.

     Berlinski argues that the fact that “causes in nature come to an end” shows that “the hypothesis of God’s existence and the facts of contemporary cosmology are consistent.[3] However, in order for God’s existence and the supposed facts of contemporary cosmology to be consistent, more is required. First, the assumptions of contemporary physics must be changed in order that the “completely unacceptable” in physical terms may become acceptable. Secondly, we must be assured that cosmology has truly reached the end of its development. That is, we must be sure that the Big Bang theory is its final word, and that physicists will not revert to some new version of, for example, the Steady State theory that sees the universe as infinite and without beginning or end. For while God has said that “heaven and earth will pass away, but My words shall never pass away”, this cannot be said about the ever-changing words of physicists. And this is a good thing at the present time. For while the currently fashionable Big Bang theory appears closer in some ways to traditional religious thought than some of its predecessors, the general project of universal evolutionism from Big Bang to Homo Sapiens is still very far from consistent, not only with many scientifically established facts, but also with the Divine Cosmology – that is, God’s own record of His work of creation.

     Why does the universe exist at all? “Oxford’s Peters Atkins has attempted to address this issue. ‘If we are to be honest,’ he argues, ‘then we have to accept that science will be able to claim complete success only if it achieves what many might think impossible: accounting for the emergence of everything from absolutely nothing.’ Atkins does not seem to recognize that when the human mind encounters the thesis that something has emerged from nothing, it is not encountering a question to which any coherent answer exists. His confidence that a scientific answer must nonetheless be forthcoming needs to be assessed in other terms, possibly those involving clinical self-delusion.”[4]

     The theologians say that God created the universe out of nothing; the physicists say that it “emerged” from nothing. The first explanation has much more to commend it than the second, because while we cannot know how God created everything out of nothing, the idea itself is nevertheless comprehensible, first because the idea of a Creator Who is incomprehensible to His creatures is quite comprehensible, and secondly because God is at any rate something and not nothing. It also has the advantage that it provides possible answers to the question “Why?” in the sense of “For what purpose?” We can say, for example, that God created the universe because his nature is love, and He wants creatures to exist in order to share in His love. The second explanation, however, not only provides no conceivable answer to the questions “How?” and “Why”. It is itself nonsensical. For out of nothing nothing can come…

     Physicists nevertheless continue to issue statements insisting that the “nothing” out of which the universe appears to emerge is in fact something, such as: “’The actual Universe probably derived from an indeterminate sea of potentiality that we call the quantum vacuum, whose properties may always remain beyond our current understanding.’…

     “The Sea of Indeterminate Potentiality, and all cognate concepts, belong to a group of physical arguments with two aims. The first is to find a way around the initial singularity of standard Big Bang cosmology. Physicists accept this aim devoutly because the Big Bang singularity strikes an uncomfortably theistic note. Nothing but intellectual mischief can result from leaving that singularity where it is. Who knows what poor ideas religious believers might take from cosmology were they to imagine that in the beginning the universe began?

     “The second aim is to account for the emergence of the universe in some way that will allow physicists to say with quiet pride that they have gotten the thing to appear from nothing, and especially nothing resembling a deity or a singularity.”[5]

     In other words, nothing can be induced to come out of nothing if the original nothing can be redefined as nothing actually, but something potentially. However, it is difficult to understand how a potential something which does not actually exist is in any better position to explain the emergence of everything. For “beyond all contradiction the lesser is blessed by the better” (Hebrews 7.7), and the lesser can only be created by, or emerge from, that which is greater than itself. God is great, and by definition greater than everything that He has created. But that which is only potentially real is lesser than that which is actually real, and so the latter cannot be said to owe its existence to the former. 

     Another problem with things that are things only potentially is that there is no way of telling what kind of thing they will actually become. The possibilities are literally infinite. And one interpretation of quantum physics is that when the sea of potential being – also called “the wave function of the universe” – comes up against an observer, it “collapses” into a multitude of universes, or a “multiverse”. 

     Of course, the question then arises: who could this observer be? But that would be too embarrassing to ask the extremely embarrassed cosmologists. So let us continue to examine their idea…

     Thus “according to the many-worlds interpretation, at precisely the moment a measurement is made, the universe branches into two or more universes… The new universes cluttering up creation embody the quantum states that were previously in a state of quantum superposition…

     “The wave function of the universe is designed to represent the behavior of the universe – all of it. It floats in the void – these metaphors are inescapable – and passes judgement on universes. Some are probable, others are likely, and still others a very bad bet. Nevertheless, the wave function of the universe cannot be seen, measured, assessed, or tested. It is a purely theoretical artifact.”[6]

     And so: “Quantum cosmology is a branch of mathematical metaphysics. It provides no cause for the emergence of the universe, and so does not answer the first cosmological question [how?], and it offers no reason for the existence of the universe, and so does not address the second [why?]. If the mystification induced by its modest mathematics were removed from the subject, what remains does not appear appreciably different in kind from various creation myths in which the origin of the universe is attributed to sexual congress between primordial deities.”[7]

      We come to the conclusion that after veering towards something in some respects resembling traditional Judaeo-Christian religion in the Big Bang theory, cosmology appears now, without abandoning the concept of the Big Bang, to have to have veered off in a quite different direction – towards a sophisticated form of Hinduism, whose creation myth tells of a quasi-sexual explosion of multiple seeds of universes through the union of Brahma, “the germ of all being”, with his consort Saraswathi. For is not “the sea of indeterminate probability” or “wave function of the universe” a kind of modern version of “the germ of all being”, which explodes out of potential being into a multitude of actual universes after coming into contact with an observer? (And, as we asked before, who could this observer be if not God?) It looks as if the physicists have regressed even further into the mists of magical, pre-scientific paganism. 



     There is profound paradox in this playing with nothingness. On the one hand, our human nature abhors a vacuum. We know we are something, and therefore we can relate only to something else. And instinctively we gravitate to a something else that is higher than us, that can explain who we are and why we are here and reassure us that we will not return to nothingness, but will attain a depth and solidity of being that will never end. Nihilism can satisfy neither the mind nor the heart. 

     On the other hand, it is precisely the teaching that God created the world out of nothing that satisfies our craving for being as opposed to nothingness. For if we are created out of something, then we are no more than that something – just atoms and electrons governed by senseless laws that create no room for freedom or morality or truth or beauty. In Macbeth’s words,  our life is no more than “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”… If on the other hand, we are created out of nothing, then we know that there is a Something that can create out of nothing, Who is more than atoms and electrons, Who creates laws but is above all laws, Whose freedom is the guarantee and source of our freedom, Whose truth and beauty and goodness allow us to believe in truth and beauty and goodness and to partake in it ourselves… And this is a source of great joy.

     For, as Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich writes: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. This world is not of itself, just as nothing in this world is of itself, neither is this world of an evil power, neither is this world of many creators, good and evil, but rather it is of the one gracious God.

     “This answer evokes joy in the heart of every man and incites him to good works. And by this we know, among other things, that this is the only correct and true answer.

     “Every other answer, in contradiction to this, evokes sorrow and fear in us and incites us to evil works, and therefore we know, among other things, that such answers are false.

     “Brethren, the world is from God - let us rejoice and be glad! The world is of divine origin, and consequently its end will also be in God. The world is of a good root, and consequently it will bring forth good fruit. It proceeded from the chamber of light, and it will end in light.

     “When we know that the beginning is good, then we know that it tends toward good and that the end will be good. Behold, in these words about the beginning, the prophecy about the end is already hidden. As was the beginning, so also will be the end. He from Whom the beginning came, in Him also is the end.

     “Therefore, let us hold fast to this saving truth, that we may have shining hope and be strengthened in love toward the One Who, out of love, created us.

     “O Lord God, our Almighty Creator, One God, One Creator, the good Source of goodness, Thee do we worship, to Thee do we pray; direct us to the good end by Thy Holy Spirit, through the Lord Jesus Christ.

     “To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.”[8]


December 1/14, 2015.

St. Philaret of New York.


[1] Florovsky, “Poniatie Tvorenia u Sviatitelia Afanasia Velikogo” (The Concept of Creation in St. Athanasius the Great), in Dogmat i Istoria (Dogma and History), Moscow, 1998, pp. 80, 81.

[2] Berlinski, The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and its Scientific Pretensions (New York: Basic Books, 2009, pp. 69, 70-71, 78-79.

[3] Berlinski, p. 80.

[4] Berlinski, pp. 95-96.

[5] Berlinski, pp. 96, 97-98.

[6] Berlinski, pp. 99-100.

[7] Berlinski, pp. 106-107.

[8] Bishop Nikolai, The Prologue from Ochrid.

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