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Nothing Comes From Nothing

Updated on April 7, 2017
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Nikki Alberta has a Master of Arts in Philosophy from the University of Alberta. She is a freelance article writer, novelist and blogger.

The principle that nothing comes from nothing might not hold with today’s physicists. When it comes to the beginning of all known things there are really only two choices; either you believe that something always existed or something was created out of nothing. Really, though, it depends on what we mean by nothing. What we should mean, is lack of everything. Nothing then, is not only no time, no material, no substance and no space. As there is no time there is no motion and no change. And logically, it seems that if there is no element of change or anything to in fact change that nothing will remain nothing. It certainly seems absurd to claim that in the beginning something spontaneously erupted from nothingness, for no particular reason. If, however, nothing is claimed to be some sort of unknown state of affairs, that lacks all the characteristics of existence as it is now, but has some properties as yet indefinable, then it is possible for something spontaneous to occur that led to the creation of the universe. It may be then that absolute nothing is merely an intellectual concept, one that never has existed and never will.

Today most cosmologists agree, the universe as we experience, was indeed created approximately eighteen billion years ago. It blasted into existence in a massive explosion known as the ‘big bang’. Space and time are considered to have been created in the big bang. It was during the big bang that “huge quantities of energy were available to cause the incoherent production of vast amounts of matter and antimatter.” (p. 28, Davies). When matter and antimatter meet they annihilate each other and release energy. In fact, a universe with equal parts of antimatter and matter would not survive. Therefore, “in the ultra-high temperatures of the big bang it is possible that a very slight excess of matter was permitted.” (p.29, Davies).

The big bang only accounts for the creation of the physical universe, it does not account for where all that energy came from in the first place. That very thought implies there was something, some state of affairs, prior to the big bang. We might then think there was energy transforming into something else, as in matter. From here Paul Davies suggests that matter was created from zero energy. He states that energy can be both positive and negative, and certain processes give rise to one or the other, and thus, balance each other out. In this case, “the energy of motion or mass is always positive” and the energy of attraction “such as that due to certain types of gravitational or electromagnetic fields, is negative.” (p. 31, Davies). The gravitational field is only a “spacewarp- curved space. The energy locked up in a spacewarp can be converted into particles of matter and antimatter. Thus we have matter appearing out of empty space. Therefore the question becomes “did the primeval bang possess energy, or is the entire universe a state of zero energy, with the energy of all material offset by the negative energy of the gravitational attraction?” (p. 32, Davies). Apparently, certain equations of the total energy of the universe do indeed come to zero. So it seems “the creation of matter is adequately defined in terms of expanding space.” (p. 41, Davies). There seems to be no limit to the elasticity of space such that we can picture space as a tiny bubble that at the moment of creation rapidly expanded outward. And, apparently, this phenomenon may occur out of nothing, as hard that is to fathom. What caused the space bubble to occur? And indeed, what is space? It is hard to say the universe came from nothing when space seems to be substance in-itself.

One of the main reasons theories about the universe coming out of nothing seem unrealistic to us is because of our ideas of causation. We believe that everything has a cause and for anything to be created there must be some raw material that is manipulated to create something else. Some might suggest that God is the first cause but that would then mean everything has a cause except God. Yet the very notion of causes and effects “are firmly embedded in the notion of time.” (p. 37, Davies). Which naturally leads to if the big bang or God caused the universe, what caused them? Yet if the creation of the universe is also the creation of time, then it is meaningless to think in cause and effect when they are not applicable if time does not exist. Neither God or the big bang require a cause. According to the quantum factor also allows “effects to occur that have no cause.” (p. 102, Davies), at the subatomic level. Bizarre, certainly, but conceivable. For instance “An individual particle will come into existence abruptly and unpredictably at no special designation or moment.” (p.35, Davies). Subatomic particles randomly appear and disappear and have no sure motion, and even at some level seem to be affected by human observation and other particles. By “blurring the distinction between subject and object, cause and effect, it introduces a strong holistic element into our world view.” (p. 111, Davies). Perhaps fundamentally at the particle level everything is one and connected but at our level of existence, we do not feel connected to other things through our subatomic makeup. The quantum factor would also “allow spacetime to be created and destroyed spontaneously and uncaused in the same way that particles are created and destroyed spontaneously and uncaused.” (p. 215, Davies). So that spacetime bubble would erupt and expand uncaused out of nothing and necessarily lead to the creation of matter.

The Origins of the Universe: Why is There Something Rather than Nothing?

At the subatomic level matter is mostly space and particles. These particles are just bound up energy. Fundamentally the entire universe is made up of bound energy and the spaces between. And “if some way can be found to unlock it, matter will disappear amid a burst of energy. Conversely, if enough energy is somehow concentrated, matter will appear.” (p. 26, Davies). We have yet really to understand the nature of energy; when we observe subatomic particles sometimes they behave as a particle and sometimes as a wave depending on how we measure them. Matter appears to be solid, just as we appear to be distinct from others. Matter came from a spacetime warp that occurred out of nothing. Makes us wonder how tangible and solid our universe is. We get this sort of mystical sense of oneness. And of the distinction between appearance vs. reality. We are all a unity (composed of particles and space) but at another level, we appear to be distinct and tangible.

It is not only matter that has a doubtful reality but space and time as well. A modern day physicist, Julian Barber, claims that time is just an illusion. Time is not as structured as most people take it to be anyway, like space it is very flexible. Time “can stretch and shrink, warp and even stop altogether at a singularity. (such as a black hole).” (p. 123, Davies). One way to picture the universe without time is to understand that the universe has only a fixed amount of energy, and therefore “The universe has nothing to interact with except itself” and “the energy of the universe does not change over time.” (p. 58, Folger). Thus the universe is just rearranging itself, with the same amount of energy always present. The universe at any given “instant simply consists of many different objects in many different positions.” (p. 58, Folger). Barbour simply states that “Every possible configuration of the universe, past, present, and future, exists separately and eternally.” (p. 58, Folger). Barbour, oddly enough, uses a temporal term to describe these static configurations. Barbour calls “each of these possible still-life configurations a ‘Now’ and “Every Now is a complete, self-contained, timeless, unchanging universe.” (p. 58, Folger). These Nows are not linked together in any sort of sequence either, “There is no movement from one static arrangement of the universe to the next. Some configurations of the universe simply contain little patches of consciousness- people- with memories of what they call a past that are built into the Now.” (p. 60, Folger). As there is no time, nothing really moves. Even if we do not want to go to this extreme, we can have a presentist view of time. One where only the present moment exists and only instantaneous change is real. Thus a universe where the universe is merely what exists in a certain configuration at one moment. In fact, we may have some serious concerns over Barbour’s account. If one considers each Now to be distinctly separate with no link to the next, then there is no guarantee that the information in one is going to carry to the next. It might be possible for a person to exist in one Now, and suddenly not exist in another. How can we conceive of one Now closely resembling another Now with all the same information transferred but with no link between them or any sequence of them? Another peculiar element is the human consciousness that seems to retain information of past Nows, yet not of future ones. Is there something unique about human consciousness that enables us to have access to other Nows that we call a past? And why would we not be able to do the same with future Nows?

Fundamental ideas of reality such as the tangibility of matter, things being distinct from each other, time and space itself become mere appearances and less real than the foundation of existence… which could very well be nothing at all. We might end up with a nihilist or idealist position. For if space does not exist we cannot be occupying space, if time does not exist then we do no move or change, and if matter does not exist then we are not really here at all and fundamentally our reality is based on nothing and really is nothing. We might begin to understand Rene Descartes and his radical doubt method. For if we can doubt all these things, what then can we not doubt? Ourselves? Our consciousness? Or do we see that nothingness has a structure to it, there is something that makes spacetime bubbles possible? Some real state of affairs that would be fundamental. Therefore we can at least still say nothing comes from nothing.

Physics is grounded in the laws that it finds to structure the universe. Ultimately cosmologists want to find a unifying law that explains everything. The reason Barbour wants to prove time really does not exist is that if times does not exist then they can unify the “subatomic atomic world of quantum mechanics with the vast cosmic one of general relativity.” (p. 57, Folger), which use two different versions of time. They assume “that all you need are the laws- the universe can take care of itself, including its own creation.” (p. 217, Davies). Before the anomaly that created the spacetime bubble, besides nothing, “Quantum physics has to exist (in some sense) so that a quantum transition can generate the cosmos in the first place.” (p. 217, Davies). Therefore, nothing is a structured nothing, which enables the possibility of creation to be possible. They believe there is a Superlaw that would explain the rules of why there are protons, neutrons and so forth and why things happen the way they do. Yet how can nothing be structured and have laws? Nothing, in this sense, is not the privation of everything either. There are the laws of physics that mean that there was the possibility of creation or other anomalies and thus not absolutely nothing. Therefore, “an ultimate law ‘has a mathematical structure which is uniquely defined as the only logically consistent physical principle. That is to say, physics is proclaimed ‘necessary’ in the same way that God is proclaimed necessary by theologians.” (p. 55, Davies).

We can take some comfort that nothing comes from nothing. That there was a state of affairs that lead up to creation. Yet in the end, we find that creation and reality is more based on appearances than what is fundamental. So it is not that everything came from nothing, but that reality itself is less real than we think. The reality that we perceive is but a fragile illusion, which lead us to believe that time, space, matter and difference actually exist.


Davies, Paul "God and the New Physics" Simon and Schuster, New York 1983.

Folger, Tim "From Here to Eternity" Discover Dec.200 pp. 54-61


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    • profile image


      8 years ago

      origin please!

    • nmalbert profile imageAUTHOR

      Nikki Albert 

      9 years ago from Canada

      Thank you Glen!

    • profile image

      Dr Glen Stewart 

      9 years ago

      Very good work .

    • W. K. Hayes profile image

      W K Hayes 

      10 years ago from Bryson City, North Carolina

      Michael Crichton wrote an excellent book called Timeline that went into thorough detail regarding research into the subject of alternate realities. Could it be possible that the existance of this reality began from another one? Davies explanation regarding matter and anti-matter is an incredible piece of work as is your article. Thank you for posting this work regarding a very fascinating subject and I do look forward to hearing your thoughts regarding alternate dimensions of reality and the possibility of my proposed question.

    • nmalbert profile imageAUTHOR

      Nikki Albert 

      10 years ago from Canada

      I agree with that Mr. Happy! I think it was Feurbach that said we project upon our concept of the divine our own characteristics... and certainly we do that. If there is a God I would expect it is beyond human comprehension. As such, yes, there are some very bizarre things in the universe, which quantum mechanics illustrates, but it is not a satisfactory idea to use 'god of the gaps' to shove god into every hole of the unexplained.

    • Mr. Happy profile image

      Mr. Happy 

      10 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      1. a) states that: "Universe in which God need not have to intervene at all after its creation. This is the best type of universe that can be created by God".

      - 1. a) cannot be applied to our existence. If you look around and see the churches, mosques, people wearing strange cloathing which they explain through some godly ways then, you will see god's interference or intervenence in our lives.

      Thus, if God created this world, She for sure is meddling in it. Just look around and you see and hear of God's many conflicting messages everywhere.

      I believe God as seen by religions and especially those narrow-minded monotheistic religions, as a figment of human imagination.

      We cannot know anything important about God relying on our three dimensional perspective and we cannot explain it fully, either. (My opinion.)

    • nmalbert profile imageAUTHOR

      Nikki Albert 

      10 years ago from Canada

      Fasinating! I am agnostic myself and so would not get into whether or not god exists, but when I do think he might exist I go for 1a, as in whether he does or not it has no effect on existence, as in he does not necessarily exist. Which means in my agnostic fashion I can waffle from 1a to 2 as it pleases me. But I would definitely say the void is not nothing at all and that there was definitely something prior to existence. If God exists he would be something that would have existed prior to creation, if he does not, it still means there was some states of affairs prior to existence. In the case of the void where virtual particles appear and disapear, this cannot be called a true void because that void is still subjects to the laws of physics of this universe and besides that fact, space itself can be considered a substance in some cases, and for it to be a true void, it would have to be void of space as well.

    • profile image

      Himangsu Sekhar Pal 

      10 years ago


      A.Circular Reasoning

      In his article ‘The other side of time’ (2000) scientist Victor J. Stenger has written that as per the theory of quantum electrodynamics electron-positron (anti-electron) pairs can appear spontaneously for brief periods of time practically out of nothing, which clearly shows that anything that has a beginning need not have to have a cause of that beginning.

      From here he has concluded that our universe may also come literally out of nothing due to quantum fluctuation in the void, and therefore we need not have to imagine that God has done this job.

      But is it true that electron-positron (anti-electron) pairs are appearing literally out of "nothing"? Are scientists absolutely certain that the so-called void is a true void indeed? Because here there is a counter-claim also: God is there, and that God is everywhere. So actually nothing is coming out of "nothing", only something is coming out of something. Here they will perhaps say: as there is no proof for God’s existence so far, so why should one have to believe that the void here is not a true void? But even if there is no proof for God’s existence, still then it can be shown that scientists’ claim that the universe has literally come out of nothing is a pure case of circular reasoning. If believers say that the void is not a true void at all, and if scientists still then hold that it is nothing but a void, then this is only because they are absolutely certain that God does not exist, and also because they think that God’s non-existence is so well-established a fact that it needs no further proof for substantiation. But if they are absolutely certain that God does not exist, then they are also absolutely certain that God is not the architect, designer, creator of our universe, because it is quite obvious that a non-existent God cannot be the architect, designer, etc. So their starting premise is this: God does not exist, and therefore our universe is definitely not the creation of a God. But if they start from the above premise, then will it be very difficult to reach to the same conclusion?

      But their approach here could have been somehow different. They could have said: well, regarding void, it is found that there is some controversy. Therefore we will not assume that it is a void, rather we will prove that it is such. Then they could have proceeded to give an alternate explanation for the origin of the universe, in which there will be neither any quantum fluctuation in the void, nor any hand of God to be seen anywhere. And their success here could have settled the matter for all time to come.

      By simply ignoring a rumour one cannot kill it, rather it will remain as it is. But if one takes some more trouble on him and exposes that it is nothing but a rumour, then it will die a natural death with no further chance of revival. Let us say that the saying that there is a God and that He is everywhere is nothing but a rumour persisting for thousands of years among mankind. What scientists have done here is this: they have simply ignored the rumour and thus kept it alive. But it would have been far better for them if they could have killed it, as suggested by me.

      B. “Circular Reasoning” Case Reexamined

      There can be basically two types of universe: (1) universe created by God, supposing that there is a God; (2) universe not created by God, supposing that there is no God. Again universe created by God can also be of three types:

      (1a) Universe in which God need not have to intervene at all after its creation. This is the best type of universe that can be created by God.

      (1b) Universe in which God has actually intervened from time to time, but his intervention is a bare minimum.

      (1c) Universe that cannot function at all without God’s very frequent intervention. This is the worst type of universe that can be created by God.

      Therefore we see that there can be four distinct types of universes, and our universe may be any one of the above four types: (1a), (1b), (1c), (2). In case of (1a), scientists will be able to give natural explanation for each and every physical event that has happened in the universe after its origin, because after its creation there is no intervention by God at any moment of its functioning. Only giving natural explanation for its coming into existence will be problematic. In case of (1b) also, most of the events will be easily explained away, without imagining that there is any hand of God behind these events. But for those events where God had actually intervened, scientists will never be able to give any natural explanation. Also explaining origin of the universe will be equally problematic. But in case of (1c), most of the events will remain unexplained, as in this case God had to intervene very frequently. This type of universe will be just like the one as envisaged by Newton: "Gravity explains the motions of the planets, but it cannot explain who set the planets in motion. God governs all things and knows all that is or can be done." So we can with confidence say that our universe is not of this type, otherwise scientists could not have found natural explanation for most of the physical events. In case of type (2) universe, here also there will be natural explanation for each and every physical event, and there will be natural explanation for the origin of the universe also. So from the mere fact that scientists have so far been able to give natural explanation for each and every physical event, it cannot be concluded that our universe is a type (2) universe, because this can be a type (1a) universe as well. The only difference between type (1a) and type (2) universe is this: whereas in case of (1a) no natural explanation will ever be possible for the origin of the universe, it will not be so in case of (2). Therefore until and unless scientists can give a natural explanation for the origin of the universe, they cannot claim that it is a type (2) universe. And so, until and unless scientists can give this explanation, they can neither claim that the so-called void is a true void. So scientists cannot proceed to give a natural explanation for the origin of the universe with an a priori assumption that the void is a real void, because their failure or success in giving this explanation will only determine as to whether this is a real void or not.

    • nmalbert profile imageAUTHOR

      Nikki Albert 

      10 years ago from Canada

      Nothing can be defined as lacking all known characteristics and properties, but then the lack of them is something. But then that something is an abstraction really, because it truly is incomprehensible for us to picture nothingness. Even an empty void suggests parameters, empty suggesting it has space to fill. I think nothing can't necessarily exist. It is not the lack of a property, but the lack of all properties. Unless everything really is nothing, in which case I think my brain just impoded! :)

    • Mr. Happy profile image

      Mr. Happy 

      10 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Nothing comes of nothing indeed! lol

      I use this phrase quite often thus, I had to read your piece and comment. First of all, I have an issue with nothing and I am not sure if my problem with nothing arrives as a matter of linguistics or as a philosophical matter.

      You wrote that: "Nothing then, is not only no time, no material, no substance and no space." From this I conclude that nothing is that thing which is independent of what we call time. Nothing is also immaterial and space-less (it has no volume, mass, shape, etc.).

      In that sense nothing is defined, with its own set of qualities and such, that it becomes something in our understanding. It is something called nothing.

      At the same time though, this nothing is like a unicorn. We all know what a unicorn is supposed to look like but we have never seen one. So, does nothing really exist?

      Welcome to Hubpages and thanks for a thought provoking blog!


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