HERE’S a simple but profound question: why are we here? It’s the question that children tend to ask when they suddenly become aware of the mystery of their own existence.
Why is there something rather than nothing? American philosopher William James called this “the darkest question in all philosophy.”
Essayist Jim Holt in his book Why Does the World Exist? criss-crossed the planet talking to cosmologists, physicists, philosophers, eastern sages and theologians about possible reasons for our existence.
Holt described one meeting with a priest, a physicist and a Buddhist monk.
The priest said the universe must be created by God, the physicist invoked quantum mechanics and the monk believed that the universe just always existed.
Holt said that for religious believers, there was no mystery to the existence of the universe. It exists because God made it.
“But suppose you ask nonbelievers to explain why there is a world rather than nothing at all,” he wrote. “Chances are they will not give you a satisfactory answer.”
Hall asked what options we had for resolving the mystery of existence once we let go of the God hypothesis. Science, he said, might be expected to someday explain how the universe came about. By any attempted scientific
explanation of why hits a brick wall.
“The problem with the science option would seem to be this. The universe comprises everything that physically exists. A scientific explanation must involve some sort of physical cause. But any physical cause is by definition part of the universe to be explained.Thus any scientific explanation of the existence of the universe is doomed to be circular.”
In the end, Holt comes to no conlusions about whether our existence is an inexplicable and random cosmic fluke, a dream or a divine gift.