The most basic question one could ask is one which is asked and wondered at both by small children and genius level intellectuals.
It has various forms, and is worded differently, but is essentially the same question:
Where did we come from?
Alternate forms include: Why are we (or anything!) here? How did things come into being? Why is there something rather than nothing?
It’s the question of the ultimate origin (or original beginning) of everything.
A few things about the question:
First, it is valid to ask this question and to seek at least some kind of answer. The level of certainty which one has concerning their answer has nothing to do with whether or not it is a valid question.
Second, we are never done asking the question. Comparison between the various kinds of answers will never be finished.
Third, it is the most basic question. It is the question where all other questions lead to.
Now, this most basic question has three kinds of answers (each with presumably infinite variations):
- Everything* is an illusion.
- Everything is eternal.
- Everything was created.
Now, I’ll comment on each option in more detail.
- Everything is an illusion. This is not a popular view. Who would want that to be true? More than this, it immediately raises the question of “If things are illusory, then who/what is having the illusion?” Descartes famously said “I think therefore I am.” So things are real. Option one is neither desirable nor logical.
- Everything is eternal (uncreated/uncaused). This view encompasses all views in which the idea of an ultimate ‘beginning’ is rejected. Cosmology (whether big bang theory or multiverse theory) seems to point ‘back’ spacially, temporally and causally to an ultimate beginning. Also, even the views that are cyclic in nature would seem to be in need of a prior explanation.
- Everything is created (had a beginning / was caused). This view can be split into two: a) Everything is caused/created by a cause/creator other than itself; or b) Everything is caused/created/originated by itself. More succinctly: a) Created by creator or b) Self-originating. If it is arbitrary or ad hoc (which I reject) to postulate a Creator, than it is certainly and utterly arbitrary and ad hoc to postulate that ‘Everything’ just had to exist of necessity (by nature). This leads me and countless others to conclude that the most rational and reasonable position to take (however tentatively or confidently) is the view that Everything was created/caused by a creator/cause other than itself. This view encompasses all kinds of beliefs in any/all kinds of creators/causes. Affirming a 1st cause does not instantly commit someone to any particular kind of set of beliefs – only the simple affirmation of a 1st cause. Pantheism, Panentheism, Deism, Theism, Spinozian/Einsteinian cosmic ‘god’, Mother Nature, etc. are all encompassed here.
This question, again, is the most basic question and is the starting point of theology. Theology starts with the assumption (and a rational/reasonable one) that the only valid answer for the existence of things is a Creator who is other than the things created.
Theology must be taken one step/level at a time. It is utter nonsense to reject the general idea of a Creator because of some specific question at a later logical step/level.
That brings things to a natural breaking point, so I’ll finish there.
Can anyone think of a 4th possible ‘kind’ of answer to the question – or another example of one of the three answers given that I did not mention? Other responses?
*The word ‘Everything’ is being used here in the most basic sense, to refer to all existing ‘things’. Much argument can be had about this usage. But not here.