In June 2021, artist Salvatore Garau sold a sculpture at the Italian auction house Art-Rite for a little over $18,000. This normally wouldn’t be something worth much attention, however, the peculiar thing about this work of art is that it was an “immaterial sculpture.”
In other words, it is – ahem – nothing. Adding to the bizarre situation was the fact that multiple bidders actually pushed the sale over its asking price.
When asked how he could possibly sell something that is actually nothing, Garau replied: “The vacuum is nothing more than a space full of energy, and even if we empty it and there is nothing left, according to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, that nothing has a weight. Therefore, it has energy that is condensed and transformed into particles, that is, into us.”
Garau named his immaterial sculpture lo sono, which translates to “I am”, explaining: “After all, don’t we shape a God we’ve never seen?”
Truth be told, many atheists would agree with him (but not in the same sense) and say Christians are just as foolish as Garau’s immaterial sculpture buyer.
The con of something being nothing and nothing being something
Nearly a decade ago, physicist and atheist Dr. Lawrence Krauss wrote a book entitled A Universe from Nothing, which has the subtitle “Why there is something rather than nothing.” Krauss' subtitle is a rendition of the most basic philosophical question of existence, which has been attributed to mathematician and scientist Gottfried Leibniz, whose answer was God.
Being an atheist, Krauss disagrees and instead chooses to redefine “nothing” to be empty space or a quantum vacuum. As Sean Carrol said in his review of Krauss’ book, “So if your definition of “nothing” is “emptiness” or “lack of space itself,” the laws of quantum mechanics provide a nice way to understand how that nothing can evolve into the marvelous something we find ourselves inside.” Commenting on the book, astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson says more simply, “Nothing is not nothing. Nothing is something.”
No, it’s not.
I think the best definition of “nothing” is Aristotle's: “Nothing is what rocks dream about.” For example, if you ask me what I had for breakfast today and I say “nothing," you likely won’t ask me how my “nothing” tasted.
Empty space and/or the quantum vacuum aren't nothing; they're something. So, Krauss does absolutely “nothing” to answer Leibniz's question (because you must account for where the empty space and quantum vacuum came from) and leaves his readers no better off than they were.
While Krauss tries to say that something is nothing, Garau uses the concept of a vacuum and energy to tell his “immaterial sculpture” buyer that nothing from a tangible sense is something. Garau goes so far as to give his purchaser a certificate of authenticity and a set of instructions stating that the artwork must be exhibited in a private house and within a roughly five-by-five-foot space “free of obstruction.”
God vs. nothing
While the idea of an immaterial sculpture is ridiculous, the concept of an immaterial God is completely rational and, in fact, necessary.
The word “immaterial” means non-material and that is one thing the universe is not. Both scientists and philosophers agree that space, time, and matter all came into existence at the big bang.
That being true, it is very reasonable to conclude that whatever brought the universe into existence transcends space and matter, is eternal and not subject to the second law of thermodynamics; therefore, it must be immaterial. Of this, William Lane Craig says that because the universe comprises all of space-time reality, it “proves the existence of a necessary, uncaused, timeless, spaceless, immaterial, personal Creator of the universe. This is not some ill-conceived entity like the Flying Spaghetti Monster but an ultramundane being with many of the traditional properties of God.”
Not surprisingly, the Bible concurs saying that “God is spirit” (John 4:24); that He is “the invisible God” (Col. 1:15, 1 Tim. 1:17) and that “since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” (Rom 1:19-20). We are also strongly warned not to make a material idol that represents God (Ex. 20:4).
Contrary to what Garau says, we don’t “shape a God we’ve never seen” because that is impossible; God is pure being and has no shape. God’s famous declaration to Moses “I AM WHO I AM” (Ex. 3:14) literally means “I be that I be” and is a statement that concerns existence itself. Many things have existence but only one thing can be existence, and that is how God described Himself to Moses.
Unlike, Garau’s “sculpture,” which is immaterial because it is actually nothing, God is invisible because He transcends matter and space, and is therefore not Someone our eyes can naturally behold.
Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
in light inaccessible, hid from our eyes,
most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
almighty, victorious, thy great name we praise.
– Walter Smith
Robin Schumacher is an accomplished software executive and Christian apologist who has written many articles, authored and contributed to several Christian books, appeared on nationally syndicated radio programs, and presented at apologetic events. He holds a BS in Business, Master's in Christian apologetics and a Ph.D. in New Testament. His latest book is, A Confident Faith: Winning people to Christ with the apologetics of the Apostle Paul.