The origin of the universe has always been a controversial philosophical concept. Though “new” theories have come to light in recent years, many ideas are deeply rooted in ancient philosophers notions about the beginning of the universe. Two theories of particular interest are Aristotle’s prime mover and Parmenides notion that “nothing comes from nothing.”
Of the two theories to be discussed, Aristotle’s prime mover is undoubtedly more elaborate, as it was heavily discussed both by Aristotle himself in the book Metaphysics and by others who have discussed it since it was written. Aristotle writes, “…we must observe that neither the matter nor the form comes to be—i.e. the proximate matter and the form. For everything that changes is something and is changed by something and into something. That by which it is changed is the primary mover; that which is changed, the matter, that into which it is changed, the form…” (341). This notion is a way of explaining the eternal sequence of events that originated from the first-cause (the primary mover). However, what separates this theory from other notions of a universal first-cause is the idea that the primary mover is also the “first of all substances, the necessary first source of movement which is itself unmoved” (Aristotle: the Prime Mover). This is a fairly believable notion, as it solves issues related to an eternal regression of “movers”, which is an issue prominent when one considers where god came from. Aristotle himself likened the prime mover to god. However, his perception of god was very different than modern theological ideologies.
In contrast, Parmenides cosmological notion that “nothing comes from nothing” is an inherently different perception of how the universe functions. The philosophical expression is typically stated in its Latin form: ex nihilo nihil fit. While writings on this concept are relatively scarce (the source material, a poem titled On Nature by Parmenides is essentially the only original writing related to this concept), the implications of the idea are vast in that it represents a universe where there was no creative process, and no void (at least, no completely empty and lifeless conception of space). By extension, it would be important to mention that true nothingness would be an emptiness of all qualities: even space itself would be none existent. Similar to Aristotle’s beliefs, the universe is eternal. The primary difference is the origin of this eternal universe. For Parmenides, the universe has always existed; and is simply in a constant state of movement, creation, and destruction. There is no divine first-cause.
Both Aristotle and Parmenides viewpoints have elements of theoretical validity. With that said, I find that Aristotle’s theory of a prime mover is much easier to stomach due to the fairly elaborate source material. The prime mover gives the universe a sense of purpose, and by extension fits into modern scientific theories which would indicate that all things need to come from something, whether it be a from few microscopic atomic particles, a deity, or directly from the hands of human creators. However, if one considers both Parmenides notion that “nothing comes from nothing” and Aristotle’s notion that “something comes from something” they have much more in common than initially expected. The ultimate issue then, as far as I am concerned, is one concerning god (or minimally, a god like substance). The cosmological argument by Aristotle has frequently been manipulated as a form of evidence to prove gods existence. However, when this is the end result of his theory, it starts to appear very ludicrous as we are left with merely presumptions that have little grounding in scientific knowledge. It is much more sensible, if we must make presumptions, to presume that a material substance is the primary mover; as opposed to a supernatural being.
There are quite a few different theories that have been proposed to explain how the cosmos came to be. However, many modern theories are firmly rooted in theories formerly proposed by ancient philosophers. Aristotle’s notion of a prime, unmoved mover and Parmenides idea that the universe simply always existed are both equally intriguing philosophically, though Aristotle’s explanation is undeniably more elaborate.