Upon reflection and further clarification, I realize that my original post was oversimplified and overstated.
Therefore I'm withdrawing the original piece, pending something better. So, please consider this retraction a Tzimtzum! :-)
In the meantime, I will leave a "baale batish" simplification
Namely that since we perceive matter as of function of time as well as of space - [just think of Einstein's 4th dimension] therefore - whether the universe was at one time not there - is beyond the perception of almost all humans. Thus, it a moot point except for highly sophisticated Philosophers and Mystics.
I won't pretend that I myself have a definitive perception of this.. Rather, let me simply say that it is apparent to me that as most people deal with it - it really IS a semantic issue [Though that may not be true of the highly sophisticated "Mavens"]