• Strange Notions Strange Notions Strange Notions

Nothing’s the Matter with Atheistic Materialism

by  
Filed under Atheism

Nothing

The central problem with atheistic materialism is nothing, really. Metaphysical nothing, to be exact.

Any worldview, including atheism, should be able to give some sort of coherent answer to the rudimentary question of why the universe exists. I don't mean “why does this universe exist rather than another?” I mean, “why does there exist anything, rather than nothing?

Dr. Victor Stenger, in a recent Huffington Post piece on how to debate religion, claims to have an answer. It turns out to be the standard materialist response given by many atheist scientists:

How can something come from nothing?
 
"Nothing" is notoriously difficult to define. To define it you have to give it some property. But then if it has a property it is not "nothing." So this is an incoherent question unless you define nothing as an empty vacuum.

There are several reasons why this answer is wrong, even incoherent and self-refuting:

Reason #1: Vacuum States Are Something, Not Nothing

 
The first reason his answer fails is because a vacuum is something, not nothing. We speak of it like it's nothing, just as I might say that there exists nothing in the space between Mercury and Venus, or that there's nothing in my glass after I drained it.

But in all of these cases, we're using “nothing” loosely. Obviously, there's air in my “empty” glass, and there's radiation, light, gravity, and such travelling through “empty” space. It also possesses dimensonality, which nothingness can't. We can say that there are nearly 60 million kilometers of empty space between the sun and Mercury. If empty space were nothing, it would be incoherent (and impossible) to quantify it spatially.

Likewise, vacuums are something: namely, they are physical states that periodically contain matter, and are not completely empty voids:

"Although the average value of a field in a particular region may indeed be zero, quantum theory predicts that there will be fluctuations around this zero value. Each fluctuation signiies the brief appearance of a 'virtual' particle. Hence, even in a true vacuum, matter fields may appear briefly. Even if the matter fields involved in the vacuum state are rather peculiar and certainly not observable in the sense that 'real' particles are, it is a mistake to think of any physical vacuum as some absolutely empty 'void.'"

Of course, even if they were completely empty voids, in the sense of lacking any particles, they would still exist, possessing width, breadth, and length, etc. So we can imagine something more empty than a vacuum state, and even that would be something, not nothing.

Stenger claimed that the only coherent way to understand nothing is as “an empty vacuum.” Of course, for a vacuum to be described as empty, it must first exist, and therefore, be something. This is easily illustrated by visualizing two people: one has an empty bag, while the other one doesn't have a bag. Which of these people has nothing?

This is similar to the analogy that the physicist Stephen Barr uses to explain the difference between a vacuum state and metaphysical nothing:

"An analogy may help here. A checking account is a system that has many possible states: the zero-dollar state, the thousand-dollar state, the negative-thousand-dollar state (if one is overdrawn), the million-dollar state, etc. And this system can make transitions from one state to another. For instance, by a finance charge or by accruing interest. Even if your checking account happens to be in the zero-dollar state one day, the checking account is nevertheless still something definite and real, not 'nothing.' It presupposes a bank, a monetary system, a contract between you and that bank, all being governed by various systems of rules.
 
Imagine the day on which your bank account balance is zero. Then imagine a deposit the next day that raises it to one thousand dollars. A quantum theory of the creation of a universe (in Hawking’s version, or Vilenkin’s, or anyone else’s) is akin to this transition from an empty account to one full of money. Obviously, therefore, the “nothing” that Hawking makes part of his theory of the creation of our universe is not nothing in a metaphysical sense. The “no-universe” of his speculations is like the “no-dollars” in my account. It exists within the framework of a complex overarching system with specific rules. So we can see that, if true, the way of thinking put forward by Hawking does not threaten the classical doctrine of creation out of nothing."

Here's another way of thinking about this: imagine that tomorrow, scientists (somehow) discovered another universe that was only a quantum vacuum. They would excitedly announce that they had discovered something, and they would be right. They would have discovered something: namely, a universe whose existence we would have to account for somehow.

This is the most glaring problem with Stenger's answer (and the answer given by most other atheist materialists). But there are other problems, too:

Reason #2: When We Say “Nothing,” We Don't Mean “Vacuum States"

 
There is a related, but more fundamental problem with Stenger's answer: it isn't responsive to the question asked. If I asked you what a rock eats, you would rightly answer “nothing.” And you wouldn't mean that rocks eat vacuum states. You would mean that they eat nothing, that they don't eat. If I asked what you know about quantum mechanics, and you said “nothing,” you wouldn't mean that you know all about vacuum states. For that matter, when Stenger says “Nothing like this has ever happened,” he isn't talking about empty vacuums.

In all of these cases, we see that we can meaningfully speak about “nothing” without referring to vacuums. So when Stenger claims that it “is an incoherent question unless you define nothing as an empty vacuum,” the most charitable thing that can be said is that he has no idea what he's talking about.

Stenger is simply changing the question. He's asked how the materialist can get from utter, metaphysical, non-existence to a universe. He doesn't answer this. Instead, he changes it to an argument about whether matter can appear within a quantum state (inside of an already-existing, empty universe). But these aren't even remotely the same question.

It's clear why he wants to shift the debate: Stenger, a physicist, seems to know very little about philosophy (or history, but that's a matter for another day), so he's simply redefined the question to make it about physics. But the actual question isn't a question about physics, but about something more basic: metaphysics. A related question would be: how and why is there a universe that physics can study? Obviously, that's not a question that physics can answer, since physics necessarily assumes the prior existence of this universe in order to operate.

Reason #3: Stenger's Answer Renders Materialism Incoherent

 
Stenger is a materialist, and he's giving a classic materialist (non-)answer to the problem of “nothing.” But to see the absurdity of this question, I wish someone would ask him: “what exists besides the material world?” Just imagine the dialogue:

What exists beside the material world?
Nothing.
Oh, a vacuum?

Since a vacuum is part of the material universe, this answer would be equivalent to saying, “outside of my house is the rest of the inside of my house.” In other words: utter incoherent. It would also be a refutation of materialism, to the extent that he would have to affirm that in addition to the material world, there are also vacuums that somehow exist immaterially.

And of course, if he have any other answer—if he said that there exists something other than the material world—then he would also be rejecting materialism. So you can see why understanding “nothing” as “an empty vacuum” is nonsensical, right?

Reason #4: The Materialist Approach to Nothing is Anti-Scientific

 
Stenger isn't the only physicist with a problem with “nothing.” Neil deGrasse Tyson hosted a debate on nothing last year, and none of the participants were able to come up with a suitable definition. The philosopher Jim Holt pointed out that if you equate “nothing” with “lacking matter,” this would mean that mathematics, physical laws, and consciousness are nothing.

Stenger seems dimly aware of the problem of rectifying his materialism with the existence of mathematics, but his answer is that “Logic and mathematics are exhibited by particles of graphite or ink on paper, or particles of chalk on a blackboard.” Even if that were true (which, of course, it's not), it wouldn't save his position, since mathematical truths exist prior to being discovered or exhibited. Otherwise, he'd have to conclude that mathematicians somehow make 2 plus 2 equal 4, rather than discovering that it does.

The Deeper Problem: Atheistic Materialism v. Science

 
The fourth reason I mentioned points to a broader problem: atheistic materialism is deeply anti-scientific. Later, in the same piece, Stenger dodges the question “Where did the laws of physics come from?” by saying:

"What we call the "laws" of physics are not something inherent in the universe. They are not commandments that material objects must obey. They are principles that physicists build into models to describe their observations. We should not assume that any of the ingredients in the models of physics correspond one-to-one with actual objects of ultimate reality. Of course, they must have something to do with reality to agree with observations. But we have no way of knowing exactly what that something is, so we waste our time arguing about it."

In other words, if he can deny that the laws (or “laws”) of physics are actually true, he doesn't have to explain where they come from, or why they exist (a question that physics, by definition, can't answer). But he can't actually deny that the laws of physics are true, or he would undermine his own authority as a physicist. So we end up with this mishmash, instead: the laws sort of correspond to reality, and sort of don't.

Of course, this still suggests that reality behaves in some sort of mathematical and ordered way (or physics wouldn't work, and wouldn't correspond to reality at all). And of course, he's failed to give any answer to why the universe would be behave in such a mathematical and ordered way, other than to claim that we're wasting our time asking questions that he can't answer.

I'm reminded of the biologist Richard Lewontin, who candidly admitted that he and other scientists accepted materialism in spite of the evidence, rather than because of it, simply to avoid any reference or need for God:

"Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism.
 
It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door."

The debate is often presented, even by Lewontin, as a feud between science and religion. That's not the case: rather, atheistic materialism undermines science as much as it does religion.

If you believe in God, then you can give a coherent account of why there exists something, rather than nothing, and you can explain why that something is ordered and coherent. That gives you the foundation upon which to do real science (which is why, as a matter of historical fact, modern science was born in Catholic universities and monasteries, and why most of the finest institutions around the world were founded by religious groups). If you reject this foundation, you risk ending up in Stenger's incoherence, undermining the truth of mathematics, denying the truth of the laws of physics, and incapable of answering why the universe exists.
 
 
Originally posted at Shameless Popery. User with permission.
(Image credit: Atomic Toasters)

Joe Heschmeyer

Written by

Until May 2012, Joe Heschmeyer was an attorney in Washington, D.C., specializing in litigation. These days, he is a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas, and can use all the prayers he can get. Follow Joe through his blog, Shameless Popery or contact him at joseph.heschmeyer@gmail.com.

Note: Our goal is to cultivate serious and respectful dialogue. While it's OK to disagree—even encouraged!—any snarky, offensive, or off-topic comments will be deleted. Before commenting please read the Commenting Rules and Tips. If you're having trouble commenting, read the Commenting Instructions.

  • Why is there something rather than nothing? I don't know.

    • M. Solange O’Brien

      Is the question even meaningful?

      • I don't know :)

        I'm open to new ideas. The Hartle-Hawking model is an interesting speculative answer.

        • M. Solange O’Brien

          But even that relies on the concept of gravity - which is hardly nothing.

          • It does seem to be that Hartle-Hawking model does not satisfy the principle of sufficient reason. It's a satisfactory speculative answer for how the universe can exist without an external efficient cause, but doesn't explain why there's something rather than nothing. I'll take back what I said.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            It would have been nice if Joe had tried to define "nothing" for the purposes of discussion, since it's a pretty incoherent concept, metaphysically.

      • Jeff Boldt

        How is it not meaningful?

    • At this point in history, nobody knows. I woudn't put it past what future folk might figure out, though!

  • GCBill

    I've long resented the frivolous usage of the word "nothing" by Stenger, Krauss, et al., so I thank you for helping to expose it. However, I don't agree that atheistic materialism necessarily undermines science if it fails to give an account of the "laws of nature." One can easily do science without having an ultimate explanation for the universe's lawfulness so long as it's possible to tell that the universe is, in fact, lawful. (As an aside, you can make a similar argument regarding morality: AM doesn't undermine moral realism if moral realism is knowable independently of AM.) Of course, if you consider the lack of explanation problematic, then you should prefer other theories (whether theistic or not) that can explain the relevant facts. Put differently: if the facts are knowable independently of the theory, then the theory cannot "undermine" them; instead, the theory is merely rendered less plausible by the facts.

    I also have to nitpick: I'm not sure what model of truth you're using if you think that "mathematical truths exist prior to being discovered or exhibited." Or for that matter, which model if you think that any truths do. Using the commonly-accepted correspondence model, truth is a congruency between propositions and actual states of affairs. If this theory is correct, then it's not mathematical truths that exist prior to discovery, but mathematical facts. That may seem like a silly distinction, but it's actually quite important - because before discovery, there exist no propositions with which the facts of mathematics can be congruent. Now of course you might not accept the correspondence theory (and that's fine, because at least in some cases I suspect that it is parasitic on the pragmatic theory anyway). If you don't, then I ask that you explain exactly what you mean when you say that truth exists prior to discovery.

    I should say that explaining mathematical facts is no easier for the materialist than explaining mathematical truths. However, this version of the question is more epistemologically precise, and therefore preferable.

    • Joseph Heschmeyer

      Confining my response to your first paragraph, you make a good point: not knowing why something is true may be irrelevant if we know that it is true, and behave accordingly. Your analogy to morality is apt, but this is particularly true in science: as long as we know that these things work in a particular way, we can work from that.

      The problem is this, though: taking atheistic materialism seriously entails denying that these things are true (Stenger, etc,. show why this is true), which actually does undermine science. For example, if you get to the point that you deny that science is actually describing reality, what does that leave, exactly?

      • GCBill

        If you deny that science describes reality, you're heading into antirealist territory. Which, although coherent, leaves you in a position where it's hard to make metaphysical claims at all. Science can't be "evidence" for materialism if it doesn't correspond to reality, so at that point you can only really defend it as a methodological construct. Which is not something I imagine Stenger et al. would want to concede.

        I think on materialism you have to deny that the "laws" are anything like immaterial principles that somehow govern matter, energy, and perhaps higher-level phenomena. However, I think you can maintain the existence of non-necessary regularities within nature. I don't think Stenger is philosophically-literate enough to defend this conclusion. However, a sizable minority (around 24% if Bourget & Chalmers are to be believed) of contemporary philosophers do. I think this view is compatible with both materialism and realism, although in my judgment it might entail other unpalatable consequences.*

        * I say this because as my first link suggests, Hume's actual perspective is more in line with the "non-Humean" one. If there is no physical necessity like the "Humeans" claim, then the laws of nature cannot provide the "exceptionless testimony" required by Hume's (in)famous Miracle Argument. This renders the argument significantly less plausible on a materialistic account of the universe. Non-Humean nonmaterialist atheists would obviously not encounter this same issue.

      • M. Solange O’Brien

        Even from your original post, I've having a hard time seeing your logic here. In what fashion does "atheistic materialism" entail denying WHAT is true?
        Science is only possible given provisional materialism, so how is it possible that metaphysical materialsm could derail it?

    • Phil

      Hey GCBill,

      The key to this train of thought is that science hinges on the meta-scientific claim that everything has an explanation. If the scientist did not hold this to be implicitly true, science could not get off the ground. (If one held that only some things have an explanation, good luck trying to do coherent science!)

      So when it comes to the cosmos as a whole, whatever that may end up being, even if we assume that the cosmos has always existed, we would still have the question of how the cosmos came to be the way it is--to have the certain laws it has and to even have materials that actually follow regular laws.

      That question would still be on the table even if everything else seemed explained. And if we want to do science, even on the level of explaining how it is snowing right now, we have to assume that these features of even an always existing cosmos have an explanation.

  • M. Solange O’Brien

    Any worldview, including atheism, should be able to give some sort of coherent answer to the rudimentary question of why the universe exists. I don't mean “why does this universe exist rather than another?” I mean, “why does there exist anything, rather than nothing?”

    Why? And what is this "nothing" that theists speak of?

    • Moussa Taouk

      And what is this "nothing" that theists speak of?

      I'll try my luck.

      Nothing: non-existance.

      • M. Solange O’Brien

        Great. You just gave it a property. It's non-existence.
        But now it has a property, so that can't be Nothing.
        I'm not trying to be snarky, it really is a very difficult concept to wrap your head around.

        • Moussa Taouk

          How is non-existance a property?! A property is a positive attachment to an existant. Such as: the sky is blue or big or made of air etc. But is "non-sky" a property?

          I agree it's hard to get our heads around, but I disagree that non-existance is a property.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            The sky is blue.
            Nothing is non-existence.
            See?

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            I suspect that what you think is that "existence" is not a property in the same way that "blue" is a property. But why? You've defined Nothing by way of something else.

          • Properties are "proper" to something that exists. A property is considered to be distinct from the objects which possess it. Existence is not a property.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Debateable. But merely another indication of the difficulty of discussing Nothing.

          • Its 101 when talking about properties and existence.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Property_(philosophy)

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Ah, but we're talking about Nothing, and whether Nothing can, properly speaking, be defined or even coherently discussed. The tendency I'm seeing here is to try to define it by the absence of other things. But that very idea carries semantic baggae.

          • Actually, you seem to be posting a lot about theism on an article that is focused on Atheistic Materialism and Nothing.

          • Joseph Heschmeyer

            Solange,

            So what exists besides the material universe?

          • Moussa Taouk

            No, M. I'm afraid I don't see. You're saying the definition of something is a property?

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            I'm saying that if I can define it, it's not Nothing. It may be an absence of something, but that very absence implies something for it to be absent from.

          • Moussa Taouk

            "...that very absence implies something for it to be absent from."

            So... the absence of something IS something because there is something from which the absence is absent? You're equating absence with that from which it's absent. but they're not the same thing. One might imply the other. But absence isn't something.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Not entirely what I meant. The absence of something is a fact. Nothing, the way Joe seems to want to use it, has no facts.

          • Moussa Taouk

            "The absence of something is a fact."
            Ok. So the absence of SOME thing is a fact. Therefore if everything is some thing, then the absence of EVERY thing is equally a fact (by which (fact) I imagine you mean it's a fact that it's possible to remove that something and be left with its absence).

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Try that again. My pain meds didn't let the clarity of that get through.

          • Moussa Taouk

            If the absence of something is a fact then the absence of everything (ie. nothing) is also a fact. i.e. it does make sence to speak of nothing. Anyway, sorry to cut the conversation short, but I gotta go. Thanks for the chat. I think I'm still pretty happy with my little definition :).

          • Joseph Heschmeyer

            Solange,

            Is your argument a grammatical one? You seem to be saying that because "The sky is blue" and "Nothing is non-existence" follow the same grammatical structure, they must both equally be properties.

            More fundamentally, does it follow that if you can't define nothing you can't explain it? Look at Argument # 3 in my original post.

            If you deny that we can use "nothing" in a meaningful sense, then you can't affirm that nothing exists besides the material world. If this were true, it would render materialism incoherent.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Not at all. But one of the properties I can specify about a thing is that it exists.
            And since you're claiming that the inability to explain why something rather than nothing is a "fatal" flaw to a worldview, then it certainly behooves you to explailn it.

          • Joseph Heschmeyer

            I'm not expert in this area, but I know that Kant rejects the idea that existence is a property. His argument works something like this:

            1) Imagine the $20 bill in your pocket.

            2) The image in your mind doesn't exist in the same way that the $20 bill in your pocket does.

            3) If existence is a property, this means that the $20 bill in your pocket possesses a property (existence, or existence of a particular form) that the $20 bill in your mind doesn't have.

            4) But if the two possess different properties, they're not the same object.

            5) If this is the case, you can't imagine anything that exists at all.

            So I'm not convinced that existence is a property, at least not in the sense that "blueness" is.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Let's consider a real $20 bill. Are you saying that the bill when it's in my pocket and the bill when it's sitting on my scuba suit are different objects because they have different properties (i.e. spatial location)?

          • Joseph Heschmeyer

            No. Location is an accident, not a property.

            On that note, though, I'm off to pray night prayer and go to bed. Thanks for a rigorous debate!

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Fine. The bill is folded; the bill is not folded. According to you, those are not the same bill.

          • Michael Murray

            How do you get from (4) to (5)? All you seem to have shown is that the imagining of something isn't the same as the real thing. I'm sure all humans know that as our lives are full of things we imagine but don't possess !

            If you replace your mind by a digital camera and "imagine" by "image" does this argument show it's impossible to take a photograph ?

          • Susan

            3) doesn't make any sense either.
            And 1) and 2) are obvious. (In fairness to the writer, he has to spell them out to establish his point. But maybe he could have done it less heavy-handedly. It's familiar apologetics.
            It doesn't do a thing for Yahweh claims.
            Sort of like creationists pointing out the "flaws" in "atheistic evolution" and thinking that means they've made any sort of case for their position.
            Exactly like that, as far as I can tell.
            Joseph's case doesn't win by default.
            Unlike the questions involved in "atheistic evolution", I still can't figure out what the question means or whether it's a useful question at all. It's been pointed out by many here why metaphysical nothing has its problems, metaphysically
            But really, one can't say, "Explain THIS, materialistic atheists!!" and think that is useful to any discussion in any way. Not unless they can clarify what it is they'd like explained, how we can investigate it and how any of us would know we have an answer.
            So, this whole "nothing" thing so far seems to be... well metaphysical wanking. Angels and pinheads. Nothing and something.
            Immaterial minds are not nothing. Any more than gravity is nothing. Gravity is something we can't avoid. Immaterial minds have to be kept alive through faith.
            We can find the next turtle or we can cheat and insist there is a transcendent turtle and we know what it is and what it wants you to do with your naughty bits.
            Turtle after turtle and Yahweh seems less and less and less likely.

          • Ignorant Amos

            Metaphysical wanking.....in the shower.... With some metaphysical shampoo....and a metaphysical dolly bird on the mind. You crack me up missus.

    • Indeed, and similarly: What is it again that theists suppose is the distinction between a thing "existing" and "not existing"?

      Materialists are people who say: "If we are connected by a demonstrable chain of cause and effect with something, then we can be sure it exists. Otherwise we have no need of it."

      Various other kinds of realists are people who say: "If a thing is part of our explanations of what we observe, then we can suppose it exists. Otherwise we have no use for it."

      Give that, we can see that the main advantage to materialism over other kinds of realism is that it rests on a much firmer epistemological foundation. Theists in particular typically have an inconsistent threshold, setting an extremely low bar ("Does the evidence permit me to believe?") for religious claims and a normal bar ("Does the evidence support this belief over alternatives?") for normal claims.

  • Ben Posin

    I think this would be a better article if it attempted to make its own argument, rather than chip away at statements made by Stenger, as I don't see how comments made by Stenger=official atheist materialist viewpoint. But ok.
    Only had a chance to scan, here are some questionable things I'd like to try to tease otu a bit later:
    *the idea that mathematics "exisiting" is troubesome for materialism
    *the idea that "God" can be considered an answer to why there is something rather than nothing (I foresee lots of phrases like "being itself" in the future of this, and am setting aside advil in anticipation).
    *the related goofy assumption that a coherent worldview should be able to answer Joe's question. hey, maybe we just don't have the necessary evidence or data available to us to answer the question.
    *the assumption that this is a meaningful question. I don't see how we know that the philosopher or theists' version of "nothing" is actually a coherent concept, that there's really some sort of option besides the more limited physicists' "nothing." I think Joe may be taking the wrong lesson from the fact that physicists aren't able to come up with a "nothing" that he or a philosopher would find coherent.

  • M. Solange O’Brien

    If you believe in God, then you can give a coherent account of why there exists something, rather than nothing,

    No, actually you can't. You can assert that you have an answer by saying "blog did it", but that doesn't answer the question. And since it's not verifiable, it's a pretty poor attempt at answering the question in the first place.

    and you can explain why that something is ordered and coherent.

    And again, you can't. You don't even know what the universe is ordered and coherent. All you can assert is that many of the parts that we can observe appear to behave in an orderly fashion - but the theist attempt to use God as an answer for orderliness runs up again the problem of miracles. The theist, by admitting to miracles, completely undermines the idea that the universe is orderly and coherent.

    That gives you the foundation upon which to do real science (which is why, as a matter of historical fact, modern science was born in Catholic universities and monasteries, and why most of the finest institutions around the world were founded by religious groups).

    False on all counts: theism fundamentally undermines science by eliminating guaranteed repeatability; modern science was NOT born in Catholic universities and monasteries; and most of the finest science institutions around the world were NOT founded by religious groups.

    , and If you reject this foundation, you risk ending up in Stenger's incoherence, undermining the truth of mathematics, denying the truth of the laws of physics, and incapable of answering why the universe exists.

    False, I'm afraid.

    • Tom Rafferty

      M., you have nailed it. Thanks.

    • Jeff Boldt

      You bring up some good arguments M. However, we can recognize a miracle because physical laws are so consistent. If physical laws were inconsistent, "miracle" would be meaningless. And, from a theistic position, a miracle in most cases is simply God righting a wrong, like a musician recalibrating an instrument or a mechanic fixing an engine.

      If any worldview undermines scientific inquiry, it's a worldview that seeks to derive meaning from absurdity and rationality from irrationality.

  • I wonder what people think about Spinoza's answer. Something exists rather than nothing because nothing cannot exist. The something is itself a necessary thing.

    Any possible world is not nothing. Something exists in every possible world, so something exists in this world as well.

    • Loreen Lee

      Except I understand Spinoza to hold that mind and matter are merely attributes, and thus that 'God' as substance would be 'something'? different.
      As there are, I believe he holds, an infinite number of attributes, I found some recent cosmological theories of different physics, laws, etc. in different multiverses compatible with this 'theory'. But it's sort of mind-boggling to think about.
      Also pulled out one of my Philosophy for Beginners 'comics' as I was having problems distinguishing between the pre-Socratic, and came across the fact that it was Lucretius, following Epicurius' philosophy who first said: Nothing can be created out of nothing. The important distinction is that this was considered to be the first statement made regarding the 'conservation' of matter, and did not express any hypothesis regarding any 'beginning' of the cosmos,

      • Both mind and matter would be part of God, but that's now what I'm referencing. I'm referencing his argument in Part 1, that anything that doesn't have a contradiction in itself or outside itself necessarily exists. One way to cash it out is to talk about nothing. There cannot be nothing so there has to be something. Since God is defined (by Spinoza) as "everything that exists" then God necessarily exists. Because the alternative is that nothing exists, and nothing can't exist.

        • Loreen Lee

          Now I understand what Spinoza means when he says he's a pantheist. Incredible. Except no 'free will'? Actually I found that it is possible to look even at my daily life within the context either of contingency or necessity. And Hegel holds that freedom is the recognition of necessity. No 'problem'. I just have to learn to think more like 'God'!!!!
          On nothing! Perhaps it is not appropriate to associate poor self-esteem as related in any way to being 'nothing'.....(if all is 'necessary) (another way the word is used, i.e. to have no value)

        • Loreen Lee

          quote: anything that doesn't have a contradiction in itself or outside itself necessarily exists.
          I've been 'testing' Kant's antinomies, and believe it is possible to regard both sides as complimentary: one necessary and the other contingent. You can choose at any particular time whether to regard something as simple or complex, for instance. And as I've repeatedly said with respect to naturalist-religion. It works there too. You just look at both sides of the contradiction.

          • I'm not sure what you are saying, exactly, but I think you would be right w.r.t. Spinoza. External contradiction would be "if i weren't standing here this amount of air would be here." and external contradiction only happens for contingent things. Necessary things cannot suffer external contradictions.

          • Loreen Lee

            The antinomies I believe describe 'metaphysical' concepts, or contradictions within 'pure reason', I believe. There are four: simplicity vs. complexity; causality/contingency vs. freedom, an explanation of the universe within the context of whether or not it has a beginning; and the 'problem of God'. You can prove or disprove either side of the contradiction. The one on simplicity vs. complexity is giving me a bit of trouble however, with respect to this post!!!!!! And of course all my speculation is merely done within my limited 'capacity'.
            Thanks.

          • I don't know if it's relevant but here you go: http://arxiv.org/abs/quant-ph/9603008

          • Loreen Lee

            Whoopee! I actually 'understood' it, within the context of the information given. (A few words I'll have to check up on). But yes, I am capable of learning something about science, at least from a subjective point of view, and without the prerequisite math and a scientific education.
            The complexity I find is most often in the empirical evidence available for 'analysis', and the simplicity is what is aimed for in the general theory/hypothesis, what have you. So one side of each antimony favors, I believe, either the empirical or the 'metaphysical'. (Just my attempt to 'understand) Thanks again.

  • I reject the premise that a worldview should be able to give some sort of coherent answer to the question of why the universe exists.

    I am not even sure I understand what is being asked by "why does the u inverse exist"

    I am no more troubled by this question than theists seem to be by the question of why God exists.

    • M. Solange O’Brien

      They both represent "incoherent" questions - why is 2 blue, for example? Or what's north of the north pole?

      • Steve Law

        Seems strange to me that we can ask why anything exists and that's a sensible respectable scientific question, but when it comes to why anything at all exists some atheists scratch their heads and look at you as if you're mad. You can't avoid the qustion by pretending it is nonsensical. A 4-sided triangle, for example, is nonsensical, but there is no inherent contradiction in the idea of nothingness, of no things existing.

        • M. Solange O’Brien

          We can ask why particular thing exists, and that's a sensible scientific question because we can (at least in theory) explicate the mechanism by which that thing came to be.
          Define nothing. Then we can proceed. Maybe I'm just not understanding how theists define it.
          And if we can ask "why something exists", can we also ask "why god exists"?

          • Steve Law

            Nothing = nonexistence, not being. If there was no universe then no things would have existence or being or any properties whatsoever, and there would be no space and no time.
            Don't current big bang cosmologies necessarily include nothingness as being that into which the nascent universe appeared? Inflation is an expansion not of matter flung outwards but of space itself, therefore prior to that space expanding there was nothingness.

          • Michael Murray

            Don't current big bang cosmologies necessarily include nothingness as being that into which the nascent universe appeared? Inflation is an expansion not of matter flung outwards but of space itself, therefore prior to that space expanding there was nothingness.

            No that's not part of the theory.

          • David Nickol

            Inflation is an expansion not of matter flung outwards but of space itself, therefore prior to that space expanding there was nothingness.

            And where was this nothingness? How long did it exist before the universe was created? It seems to me the "theistic" arguments conceive of nothingness as a kind of "thing" that existed prior to something being created.

            I don't think it makes sense to say "prior to that space expanding there was nothingness, particularly if you think of time as something that began along with the universe. There was nothing "prior to" that. "Prior to" has no meaning.

          • Steve Law

            The nothingness was wherever any existing thing with being and properties wasn't :-)

            The nothingness did not exist for any length of time because nothingness is an absence of any being or properties, including duration and location. All that can be said about it is in relation to something - the nothingness

            Seems to me that you're trying to conceive of the no-thing as a thing. You are asking questions about where the nothingness was and how long it had been there.

          • Loreen Lee

            My understanding is that while investigating the universe under the steady state theory it turned out that the factor 't' disappeared from the equations, at which point they questioned whether time 'existed'. Henri Bergson related a description of time as duration with 'consciousness'. As consciousness has been argued to be an illusion by example Daniel Dennet, this might be a opportunity to use the word 'nothing' . Could we also not regard even God as a no-thing' on the supposition that it is not an 'object'. I have read arguments for instance that to say God 'exists' is a kind of insult to Divinity. The Buddhists refuse to use the word nothing with respect to Nirvana, because as it is a conscious state they prefer the English word, Emptiness. Thus people have found many uses and/or meanings of the word, which is quite in keeping with a tendency among mankind to talk of 'nothing'. Grin grin.

          • David Nickol

            Seems to me that you're trying to conceive of the no-thing as a thing.

            My point was actually that it seemed to me that theists making arguments like Joe Heschmeyer are thinking of nothing as a kind of thing.

            . . . nothingness is an absence of any being or properties, including duration and location

            But it seems to me you can't have an absence of something without there being something. Asking why there is something rather than nothing seems to set them up as the only two possible alternatives.

        • I don't scratch my head, I say "I don't know" and I ask what are you really asking in the first place?

          Do you think you have an answer that makes sense?

          • Steve Law

            I can't see any reason why the question as to why the universe exists should be somehow incoherent - we ask it of everything else leading up to the universe, there is no reason why we should stop there.
            According to classical theism (as I understand it) God is not some arbitrary explanatory figure inserted into the picture in a 'God of the Gaps' style, but the only kind of answer there can be. Any material cause for the universe only extends the chain of causality further back, which gets us nowhere. Only a deity, a transcendent necessary being outside of time and space, can terminate the chain of causal regress. Without that you either have an infinite regress or a weird "the universe popped out of nowhere for no reason" non-answer that has less coherence and explanatory power than "Goddidit".

          • Michael Murray

            There are other options. Spacetimes with causal loops in them for example. Have a look at some of Paul Brandon Rimmer's posts attached to the article he posted here.

            https://strangenotions.com/like-nothing-youve-seen-before-big-bang-errors-and-god-errors/

            It doesn't make a lot of sense to talk about something outside space-time doing things. Doing requires time. In fact time probably stops even before you get back to the "beginning" of space-time because quantum effects will mess up space-time around the Planck Epoch. So causality in the very early universe is probably not well defined.

          • Steve Law

            Can't find anything on causal loops in that discussion, can you summarise?

            Any deity/entity that somehow 'exists' or 'operates' outside of spacetime is not going to easily fit into any of our concepts or classifications, so we can't really say anything at all about what such a being can or can't 'do'.

          • Michael Murray

            I think it was that there are models of space time where an event after the universe has started can cause another event which can the cause the start of the universe.

            I think it's this one

            https://strangenotions.com/like-nothing-youve-seen-before-big-bang-errors-and-god-errors/#comment-1252188629

          • [---
            There are other options. Spacetimes with causal loops in them for example.
            ---]
            In nihil ab nihilo quam cito recidimus

          • Michael Murray

            "Nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could"

          • Ignorant Amos

            Yeah...what's with the dead language anyway?

          • Close! It was "How quickly we fall back from nothing to nothing."

            It was an ancient expression, but your mention of causal loops made me think of it.

            Any multiverse or inflationary bouncing universe must have a beginning:
            1) The 1994 Borde-Vilenkin Proof,
            2) The 2003 Borde-Vilenkin-Guth Theorem (the BVG Theorem).

          • Michael Murray

            But doesn't a causal loop just mean the beginning happens after the beginning ?

            I think I had better let Paul Brandon Rimmer reply to this.

          • Michael Murray

            By the way your use of BGV to prove the universe must have a beginning is not support by V.

            I then asked Vilenkin, “Does your theorem prove that the universe must have had a beginning?”

            He immediately replied,
            "No. But it proves that the expansion of the universe must have had a beginning. You can evade the theorem by postulating that the universe was contracting prior to some time."

            http://skeptic-mind.blogspot.com.au/2012/03/cosmological-criticism-part-2.html

            It's also problematic as it applies to a model of the universe that we know to be false. In the real universe there are quantum effects that will dominate as we go backwards in time and the universe shrinks.

          • How about we look at what he officially published instead of some suspect third party attribution.

            We made no assumptions about the material content of the universe. We did not even assume that gravity is described by Einstein’s equations. So, if Einstein’s gravity requires some modification, our conclusion will still hold. The only assumption that we made was that the expansion rate of the universe never gets below some nonzero value, no matter how small. This assumption should certainly be satisfied in the inflating false vacuum. The conclusion is that past-eternal inflation without a beginning is impossible.
            --Vilenkin 2006 p.175.

          • Michael Murray

            That's a popular book not a technical paper so I would assume some imprecise statements. I doubt very much he meant that the theorem holds even when reality is described by quantum gravity. There might not even be geodesics. I'll see if I can find a precise quote from Vilenkin seeing as how you don't like my third-parties.

          • Michael Murray

            There is a letter here from Vilenkin on WLC's site

            http://www.reasonablefaith.org/honesty-transparency-full-disclosure-and-bgv-theorem

            Note for example that the BGV theorem uses a classical picture of spacetime. In the regime where gravity becomes essentially quantum, we may not even know the right questions to ask.

            Alex

          • "By the way your use of BGV to prove the universe must have a beginning is not support by V."

            MIchael, this is mislead and untrue.

            We've been around and around your misinterpretation of this Vilenkin quote before, which was (and now is) pulled out of context. Vilenkin essentially says "You *could* try to evade the theorem by positing A", but in his own work Vilenkin shows why such an evasion is untenable.

            The whole episode is conclusively summarized here:

            http://www.reasonablefaith.org/honesty-transparency-full-disclosure-and-bgv-theorem

          • Michael Murray

            My main concern about this application of BGV is the drawing of dramatic conclusions from a model that we know to be wrong. Space-time isn't entirely relativistic, quantum effects have to be taken into account. Let me risk one more quote this time from

            http://www.reasonablefaith.org/honesty-transparency-full-disclosure-and-bgv-theorem

            . . . of course there is no such thing as absolute certainty in science, especially in matters like the creation of the universe. Note for example that the BGV theorem uses a classical picture of spacetime. In the regime where gravity becomes essentially quantum, we may not even know the right questions to ask.

            Alex

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Fallacy of composition: what is true for every member of a set is not necessarily true if the set. Why "something"; and why "anything" are qualitatively different questions - to which the incoherent answer of a transcendent being seems not to apply.

          • Steve Law

            Why are they qualitatively different - because 'something' and 'anything' are spelt differently? What are your criteria for the admissibility of explanations of how the universe came into being? You seem to very happily rule out the validity of the question but have yet to say why.

            Science seems to have no problem with it e.g. Hawking and krauss and their 'universe from nothing'. I can't discern any more to your objection than an unspoken assumption that scientific explanations for the existence of the universe are rational and valid while philosophical or religious arguments are automatically incoherent and nonsensical.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            You really don't understand the difference between a specific thing and all things considered as a set? Oy.

            And I'm not yet convinced that the universe did come into being; the evidence we have indicates that it didn't. But if it did, I'd be looking for a testable hypothesis that was logically coherent and as parsimonious as possible.

            And frankly, Hawking isn't actually postulating something from nothing - so you're wrong about my concern.

          • Steve Law

            I understand the difference, but you still haven't shown how that difference affects the question of the origin of everything, making it somehow an 'incoherent' question. Still seems extraordinary to me that one can rationally and scientifically follow the chain of causation all the way up to the penultimate cause, but to even think about the first cause is equivalent to some kind of schitzophrenic episode....

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Because there is, as yet, no evidence of a penultimate cause. Consider: there is no moment in time at which the universe did not exist. Therefore the universe never began to exist. Therefore you cannot point to even a penultimate cause.

      • Loreen Lee

        Is the 'why' directed to establishing a 'sufficient reason' or a purpose/goal?

  • David Nickol

    I am not altogether sure the question is meaningful. For the theists who make arguments similar to Mr. Heschmeyer's, does God count as something or nothing? This is not clear to me. If God created the universe from nothing, then it seems that God does not count as something. I presume nothing means "no thing," or "no material thing." But was there nothing before God created the universe? What was it like? Where was it? Is nothing the natural state for God? It is not clear to me whether the question "why is there something rather than nothing?" is meant to imply that, without God, nothing is what would be expected. There would be no mystery to explain if nothing existed. But for whom would there be no mystery? Who would ask the question the other way around—Why is there nothing rather than something?

    It seems the concept of nothing makes sense only if contrasted with something. Nothing is inconceivable without something. If God created the universe from nothing, it does not make sense to me to say there was nothing before the universe began. It is kind of like the concept of darkness, which needs light to give it sense. If there was a time before light existed, it would make little sense to talk about darkness during that time.

    It seems to me that "metaphysical nothing" is a purely philosophical concept, not something that can be said to exist or be said to have existed before there was something (if there ever was a time before there was something).

    You can ask the question "Why is there something rather than nothing?" but it seems to me you can't say "After God created the universe, there was something where there had been nothing." Because there is no where for nothing to have been in. You can't ask what was here before the universe, because there was no "here" before the universe.

    So I think Stenger's comment about nothing being difficult to define is on target. When people say God created the universe from nothing, it almost sounds like they are saying God took a bunch of nothing in his hands and formed a universe out of it—as if nothing were a special kind of something that you could make things out of.

    • Loreen Lee

      Hegel begins his Science of Logic with the concepts: Being, (which I believe has some sort of duality - perhaps of consciousness or something, Nothing, and then Becoming.

      • M. Solange O’Brien

        But as far back as Paramedes, philosophers had doubts about the coherency of the concept if Nothing.

        • Loreen Lee

          Well Paramedes was the first philosophy to place almost 'absolute' confidence in math. 'Harmony of the Spheres', something like Leibniz's monads.. Hegel suggested that Math had limitations, and that there was also a 'dynamic' essence, or form or something. (Language???) Maybe you guys should take a look at Hegel's logic. I gave up at the Chapter that discussed Quanta.

        • Loreen Lee

          Sorry, I was confusing Pythagoras with Parmeades!!! Will now Google Parmeades to jog my memory and learn 'something about nothing'
          .

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            The evidence given for the existence of black holes is qualitatively different from the evidence offered for god.
            That's the essential difference between science and religion.
            That's why Ken Ham is so utterly wrong.

          • Loreen Lee

            Yeah there's something about not seeing diapers that is psychologically based. I do think it would be helpful if you could be more specific about the difference. It would perhaps, really be a major breakthrough in the argument.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            In the case of black holes, we can observe their effect on the surrounding space and matter: the existence of Hawking Radiation; the gamma rays produced by inswirling gas; the distortion in the motion of nearby stellar objects. All these are observable. I can look at them; you can look at them; a lawyer in Mumbai can look at them. They are "empirical evidence".
            Evidence usually offered for god tends to be personal revelation (not observable); the record of personal revelation (doubly not observable); or "emprical observations" whose use as evidence for god depends on complex and unsatisfactory chains of logic. The Kalaam is a classic in this way. The universe exists, therefore God. There's a bit more complexity in the middle, of course.
            The problem with revelations of a personal or recorded nature is that we can't verify they are actually revelations, as opposed to hallucinations or wishful thinking.

          • Loreen Lee

            A recognition has been made that different criteria are given for what constitutes evidence, . I would just be interested in whether these distinctions could possible be examined scientiifically.. It might be a means not only to understand better certain processes of thought but even to refute certain claims .
            For instance, witnesses in a court of law very often give different accounts, and thus there are variations in credibility. Our memories are very selective, for some reason, that I don't think has been explained. As in my example of the diapers, there is no explanation as to why empirical observations are often dependent on the needs or interest of the observer. People speak of coincidences/synchronicity, which very often involve an empirical.context.
            There is also the phenomena of self observations, which granted are not empirical when they involve becoming aware of how your own mind works, and indeed of the very thoughts themselves, as in what is now recognized as mindfulness 'training'.. Such 'insights' may indeed be a viable explanation of what constitutes the basis of much 'personal revelation'. The observations themselves may be, as in the case of the witness, more or less credible, and indeed with or without the support of reason, or as the church deems more or less worthy of belief..

            Granted these are not empirical observations, but if we could understand the psychological state or process of thought involved even in the cases of reported 'miracles', perhaps there would be some progress made in settling many debates between 'science and religion'. There might be a means to distinguish even between different kinds of hallucinations, and their causes, as in the field of psychiatry. Science is but in a state of infancy with respect to the workings of the mind, and, perhaps just as important, is the manner in which these 'personal' experiences are reported to others.

            From your last paragraph it would appear that you would accept the phenomena of revelations as a disclosure of 't/Truth'. I would extend the importance of a better understanding to the study of hallucinations or wishful thinking as well, because I believe there is a possible therapeutic need, within psychiatry. to accept them as facts, even within the context that they are real only to the individual who experiences them.
            It is my also my belief that there is often little conscious awareness of mental processes, generally, and as in the case of what is called 'poetic inspiration', or 'divine grace', what is given I grant you may ever be 'beyond' scientific investigation, and I thus conclude, with your seeming acceptance of 'revelation', that a reciprocal understanding can develop regarding discrete areas of scientific evidence,and religious witness . As Heidegger said: we still have to learn 'how' to think.

          • Susan
          • Loreen Lee

            Thanks for your good will. Please understand that I consider myself reasonably competent in the area of history of philosophy, including some philosophy of science. This involvement with arguments on cosmology etc. is a new venture for me. I have just begun to read articles in this subject, and thus, because of this and no prior experience in math or science, they are generally beyond my ken, although I am able to make occasional analogical comparisons. I am however, personally motivated to understand the arguments between naturalism and religion. I am aware also that I do tend to speculate. Hopefully I shall continue to resist becoming involved in debate per se. My comments hopefully are either based on rhetoric, description, or inquiry. Thank you.

          • Michael Murray

            As in my example of the diapers, there is no explanation as to why empirical observations are often dependent on the needs or interest of the observer.

            Surely this is just a question of paying attention to what you are interested in and not noticing what you are not interested in?

          • Loreen Lee

            Thanks for your patience in responding. My interest in finding an explanation for such processes is my belief that they are all highly unconscious. We are just not aware of our thinking processes, and this might explain some of the conclusions and beliefs held with respect to other examples I gave, and even an explanation as to why are often attributed to 'divine' agency..

          • Michael Murray

            However, I have found in life that physical support for my beliefs often 'appears' in accordance to what 'beliefs' I have.

            Confirmation bias

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confirmation_bias

            It's a big problem which science works very hard to avoid. Much of that is down to the rewards given for proving another scientist wrong.

          • Susan

            It's a big problem which science works very hard to avoid. Much of that is down to the rewards given for proving another scientist wrong.

            This is the difference between black holes and immaterial minds.

          • Loreen Lee

            Could it also be an explanation for some theories of 'nothingness' as contrasted with both Being and becoming?

          • Loreen Lee

            Thank you so much for this article. Will go back to it for further study. I think it gave a scientific description for many of my examples, and more. But I still don't believe there is a scientific explanation of how or why (under what psychological and empirical conditions) this happens or develops in the article. I would simply refer to it as some kind of undisciplined subjectivity. Believing is seeing rather than seeing is believing? Thanks..

  • Benedict Augustine

    Well said, Joe. Materialists have a problem with stopping at matter and going no further. However, there is something beyond the matter: its form. And there's something beyond forms: a creator. Scientists work at trying to understand the forms, or laws, behind material phenomena, so understanding forms as something distinct from matter is essential. It moves from induction to deduction, rendering the world intelligible. Properly understanding forms and matter, scientists may see the limits of their respective discipline and work within that framework.

    Therefore, it's not that scientists must come up with an answer to why there is a universe; rather, ti's that they should know that they cannot answer it with a materialistic understanding. If scientist never bothered with this question, particularly on the basis of their methodology, they would act rightly. Unfortunately, as Stenger and many science popularizers prove, they do bother with this question, arrogantly flouting the rules of logic. They claim that their materialism answers all questions about existence and humanity, and when it doesn't, they say the question is stupid and pointless. The writer shows that materialism cannot account for nothing, or even something, so as an all-encompassing philosophy, it fails.

    • M. Solange O’Brien

      Well said, Joe. Materialists have a problem with stopping at matter and going no further. However, there is something beyond the matter: its form. And there's something beyond forms: a creator.

      Oh? Prove it. Your assertion; your burden of proof.

      Scientists work at trying to understand the forms, or laws, behind material phenomena,

      Oh, so forms are laws and not Plato's forms? Useful. And who says there are laws beyond the material? You do. Can you substantiate this?

      so understanding forms as something distinct from matter is essential.

      But there is not particular evidence that they are. Forms (or laws, I don't know why you're using them interchangeably) are observed generalizations about the behavior of matter. They may not be universal, they may not even be true.

      It moves from induction to deduction, rendering the world intelligible.

      Really? I don't follow the relevance of this in this context.

      Properly understanding forms and matter, scientists may see the limits of their respective discipline and work within that framework.

      Science tests what science can test. Most everything is up for grabs that waqy.

      Therefore, it's not that scientists must come up with an answer to why there is a universe; rather, ti's that they should know that they cannot answer it with a materialistic understanding.

      If that is the case, then it cannot be shown to be true. And it can't be shown to be true, then why bother?

      If scientist never bothered with this question, particularly on the basis of their methodology, they would act rightly.

      Science works. Theology produces no truths that can be shown to be true. Therefore we should use science - if we are interested in truth.

      Unfortunately, as Stenger and many science popularizers prove, they do bother with this question, arrogantly flouting the rules of logic.

      A bald assertion. Any examples of this "arrogant flouting of logic?"

      They claim that their materialism answers all questions about existence and humanity, and when it doesn't, they say the question is stupid and pointless.

      Either you don't know any scientists, or you are fond of strawmen. Cite the scientists who make these claims.

      The writer shows that materialism cannot account for nothing, or even something, so as an all-encompassing philosophy, it fails.

      Theism cannot account for nothing, so as an all-encompassing philosophy, it also fails.

    • Loreen Lee

      Materialism cannot account for either mathematical or dynamic form. The latter I suspect is some sort of unity in the division of opposites or something. I'm speculating here again, but in some way it has to do with consciousness, or thought. That's why I find the Buddhist conception of nothingness/emptiness as a form of consciousness awareness, not necessarily that of discursive reasoning so interesting. (Maybe it's the spirit of the Holy Ghost!!! grin grin)

      • M. Solange O’Brien

        Why can't it? I see no problem.

        • Loreen Lee

          Perhaps then, M. Solange, you are a reductionist, and believe that all conscious process but the result of physical brain functions alone. That would make you a kind of monist. But if you possibly 'believe' in even a evolutionary development of consciousness, such as that referred to as epiphenomenalism, than you are a dualist, and your thought is subject to the mind-body distinction. I'm not saying that you cannot be either of these, as defined within the context of what theory you hold.

          Catholicism I understand would be a monism under the completely opposite conception from a materialist-atheist position, (the reduction thesis) as they hold that it is the union found within the absolute of the Trinity that provides the coherence between body and mind.
          Indeed even Descartes and Berkeley appealed to the concept of God in order to give 'extension' to their ideas of self consciousness in the first case, (Cogito ergo sum) and empirical perception in the second case, (Esse est Percipe)

          To support your position scientifically, I believe all you need to do is refer to the relation of brain to thought, which is an accomplished scientific reality. And indeed if you extend your thesis and hold like Daniel Dennett that consciousness is an illusion, you may also have an argument that you can indeed explain the 'nothing'. You will then have won the argument presented in this post.

        • Loreen Lee

          Atheistic materialism is more compatible with theories of Nominalism, and some kinds of Aristotelian or Natural Realism. I have always tended to be a Rationalist by temperament. However, I am beginning to differentiate more clearly the implications of these concepts with the alternative of various interpretations of Platonism. It is after all the issue of Naturalism vs. Religion that I continue to explore. I have come to no definite conclusions and believe the exploration of the contradictions will take up the rest of my life. The concept that laws derive from empirical evidence for instance is a completely new concept for me, and I arrived at such an hypothesis 'myself' in conjunction with what I read on this site. But it's got implications that are troubling for me. As does the concept of 'making' mathematical truths rather than 'discovering' them. I'm betting these issues will not be resolved even long after I'm buried.

  • Joseph Heschmeyer

    1) As for the question a couple of you have already raised about whether or not the question is meaningful, it absolutely is. I'm inclined to think Martin Heidegger is right that it's the most important philosophical question. Heidegger, in Introduction to Metaphysics, suggests that the most important question that we can ask in philosophy is “Why are there beings at all, instead of nothing?

    2) The importance of the question for philosophy can be demonstrated simply enough. If I, as a believer, presented a cosmology that required the prior existence of a giant turtle to belch out the universe, you'd rightly say, “how do you account for the existence of the turtle?” or “Why is there a turtle, rather than no-turtle?” And if I answered, “Oh, just because,” or “because I need it for my model to work,” you would right find this answer unsatisfying. Being unable to answer this basic question would discredit my whole cosmology.

    The question that I'm asking, the Heidegger is asking, and that Stenger claims to be answering, is simply this question about turtles... only asking it about everything. Why does anything exist? Instead of asking why we live in this kind of universe rather than that, take a step back. Why do we live in any universe at all? Why is there such a thing as a universe for us to live in? Why are there physical laws, etc., etc.?

    If atheists can't articulate a coherent response beyond “Oh, just because,” or “because I need it for my model to work,” their cosmologies should be similarly discredited.

    3) As for defining “nothing,” it's notoriously tricky. Even Heidegger said:

    “One cannot, in fact, talk about and deal with Nothing as if it were a thing, such as the rain out there, or a mountain, or any object at all; Nothing remains in principle inaccessible to all science. Whoever truly wants to talk of Nothing must necessarily become unscientific. But this is a great misfortune only if one believes that scientific thinking alone is the authentic, rigorous thinking, that it alone can and must be made the measure even of philosophical thinking. But the reverse is the case. All scientific thinking is just a derivative and rigidified form of philosophical thinking. Philosophy never arises from or through science. Philosophy can never belong to the same order as the sciences. It belongs to a higher order, and not just “logically,” as it were, or in a table of the system of the sciences. Philosophy stands in a completely different domain and rank of spiritual Dasein. […] Talking about Nothing remains forever an abomination and an absurdity for science.”

    But just because we can't give a precise (or satisfying) definition to “nothing” doesn't mean that we can't speak about it at all. Rather, we can approach it by way of negation.

    We can recognize at the outset that “nothing” doesn't mean “the absence of matter.” Rather, it means something closer to “the absence of anything.” We can know what it means for something not to exist: e.g., a four-sided triangle doesn't exist at all (either as a material object or even as a concept). So we can talk about the non-existence of X or Y. By “nothing,” we mean the non-existence of every possible X or Y.

    4) Note also from the Heidegger quotation that “nothing” is part of that realm of philosophical inquiry that necessarily precedes science. For science to work, certain things must already exist. The most rudimentary of these is that existence itself must exist. (It must also be intelligible, etc., but that's further down the line).

    5) M. Solange O'Brien asks “if we can ask "why something exists", can we also ask "why god exists"?” The answer is yes, and a theist should be able to give a coherent answer to that.

    That said, this seems like the set-up for a huge tu quoque argument ("we find your cosmology unsatisfying, so ours doesn't have to make sense!"), so I would like to table that for now. The question isn't about whether or theism has a rational cosmology, but whether or not atheism does. And so far, there aren't a lot of promising signs.

    6) For those who object to my use of Stenger, can you point to any atheist who gives a lucid answer to this question?

    -Joe

    • 1) In response to your assertion that the question is meaningful, it absolutely is not. I am inclined to think Douglas Adams was right when he satirically proposed 42, a meaningless answer, because you don't even know what you are asking. I cannot think of an answer that could even be a candidate for such a question, much less try and determine if the candidate is accurate. I have certainly never heard an theists come close to providing an answer.

      2) (same as 1, really). It is not atheists who are beseiged with some need find these answers or ask these questions. There are no models in scientific or materialistic world views that need answers to this question.

      3) "Nothing" is not tricky, it is the opposite of anything and everything. It is a concept and a term we use colloquially to refer to a number of material things like a vacuum, Cordelia's answer to Lear etc. It is not a real thing in an sense.

      The rest) , I can't be bothered.

      • Joseph Heschmeyer

        Brian,

        1) I'm not hearing an argument here. Just an unwarranted assertion that the question is meaningless, when it obviously is not.

        If I asked why cephalopods exist, presumably you wouldn't find that question meaningless, right? You'd be able to point to the factors (or at least the material factors) that preceded and enabled its coming-to-be. You wouldn't say that it was a meaningless question.

        If we broaden the question to ask about everything rather than cephalopods, it doesn't become meaningless. It just becomes unanswerable for atheistic materialism. Those are very different things.

        2) The question exists prior to science (as I mentioned in #4, had you gotten that far).

        Atheistic materialism goes beyond science, and says that matter is all that exists. Its inability to provide any coherent answer to this most basic question discredits the theory.

        3) That's not a definition, but I agree: understanding it as the opposite of anything and everything is the sense that we mean. We don't mean the colloquial sense.

        4, etc.) Okay.

        • M. Solange O’Brien

          1) I'm not hearing an argument here. Just an unwarranted assertion that the question is meaningless, when it obviously is not.

          And all we're hearing from you is an unwarranted assertion that the question is meaningful, when it obviously is not.
          See how that works? You made the assertion; you have to support it. Just saying "no, it is too meaningful" doesn't do much for your argument.

          • Joseph Heschmeyer

            Except that I actually did provide an argument for my claim, in the very next paragraph after the one that you quoted. If "why do cephalopods exist?" is a meaningful question, then "why does anything exist?" is a meaningful question.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Not at all. Cephalopods exist in a context, whereby their existence can be traced and demonstrated. They are a consequence. The existence of everything is not even remotely the same kind of question.
            Basic metaphysics, 101. I think Aquinas dealt with this early on.

          • Why cephalapods is just as meaningless to me as why anything exists. The problem here is "exists" and "why". We can talk about how they evolved, what they are made of and so on, but when we get down to it, I do not know what you mean by "why" and "exists" in this ultimate context? This is Lawrence Krauss' point in recent debates etc.

            The problem with this is any answer to a "why exists" question, can be followed with another why. Eventually, someone a placeholder and says "it is X's nature" or it is "necessary".

            I cannot even conceive of what answers could be satisfactory to why does any thing exist? This indicates to me that I do not understand what is being asked.

          • Ben Posin

            Joseph (Joe?):

            Your comparison of "nothing" with octopuses suggests you don't understand the common criticism of your argument/article.

            We know that there are actual referents for the concept cephalopod. We have reason to think that cephalopods once didn't exist (and can imagine a coherent, possible world without cephalopods). So it's a meaningful question to ask how they came to be as a species, or, for that matter, to ask about how any individual cephalopod came to be.

            But you haven't given us any reason to believe the philosophers' concept of nothing, as opposed to the physicists, is a coherent concept. You have a string of words you've mashed together in a definition, but it's not something I can imagine, it's not something anyone has ever seen, it's not a state of affairs that anyone has actually provided evidence for ever having been, or even being possible. So I don't have a reason to believe that the question "why is there something rather than nothing" is a meaningful one--there may not be any possible alternative. I certainly don't have a reason to think this question creates a problem for materialism.

            And really, math? If you want to call things like logic or math "immaterial," I can live with that I guess, but there's no clear road from logic/math to God, souls, or anything else you really want to get to by attacking materialism.

    • M. Solange O’Brien

      ) The importance of the question for philosophy can be demonstrated simply enough. If I, as a believer, presented a cosmology that required the prior existence of a giant turtle to belch out the universe, you'd rightly say, “how do you account for the existence of the turtle?” or “Why is there a turtle, rather than no-turtle?” And if I answered, “Oh, just because,” or “because I need it for my model to work,” you would right find this answer unsatisfying. Being unable to answer this basic question would discredit my whole cosmology.

      What I find ironical about this is that THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT THEISTS PROPOSE. They require the prior existence (not even temporally, apparently) to belch (i.e. create) the universe. And when atheists ask "how do you account for god?" the theists answer, "just because."
      I don't think I've seen a clearer explanation of why atheists find theists's response "god" is so utterly incorehent and intellectually vacuous than the Joe just gave us.

      • Joseph Heschmeyer

        Solange,

        The irony is intentional. The typical atheist misunderstanding of the theistic claim is of a Creator-God that's essentially a gigantic being who floats around in space and belches out a universe. This is a lousy argument against Catholicism, or classical theism generally(because it totally misses what we actually claim about God), but a great argument against atheistic materialism... only instead of a Creator-God or a turtle, it's a mathematical rule, or gravity, etc. It's not less incoherent or intellectually vacuous.

        So maybe we can come to an agreement here: Atheistic materialism, the belching turtle, and your idea of theistic cosmology are all utterly incoherent and intellectually vacuous.

        • M. Solange O’Brien

          None of the atheists in this discussion is that kind of atheist. If you wish to have that strawman discussion with someone, that's fine, but it insults our intelligence. The arguments against catholicism are not of this order.
          You don't know what my idea of theistic cosmology is, since you've never asked, but I'm wiling to agree on the belching turtle, if you'll agree that theistic cosmology is utterly incoherent and intellectually vacuous.
          See how that works? Insulting the folks you're trying to persuade is not a good policy.

          • Joseph Heschmeyer

            Solange,

            None of the atheists in this discussion is that kind of atheist. If you wish to have that strawman discussion with someone, that's fine, but it insults our intelligence.

            I view the belching turtle as a ridiculous strawman, and a particularly foolish atheistic argument. And I certainly wasn't claiming that anyone here did hold to that view, which is why I described it as "the typical atheist misunderstanding of the theistic claim" rather than ascribing it to your or anyone else.

            If you review the comments here, you'll find that you're the one who embraced the belching turtle as a good argument, saying: "What I find ironical about this is that THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT THEISTS PROPOSE." This both missed the irony intended in my analogy, and endorsed a ridiculous view of theism. So please, spare me the indignation at not asking you to define theism for me.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            I view the belching turtle as a ridiculous strawman, and a particularly foolish atheistic argument. And I certainly wasn't claiming that anyone here did hold to that view, which is why I described it as "the typical atheist misunderstanding of the theistic claim" rather than ascribing it to your or anyone else.

            Then why even offer it? We're not having that kind of discussion, so saying, "well, other atheists who aren't here right now and aren't relevant actually believe X" doesn't add much, does it?
            Then demonstrate how the belching turtle (your analogy) is different from the theist conception.
            "God created the heavens and the earth." Right?
            And I'm versed in Aquinas and the standard arguments. We can move past them and on to what you're actually claiming.
            Adding "god" to the equation still fails to explain why nothing rather than something.

          • Joseph Heschmeyer

            Okay, you can't say (a) acting as if the atheists here think classical theism is akin to the belching turtle cosmology is insulting to our intelligence, AND (b) classical theism is akin to the belching turtle cosmology, prove it's not! By your own argument, you're insulting your own intelligence with (b).

            And again, you're trying to draw me into a discussion of the positive case (how classical theism can solve the problem that's fatal to atheistic materialism).

            But I'm still not taking that bait, and for a simple reason: atheistic materialism is a positive theory, and can be evaluated on its own merits. I'm doing so, and finding it wanting. Rather than defending atheistic materialism, you're assuming (1) that the only two possibilities are atheistic materialism or a belching-turtle theism, and (2) that theism is equally incapable of solving the problem of nothing. Even if you were right on these two points (and I disagree with you on both), that's an argument for agnosticism at best (since both possibilities would be equally impossible).

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Okay, you can't say (a) acting as if the atheists here think classical theism is akin to the belching turtle cosmology is insulting to our intelligence, AND (b) classical theism is akin to the belching turtle cosmology, prove it's not! By your own argument, you're insulting your own intelligence with (b).

            Bless me, my child, you're the one who's obsessed with turtles. Would you prefer I phrase it more succinctly?
            Theists state (I'll just give you a quote here) that "God created the heavens and the earth" - Christians, anyway, although you can add Jews and Muslims to that mix. Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, etc. have a far more sophisticated theology, so we'll skip those for now.
            This permits the theologian to back up the goal posts: Why is there something rather than nothing? God! Why is there God? (crickets.)

            And again, you're trying to draw me into a discussion of the positive case (how classical theism can solve the problem that's fatal to atheistic materialism).

            Not at all. I merely point out that if it's fatal, it's fatal to both.

            But I'm still not taking that bait, and for a simple reason: atheistic materialism is a positive theory, and can be evaluated on its own merits.

            Really? Atheists don't believe in god is a positive theory? Your definition of positive seems to be very different from the norm.

            I'm doing so, and finding it wanting.

            You claim that atheism - taken as a worldview - cannot answer a particular question, and therefore it is a failure. But the question applies equally well to theism, and the atheist has a perfectly good answer to your question. You just don't like it. Your failure to like "I don't know" doesn't deal any kind of blow to atheistic materialism.

            Rather than defending atheistic materialism, you're assuming (1) that the only two possibilities are atheistic materialism or a belching-turtle theism,

            False.

            and (2) that theism is equally incapable of solving the problem of nothing.

            Not entirely false.

            Even if you were right on these two points (and I disagree with you on both), that's an argument for agnosticism at best (since both possibilities would be equally impossible).

            The elimination of two possibilities implies agnosticism? Once again, you don't seem to be using standard defintions; how are you defining agnosticism?

          • Joseph Heschmeyer

            Solange,

            Really? Atheists don't believe in god is a positive theory? Your definition of positive seems to be very different from the norm.

            Atheistic materialism, not atheism, is the positive theory. To claim that nothing exists other than matter is a positive claim. And it's this positive claim that I'm wanting to evaluate. I get that you want to evaluate the Judeo-Christian cosmology instead, but that really is an argument for another day.

          • Ben Posin

            It can be tough sometimes to sort between what is and isn't a positive theory--sometimes it even seems to come down to phrasing. For example, if I say "materialism is correct and nothing non-material exists (whatever it means for a non-material thing to exist)", that sounds like a positive statement. But if I say, whelp, we all agree about the material things existing, but no theist has provided evidence of the sort of non-material things they say "exist," it sounds a lot less like a positive theory to me.

            I think it's fair to let us material atheists (well, I'm one, can't speak for anyone else) put this in the less positive framework. I'm completely open to looking at any evidence you have about non-material things, but lacking any good reason, will continue to believe that it's matter all the down.

            You want to propose that there's more than the material things we've discovered, come up with some evidence.
            So what evidence of non-material "things" do you have?

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            This always seems to be the sticking point. I've never been offered any evidence of the immaterial beyond "I believe".

          • Joseph Heschmeyer

            Ben,

            1) That's a pretty fair reformulation, re: positive and negative variations of the materialist claim.

            2) Hopefully we agree that if you stick to the negative claim, you're only making a claim for agnosticism or skepticism, not for atheism, and not for atheistic materialism... right?

            I have no particular reason to believe that you own a cat. But that's not proof positive that you don't. If you were to try to claim an absence of evidence is evidence of absence, then you'rd be switching to making a positive case for atheism, and relying only on this perceived lack of evidence to meet your burden of proof.

            3) My argument here, and this gets to Solange's point as well, isn't to make a positive case for Catholicism, or even for theism. It's to show that atheistic materialism doesn't work. Whatever else may be true - theism or atheism, Christianity or some other religion, etc. - atheistic materialism is out of the running. It should be taken off of the table for serious consideration, because it's got enormous and apparently incurable logical and philosophical flaws. Even if you were to exclude all religious thinkers from the discussion, you could craft a devastating case against atheistic materialism just using the work of atheists like Heidegger, Thomas Nagel, and several others.

            If you put forward the case that matter is all there is, you should be able to meet some basic burdens (like explaining why there's something rather than nothing). Saying that the question is stupid or irrelevant is either ignorance or a dodge. Saying "tu, quoque!" is blatantly a dodge. So atheistic materialism, as a positive claim, fails.

            4) That implicitly answers the less-positive formulation you're talking about, too. In response to the proposition, "why should we believe that there's anything other than matter?" we can say, "because the alternative, that there's nothing other than matter, fails."

            5) Take the Kennedy assassination as an example. There are various positive theories disputing just what happened. Imagine that since believers in the assassination couldn't agree on the details, there arose the belief that the assassination must not have happened at all, or that if it did occur, there must not have been a gunman.

            Even without endorsing a specific positive theory of the assassination, you could dispatch that sort of ridiculous "no-bullet" theory. Whatever else might be true, that theory is clearly false. And so believers in any of the countless conspiracy theories could join with those who believe the official explanation, and roundly reject the no-bullet theory as logically impossible.

            Atheistic materialism is the no-bullet theory of universal origins. We can quickly dispatch it as logically impossible. This doesn't settle the debate: it just removes one of the weaker contenders from the fight. Now we know that there's something other than matter, and the question is who or what falls into that immaterial set.

            That's as far as I want to take the argument: once we've buried atheistic materialism, I hope that readers will be open to an alternative. But I'm not about to rush into a debate on the existence of God in the combox here without first establishing that atheistic materialism is philosophically bankrupt, and not a viable alternative to theism.

          • Ben Posin

            That's a lot to respond to. Some quick thoughts, which I may try to supplement later:
            2) you're playing with words, and poorly. I don't believe there is a God, because no one has given me a sufficent reason to. I don't believe in non-material things (such as some theists conceptions of souls and, again, God) because no one has given me sufficent reason to. I do believe in material things, because I have sufficient reason to. I believe that minds, for example, are based in material things, because that's where all the (extensive) evidence points. This makes me an atheist materialist, as well as an agnostic, given that I don't claim to have knowledge of the answer. to these questions. It's really not that complicated.

            3), 4) 5) you've failed to show what you're asserting. Sorry. This deserves a longer response, but this thread is pretty full of them. I replied to one of your posts earlier, explaining that you haven't given us any reason to think that the philosopher's nothing is a coherent concept or a possible state of affairs, that there was any other possibility than there being "something" and thus that there is anything actually requiring explanation. The fact that scientists disagree with philosophers about what "nothing" might mean is an indictment of philosophers, not scientists. Despite your protests, you haven't shown that there's actuallya coherent, meaningful question in play here for materialism to try to solve. Do that, and then we'll have something to talk about as to whether materialism is somehow logically impossible.

            As a general matter, just to give you insight into where I'm coming from (a treat, I know), I put no weight or interest in what philosophers have to say about the origin or nature of the universe. I don't care if famous philosophers have written treatises about what a wonderful question "why is there something rather than nothing" is supposed to be. Physics and cosmology, unlike philosophy in this arena, are studying the nature of the universe as it actually is. There's no reason to think that the philosophers' notions here have any basis in reality, or that their concepts have actual referents.

          • Joseph Heschmeyer

            2) I'm not playing with words. See the cat example.

            3-5) "Nothing" means something different to scientists and philosophers because they are asking different questions. Likewise, if you asked what I brought to eat, and I said "nothing," I would clearly mean a third sense of nothing beyond the two in question. No need to indict philosophers, scientists, or anyone else. The problem only arises when one group (in this case, scientists like Stenger) assume that the way that they use "nothing" is applicable to a question outside their field (a metaphysical question about the origins of the universe). So the scientific understanding of "nothing" is fine for science, but it makes for lousy philosophy.

            Likewise, you can't just assume that "strange" means the same thing in a treatise on quantum mechanics as it does in, say, a police report.

            To see why the scientific understanding of "nothing" fails here, just ask, "What exists besides matter?"

            Finally, if the meaning of "nothing" is causing confusion, perhaps we can rephrase the question: "why does anything exist?" This question precedes science, because it's asking why there exists anything to do science in (or to, or with). Saying, "I don't care, because science works!" is just a non-answer.

          • Ben Posin

            Joe,

            C'mon. The cat example is dreadful and irrelevant. There is plenty of evidence that cats exist. There are plenty of people I know who own cats. Because of the overwhelming evidence that people keep cats, if some random person tells me they own a cat, I don't kick in their door looking for proof, though I also can't say I KNOW they have a cat. But if someone tells me they have a dragon in their garage, my default position is going to be disbelief until they provide me evidence. So it is with gods, and so it is with souls and other immaterial "things." This is hardly a new view, and one you're not going to verbally jiu jitsu me out of by saying I'm inappropriately turning "absence of evidence" into "absence of evidence." This is Russell's Teapot stuff.

            As to "3-5," yes, scientists and philosophers may be talking about different things. But I don't have any reason to think the "thing" philosophers are be talking about is actually coherent, real, possible in the past or future, meaningful, one with a referent, sensible, choose your favorite. I don't really know how to make this point clearer to you.
            Why is there anything? Well, to start with I don't know.

            But scientists have some theories as to how a bare minimum, the scientific "nothing" you refer to in your article, could through material processes spawn the universe we live in. It's not clear it was ever possible for there to "be" less than this scientific nothing, that there was any alternative, that "nothing" in the sense you mean it was ever an option.

            I can't help it if this doesn't satisfy you, but your claim that materialism (or "atheistic materialism") is somehow disproven by your question seems to fall somewhere between non sequitur and "not even wrong."

          • Joseph Heschmeyer

            Ben,

            2) Your response misses the point. The cat example illustrates the difference between a positive and negative case. The point that I'm making is an objective distinction. I don't see how you could take a contrary position on it... regardless of your beliefs. If you say "there is no God" or "there is nothing besides matter," those are as much positive claims as "there is a God," "you own a cat," you own a dragon," etc. In all cases, the burden of proof falls to you to support your contention.

            Your counter-examples, of a cat and a dragon, serve only to show that amongst positive cases, some fare better than others when they have only an absence of evidence to go off of.

            3-5) What do you believe exists besides the material?

            If you say "nothing," according to what you've just argued, you're either (a) saying that something exists, or (b) "not even wrong." Both of these would be fatal to materialism theoretically.

            The third option is that your whole prior line of argumentation is wrong, and that we can actually speak of philosophical nothingness.

          • Ben Posin

            "What do you believe exists besides the material?

            If you say "nothing," according to what you've just argued, you're either (a) saying that something exists, or (b) "not even wrong." Both of these would be fatal to materialism theoretically."

            This is why I hate philosophy, and get annoyed by philosophes (I almost wrote hate philosophers, but that's a bit extreme). This sort of word game isn't impressive, and doesn't move the ball forward. I think that everything that exists has a material basis, and it's not clear to me that there was or could ever have been "nothing" in the sense that you and some philosphers seem to mean it. I don't think there is any such thing as an immaterial "thing" in the sense that you mean, though what it means to say an immaterial thing doesn't "exist" is a bit of a mind bender. You can rephrase that as my saying that there is "nothing" immaterial, but that doesn't turn my use of the word "nothing" into this unsubstantiated philosopher's idea of "nothing." There are plenty of uses of the word "nothing" that are valid.

          • Joseph Heschmeyer

            Ben,

            There really is no word game on this end. I'm just pointing out the absurdity of claiming, on the one hand, that you don't understand what "nothing" and "non-existence" mean, and on the other, claiming that there's "nothing" and "non-existence" besides matter.

            You think God and the immaterial don't exist (feel free to rephrase that as you wish). Yet we both agree that the same cannot be said for the material world. It quite obviously does exist. The question is: why?

            You might not care about finding out the answer to this (although any cosmology or philosophy you advance will suffer from a huge logical hole if you don't both to find out), but you can't honestly say that the question is meaningless, anymore than it's meaningless for you to say that God doesn't exist.

          • Ben Posin

            Joe,
            I can see that this is meant to be a knockdown, telling blow. But to me it just represents another example of how a bent towards "philosophical" thinking might lead one astray. One can string together things that seem to have the grammar and structure of an argument or definition, but the concepts may not be coherent, and the argument without force or meaning.

            I have never claimed to understand what an immaterial "thing" might be. You can see my posts filled with quotation marks when discussing this subject. I've never been comfortable to say it makes sense to talk about something immaterial "existing" as if that's an option or a sensible statement. I honestly don't know what it would mean for something to exist but not be part of our material world...that material world is all I've experienced or have any understanding of.

            When you ask me: is there "nothing" beyond the material world, at some level that's like asking does reality have a nature that it doesn't have. Reality seems to have a particular nature, which is best described by the concept we call material. That materiality is what describes the universe as we experience it, and not "immateriality" doesn't render the philosopher's concept of nothing a meaningful one.

            I can't honestly say that the question "why is there something rather than nothing" is meaningless. But I can metaphorically sit here and look you in the eye and say that I don't know that it's meaningful, because I'm not convinced that the philosopher's idea of nothing, the negation of all existence, including vacuum etc., is an actual option, that it's a coherent idea that could ever possibly been, or ever could be, the state of affairs. And, apologies, but I don't see philosophers as competent to have an opinion on the subject.

          • Ben Posin

            Whoops, forgot to respond about the cat and dragon analogies. You seem to be missing something pretty basic here. Yes, saying "you don't have a cat" or "you don't have a dragon in your garage" is a claim. But saying "Ok, give me reasons/evidence to believe you actually have a cat" or "give me reasons/evidence to believe you have a dragon in your garage" is not making a claim. I need reasons to believe things, you can provide good ones or not as you please, or as you're able.
            You are not going to get any traction with a large portion of atheists arguing about whether they have met their burden to prove there is no God, or with materialists to prove there is no "immaterial." Like me, many don't accept that burden. Both you and I agree in the existence of the material. You're the one proposing something beyond that, whether it's God or the "immaterial." You want me to believe in something, give me reasons.
            Have we done this point to death yet?

          • Michael Murray

            As a general matter, just to give you insight into where I'm coming from (a treat, I know), I put no weight or interest in what philosophers have to say about the origin or nature of the universe. I don't care if famous philosophers have written treatises about what a wonderful question "why is there something rather than nothing" is supposed to be. Physics and cosmology, unlike philosophy in this arena, are studying the nature of the universe as it actually is. There's no reason to think that the philosophers' notions here have any basis in reality, or that their concepts have actual referents.

            Well it was a treat for me ! Nicely put.

          • Loreen Lee

            Am I not correct that many scientists throughout history have posited theories of nothingness, for example the void, quintessence, etc. etc. And that all such theories have been withdrawn, although they have often been to some extent at least instrumental in developing greater insights? Just wondering!

          • Michael Murray

            Yes I think it's fair to say that as the scientific understanding of the world improves the idea of an absolute nothing has gone away. Once you might have thought that somewhere in space between the galaxies would be a pretty good nothing. It's certainly a long way from anywhere! But now we know there is the cosmic microwave background and we believe there are quantum fields.

          • Loreen Lee

            Even the early Christian thinkers populated the universe with an 'infinite' number of angels, one of the reasons being to counter the 'idea of a void' on the belief that God w/could not create such a universe. Thank you.

          • Loreen Lee

            I believe that even the early Christian philosophers populated the universe with an 'infinity' of angels, on the believe that God c/would not create a 'void, but in contrast the universe was a 'plenum'. Thank you.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            The problem with your (3) is that you haven't presented any of these deep flaws with atheistic materialism (a term you have yet to define). Your demand that a given worldview answer a particular question says more about your thinking patterns than about the worldview.

            And as I have pointed out, your Catholic worldview is plagued by the very same flaws. So if you're disappointed that atheists are perfectly happy and intellectually content with their worldview, always remember that you need to put your own philosophical house in order before atheists accept that you have a case.

          • Joseph Heschmeyer

            Solange,

            The crux of atheistic materialism is that there's nothing besides matter: there's no room in the system for God or for anything immaterial. But that case falls apart if it turns out that its explanatory power is 0. How can you say, for example, that the existence of God is unnecessary to account for the existence of the universe if you're not even trying to account for the existence of the universe in any fundamental sense?

            As for the second paragraph, I'll say it again: I'm not presenting a positive case for Catholicism or any form of theism here. You can't salvage the case for atheistic materialism by claiming that Catholicism fails. That, at best, is a non sequitur: even if Catholicism did fail this basic test, it would just mean that both of us were wrong, not that you were right.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Joe, I'm asking for specifics here. With regard to my second paragraph, I'm pointing out that you can't expect to be convincing when your own philosophical house is not in order. By refusing to address how you think Catholicism "explains" this question, you're coming across as someone playing "gotcha" games rather than arguing seriously about the topic.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            And atheistic materialism does not have explanatory power of 0. God is an unnecessary hypothesis for an atheist.

            Demanding a worldview answer a question to your satisfaction that the worldview DOES deal with is disingenuous.

          • Joseph Heschmeyer

            Joe, I'm asking for specifics here.

            Can you clarify what you mean here? Specifics about what?

            With regard to my second paragraph, I'm pointing out that you can't expect to be convincing when your own philosophical house is not in order. By refusing to address how you think Catholicism "explains" this question, you're coming across as someone playing "gotcha" games rather than arguing seriously about the topic.

            You are still trying to get me to have a different debate than the one that I presented: I argue that the problem of nothing is a serious and irresolvable problem for atheistic materialism. You've repeatedly skirted that discussion by constant recourse to a tu, quoque: that Catholicism suffers from the same flaws. Once again: (a) no, it doesn't, and (b) irrelevant. If you're accused of a crime, and your defense is that your accuser commit the same crime, that doesn't make you innocent (regardless of whether your assertion is true).

            And atheistic materialism does not have explanatory power of 0. God is an unnecessary hypothesis for an atheist.

            You lack any grounds upon which to claim this.

            You cannot say, e.g., "we can account for the existence of the universe without God," because you can't, as has been amply demonstrated by the 164 comments and counting in this thread. Even if you could hypothetically account for the expansion of the universe from some very basic laws to a full-fledged universe, you have to smuggle in some sort of uncaused cause (the laws, or some other starter) to make your system work.

            And the uncaused causes that you're smuggling in can't carry the metaphysical weight being thrust upon them: that is, a law of nature isn't the sort of thing that can be an uncaused cause.

            So again: atheistic materialism's explanatory power is 0. It can't account for the system it claims to account for.

            Demanding a worldview answer a question to your satisfaction that the worldview DOES deal with is disingenuous.

            The whole point is that the worldview doesn't deal with it. It isn't that atheistic materialism has some sort of answer to the problem of nothing that's untested, or even untestable. It's that there's not even a theory. I have yet to see a serious attempt to even try to solve the problem, because it's simply irresolvable.

            The answers - be it from Stenger, his peers, or the members of this thread - almost exclusively fall into one of three categories: (a) claiming not to understand the question or one of the terms, (b) claiming that the question doesn't matter, or (c) claiming that theistic systems are equally crippled by this problem.

            But those aren't answers. They're not even defense. If you see some place where an atheist endorsing materialism gives a better answer, feel free to let me know!

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            You claim that atheistic materialsm has, "...enormous and apparently incurable logical and philosophical flaws"
            So far, you've listed one. And it doesn't seem to be a flaw. Just a question you think a worldview should be able to answer in order to be coherent.
            What are all these flaw? Be specific. And explain why they are flaws.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            You are still trying to get me to have a different debate than the one that I presented:

            I'm sorry if it comes across that way; I'm more trying to point out why your attempts at argument don't sound very convincing.

            I argue that the problem of nothing is a serious and irresolvable problem for atheistic materialism.

            Actually, you don't. You CLAIM that the problem of nothing is a serious issue for atheistic materialsm, but you don't argue it. And I've already given you a counter argument whcih you have not addressed.

            You've repeatedly skirted that discussion by constant recourse to a tu, quoque: that Catholicism suffers from the same flaws.

            Absolutely false. You completely misunderstand the tu quoque fallacy. I am not arguing that atheistic materialism doesn't have this flaw because Catholicism also suffers from it. I'm pointing out that all worldviews suffer from it.

            Once again: (a) no, it doesn't, and (b) irrelevant. If you're accused of a crime, and your defense is that your accuser commit the same crime, that doesn't make you innocent (regardless of whether your assertion is true)

            As an aside, I might note that the Church has used this very defense in their recent responses to the pedophilia scandal. But I'm not discussing that there, merely pointing out that it's common.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            You lack any grounds upon which to claim this.

            Really? I can explain pretty much anything without recourse to god. God is not an "explanation"; god is a discussion stopper. It's like saying, "because". And since we have no evidence of god, I'd say those are excellent grounds for claiming god is an unecessary hypothesis in the atheistic materialism worldview (which isn't what I suspect you think it is, by the way).

            You cannot say, e.g., "we can account for the existence of the universe without God," because you can't, as has been amply demonstrated by the 164 comments and counting in this thread.

            Since I didn't make that claim, you're misrepresenting me. Please don't do that; it makes discussion difficult. I pointed out that atheistic materialism has a perfectly acceptable, and even logically coherent response to your question. The fact that it's not answered in the fashion that you demand it be answered is not the problem with the worldview. It may be a problem with you.

            Even if you could hypothetically account for the expansion of the universe from some very basic laws to a full-fledged universe, you have to smuggle in some sort of uncaused cause (the laws, or some other starter) to make your system work.

            No, actually we don't, but I suspect that discussion of the actual theory would be beyond your training. To offer a VERY simplistic analogy; what's north of the north pole? The universe didn't come into existence, because at every moment in time, it has existed. The problem is partially resolved by considering the universe in it's topological sense - as a manifold in four dimensions not embedded in a higher-order space.
            But as I say, that's only an approximation. if your math is good, we can get into the nitty gritty.

            And the uncaused causes that you're smuggling in can't carry the metaphysical weight being thrust upon them: that is, a law of nature isn't the sort of thing that can be an uncaused cause.

            Why? I love assertions like this: to get back to fallacies, what you're doing is engaging in special pleading: "well, my cause isn't a cause so it doesn't have to behave like a cause even though it's a cause."
            This is, by the way, why I think the Kalaam fails so spectactularly: it's a bait and switch. A topic for another post.

            So again: atheistic materialism's explanatory power is 0. It can't account for the system it claims to account for.

            AND WHEN DOES IT CLAIM TO ACCOUNT FOR THAT SYSTEM?
            Really, if you're going to create a strawman atheistic materialism that claims "this is how the universe came to be", then you need to lay that out so we can burn it.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            I just wanted to reply to one addition point in your first paragraph. This sentence: "How can you say, for example, that the existence of God is unnecessary to account for the existence of the universe if you're not even trying to account for the existence of the universe in any fundamental sense?
            Is accurate, as far as it goes. Atheistic materialism doesn't necessarily recognize that the question is coherent; and even if it is, atheistic materialism has a perfectly rational answer: "we don't know right now."
            In what way is this a crippling flaw? It involves no internal contradictions (unlike Christianity); it provides a perfectly rational response to the question given the worldview.
            You're simply not making a case that this is a problem, and I think you have to do that before we can proceed with the discussion. Can you tackle it from another angle than, "I think this is a critical question for atheistic materialism to answer"?

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            And of course, it's entirely possible that both worldviews are wrong. Indeed, it's likely that both views are wrong. But I'm guessing that atheistic materialism is less wrong. Just a guess.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            You cannot "bury" atheistic materialism without (a) defining it; and (b) demonstrating it had internal contradictions. Failing to answer a particular question to your personal satisfaction does not a logical contradiction make.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            enormous and apparently incurable logical and philosophical flaws.

            What are these problems? Be precise. So far I'm not seeing anything other than your feeling that atheist materialism have some other answer to "why something rather tha nothing" besides (a) your question makes no sense, or (b) I don't know.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Actually, I'd disagree, and I suspect most atheists would. The material world is empirically verifiable. I'm open to evidence of other things, but without evidence, why should I accept them?

          • [---
            This always seems to be the sticking point. I've never been offered any evidence of the immaterial beyond "I believe".
            ---]
            There is evidence, but it is not empirical evidence because the immaterial is outside the empirical domain. So if your asking for empirical evidence, you are asking the wrong question.

            [---
            The material world is empirically verifiable.
            ---]
            Not according to Kant. For example, the veracity of mathematical truths can only be established synthetically, not analytically.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            What evidence, please? (Not about Kant - I'm wearisomely familiar with that argument.)

          • Loreen Lee

            The analytic philosophers disagree with Kant, saying they were tautologies. But Kant insisted they were synthetic a priori, which I understand involves a kind of 'imagination' rather than more evidence. as in the case of the synthetic a posterior, to support the consequent 'unity' or extension of 'meaning'. Philosophers, like Quine, I understand refuse to accept a criteria of 'meaning', which I understand is legit within the domain of empirical evidence. It was Kant but more likely Hegel who made the distinction between mathematical and dynamic 'forms' of thought, I think, and concluded that mathematics has limitations. I wonder if the latter is related in some way to meaning. That's the best I can do..

        • Danny Getchell

          I suspect that if I asked one thousand Christians "Is God a being who floated around in space and essentially "belched out" the universe?" that 990+ of them would answer in the affirmative, assuming I could come up with a nicer word than "belched".

          Any misunderstanding that atheists may have in that regard certainly goes uncorrected by the general run of Christian clergy.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            I suspect that Joe is using more sophisticated theologians positions. It doesn't save the basic argument from disaster, but it does allow easy shifting of positions.

          • Danny Getchell

            As I am sure you have observed, it's fairly common among the Catholic apologists here to try and separate their intellectually rarefied positions from the everyday theology that's been preached from Catholic pulpits for two thousand years.

            I try to call this out whenever I see it.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            And I appreciate that. I also note that the Catholic Church hierarchy is extremely fond of the tuo quoque argument that Joe keeps warning us against.

          • Joseph Heschmeyer

            Danny,

            I disagree. Ross Douthat has some worthy things to say on this subject, both here and here (see his response to Mark B.). I think that the average believer is a good bit more intelligent than they're sometimes given credit for.

            Nevertheless, there are almost assuredly some self-proclaimed Christians who would go in for some sort of "belched" cosmology. And they're obviously wrong, for the exact same reason that the atheistic materialist is wrong.

          • Danny Getchell

            Joe,

            The Douthat article was interesting - thanks.

            As I've said here before more than once, my view of Catholicism is heavily influenced by my friends and neighbors in the largely Catholic (Polish and Czech) neighborhood in which I grew up (Chicago, '60s and '70s).

            I have no doubts whatever about characterizing their concept of God as the Big, Tough, Universe-Belching Hall Monitor in the Sky, ready to open the trap door to hell (and a fearsome, Dantean hell it was!!) at the merest provocation.

            So how could those who taught them have gotten it so wrong??

          • Joseph Heschmeyer

            Danny,

            That's a good question, and I suspect that I lack the resources (both in terms of knowledge and comment space) to give a sufficiently nuanced answer.

            But a short answer: the universe-belching view is a lot simpler and easier to understand than an "eye has not seen" God that goes beyond the capacity of our imagination. When we imagine God as big and transcendent, we often end up imagining Him as cold and impersonal. When we imagine God as immanent and personal, we often end up imagining Him as something infinitely less than God.

            Without wanting to push the analogy too far, think about the symbolism used for the Rutherford atomic model. Throughout high school, I thought of atoms as more or less looking like microscopic versions of this: http://d1jqu7g1y74ds1.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/rutherford-atom.png. Obviously, that's a grossly inaccurate way of understanding atoms. But it still expresses something true, and my science teachers had to give me some sort of mental image to tie to atoms. Still, in both cases, we want people to move past these rudimentary-and-inaccurate images.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            One distinction here being that all our models of god are defintionally inadequate - in a sophisticated theological way.

          • Danny Getchell

            When we imagine God as big and transcendent, we often end up imagining Him as cold and impersonal. When we imagine God as immanent and personal, we often end up imagining Him as something infinitely less than God.

            Well phrased. That is a dilemma which has been touched upon only very rarely at SN, and I wish the apologists here would grab onto it and confront it. As a person of basically deist inclinations, I favor the first view, and find no reasons to accept the second.

          • Joseph Heschmeyer

            Thanks, Danny. An analogy that has helped me conceptually bridge the divide between immanence and transcendence is the NSA: the bigger it gets, the more intimately it can know you. I talk about it more on my own blog here: http://catholicdefense.blogspot.com/2013/08/how-nsa-wiretapping-scandal-reveals.html

          • Michael Murray

            Your comparison of God to the Rutherford atomic model doesn't work.

            On the one hand we have an incorrect atomic model which is an approximation to a correct, reliable, quantifiable evidence based theory of atomic structure that has been tested by experiment. A theory agreed upon by the vast consensus of scientists.

            On the other hand when it comes to God all we have are incorrect approximations. Vague poetic descriptions. There is no advanced quantum theology that would make it all clear if only we went away and learnt it. There is no agreement between the vast consensus of theologians. Not even between those who have had direct experiences they interpret as being the result of interaction with God.

          • Joseph Heschmeyer

            Michael,

            Part of the reason that I chose the Rutherford atomic model is precisely because no matter how good our science gets, we'll know exactly what an atom is like. As Heisenberg wrote: "It is impossible to determine accurately both the position and the direction and speed of a particle at the same instant."

            In other words, it's not that our tools of observation aren't good enough to get there yet. It's that they never will be, and in principle can't be.

            But in addition, there's also the problem of imagination: even if the math points to something, it doesn't mean that I can accurately visualize it in my head. And this second point is, I think, just as important as the first.

            So we have an idea about what the atom is like, but our idea is necessarily imperfect, and always will be. In that way, I think it's a good rough analogy for how our idea of God works. I'm not claiming that the analogy is perfect (far from it), but hopefully, it suffices to answer Danny's question about why people might sometimes have an overly-simplified view of God... since it's easier than the alternative.

          • Michael Murray

            Joe I think you've missed my point. It's not that our theory of God is an imprecise approximation it's that we don't have one at all. Give me a theory of God that is as "bad" and "imperfect" as our theory of quantum mechanics. Give me a theory of God where the only intuition is based on advanced mathematics. Give me any theory of God that all the theologians agree on. There isn't one.

          • Joseph Heschmeyer

            Michael,

            What do you mean by "a theory of God"? And why is it necessary for all theologians to agree on it? Do all scientists agree on atomic science? Why would consent be a prerequisite for truth in either field?

            In any case, even if the analogy is imperfect, I'm fine with that. It wasn't my point to craft a perfect analogy (as I said before), but just to roughly illustrate my meaning.

          • Michael Murray

            A consensus of theologians would give us some confidence that under all the approximations and imperfect analogies there is something going on. There is some understanding of what God and what God's properties are.

            Yes I think the vast majority of scientists agree on our current understanding of the atom. (I shouldn't have said all in that sentence -- a clear consensus was what I meant.)

            My point remains that in the case of the Rutherford the imperfect analogy is an approximation to something we understand really well. This is not the case for imperfect analogies about God.

          • Joseph Heschmeyer

            Okay, well, I'm a believer in classical theism (I'm a Thomist). And amongst classical theists, there's a clear consensus and shared understanding of what is meant by God.* That said, it's a consensus that I'm not delving into here, because (a) it's complicated and requires metaphysics (and several of you refuse to even consider philosophy), and (b) it's part of the positive case for theism, which is outside the purview of what I'm doing here.

            *I see no reason why someone endorsing the classical understanding of God should have to achieve "consensus" with most or all people who reject that view of God... any more than scientists who believe in the atomic model should have to achieve "consensus" with most or all people who reject atomic science. If a sizeable portion of the population rejects quantum mechanics, it doesn't make it less true, right?

          • Michael Murray

            If a sizeable portion of the population rejects quantum mechanics, it doesn't make it less true, right?

            You aren't seriously suggesting that I think this are you ? I am talking about how science works. After an area has been studied for long enough the theories about it settle down to a consensus that everyone working in the field agrees on. You don't get a big group of "Rutherford atomists" disagreeing with a big group of "quantum atomists" for example.

            I don't see this agreement in theology or philosophy amongst what appear to an outsider to be qualified theologians or philosophers.

          • Loreen Lee

            I don't know. but I'm learning to 'stand up for my capacity to learn and grow through a process of developing more conscious assimilation. This is the recognized therapy in cases of trauma, generally. You do not reject the experience or the ideas, or anything, you grow by understanding them, assimilating them, and incorporating them into your present state of 'knowledge and experience', but on a higher level and within a context of 'detachment'.

          • Michael Murray

            So how could those who taught them have gotten it so wrong??

            Ditto the Irish priests I learnt from who seemed to think there was a hell!

          • Steve Law

            I'm sure the same could be said for members of the general public asked similarly skewed questions about quantum or relativistic physics. Doesn't mean anything.

      • M. Solange O’Brien

        And I note that you haven't demonstrated that cathologic cosmology is any different from the belching turtle. Feel free.

    • M. Solange O’Brien

      We can recognize at the outset that “nothing” doesn't mean “the absence of matter.” Rather, it means something closer to “the absence of anything.” We can know what it means for something not to exist: e.g., a four-sided triangle doesn't exist at all (either as a material object or even as a concept). So we can talk about the non-existence of X or Y. By “nothing,” we mean the non-existence of every possible X or Y.

      But this is not nothing. This is a definition in terms of a framework. Saying that it's the absence of something implies there is some space (in a metaphysical sense) for that thing to be absent from.
      Oh, and

      5) M. Solange O'Brien asks “if we can ask "why something exists", can we also ask "why god exists"?” The answer is yes, and a theist should be able to give a coherent answer to that.

      Feel free. Explain why god exists. Why is there god, rather than nothing.

      • Joseph Heschmeyer

        But this is not nothing. This is a definition in terms of a framework. Saying that it's the absence of something implies there is some space (in a metaphysical sense) for that thing to be absent from.

        It's a denial even of the metaphysical space: it's an utter negation.

        Feel free. Explain why god exists. Why is there god, rather than nothing.

        Still not taking the bait, but thanks. The positive case for theism can be made, but I'm focusing just on the negative case against atheistic materialism.

        • M. Solange O’Brien

          It's a denial even of the metaphysical space: it's an utter negation.

          But as I have just pointed out, that's not coherent. ~X implies some X to ~. You've given a property of nothing; it's ~X. But that's a property, and Nothing can't have a property.

          Still not taking the bait, but thanks. The positive case for theism can be made, but I'm focusing just on the negative case against atheistic materialism.

          But you have not made a case against atheistic materialism. You have offered a question that neither theists nor atheists can answer, and claimed that the failure to answer that question implicates an athesitic worldview.
          Well, it also makes a negative case against theistic cosmology.

          • Joseph Heschmeyer

            Your last sentence is exactly the tu quoque fallacy that I was warning about. You can't save atheistic materialism by asserting that all forms of theism are equally vulnerable to this problem. Even if that were right (and it's not), it wouldn't make the argument of nothingness any less devastating.

            To see why the tu quoque doesn't work here, imagine politics. You point out that some system (communism, say) doesn't work for reasons x, y, and z. Your opponent claims that it does, but his only argument is that laissez-faire capitalism also suffers from x, y, and z. Does showing the evils of laissez-faire capitalism prove that communism works / is workable (or vice versa)? Of course not. It just changes the debate.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            You're misreading my points, therefore I will sum them up.
            1. You have not established that "the problem of Nothing" is fatal to this "atheistic worldview" that you've not clearly defined.
            and
            2. It is, indeed, fatal to theism in exactly the same fashion, given your contention that it is fatal.
            That's why we're not dealing with a tu quoque fallacy (or at least, I'm not.) I'm trying very hard to educate you on the failure of your argument.

          • Joseph Heschmeyer

            Solange,

            #1 is on-point, but #2 is a near-perfect definition of the tu quoque fallacy. The term means "you, too," and that's exactly what you're arguing in #2. Your argument could be paraphrased as "if it's fatal to us atheists, it's fatal to you, too." But that's a logical fallacy: even if you were right, it wouldn't get past the fact that the argument is fatal.

            Here's a good explanation of the tu quoque fallacy, just to make sure that we mean the same thing:

            "Tu Quoque is a very common fallacy in which one attempts to defend oneself or another from criticism by turning the critique back against the accuser. This is a classic Red Herring since whether the accuser is guilty of the same, or a similar, wrong is irrelevant to the truth of the original charge. However, as a diversionary tactic, Tu Quoque can be very effective, since the accuser is put on the defensive, and frequently feels compelled to defend against the accusation."

            That's exactly what you're doing in your #2 argument. Think about it this way: we're ostensibly having a discussion about atheistic materialism, but your entire line of argumentation in #2 forces us to stop debating materialism, and debate classical theism instead. That's a red flag that it's the kind of diversionary tactic that we're talking about here.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Joe, you may have read that definition, but you didn't understand it.

            I am not trying to discredit your argument by claiming that theism suffers from the same fatal flaw.

            I am merely agreeing that if this flaw is fatal to atheism, it's fatal to theism.

            That's why I'm not indulging in a fallacy.

          • Danny Getchell

            Joe -

            If one were to say, "Materialists cannot accurately predict in advance the result of 10^10 coin flips....this demonstrates the inadequacy of materialism as a worldview"

            - it is certainly not a tu quoque to respond since that no known worldview enables its adherents to so predict, the criticism is of little or no meaning.

        • Susan

          The positive case for theism can be made.,

          I've heard this thousands of times and await that case.

          Still not taking the bait, but thanks.

          I'm focusing just on the negative case against atheistic materialism.
          If a positive case can be made, why not just present it? Why waste all your energy criticizing "atheistic materialism". when it would be so much more efficient and effective to present the case for your position?
          Coyness seems inappropriate here.
          You still haven't explained how "catholic cosmology escapes the belching turtle" as M. Solange O'Brien requested.

    • Loreen Lee

      And mathematicians can no long proceed without the concept of zero within their vocabulary.

  • Tom Rafferty

    "Any worldview, including atheism, should be able to give some sort of coherent answer to the rudimentary question of why the universe exists. I don't mean 'why does this universe exist rather than another?' I mean, 'why does there exist anything, rather than nothing?”'

    An unanswerable question presently, period. To posit the usual "god of the gaps" is just pretending to know somethings you do not. The difference between atheists and theists is that atheists are comfortable with "I don't know" and theists are uncomfortable with such and make stuff up.

    • Joseph Heschmeyer

      But classical theism doesn't posit a "god of the gaps" in response to this question. That's part of the point. Besides, this is just the tu quoque that I warned against, below.

      And saying "presently" is misleading. It isn't like atheism has a theory that it currently lacks the capacity to test (something like string theory). It's that there's not even a theory, not even an untested or untestable explanation. That's a whole different thing.

      • Tom Rafferty

        Joseph, you do not understand the "God of the Gaps" argument. Knowledge goes so far and a reasonable person says, "we don't know." Theist make the "leap of faith" and posit a god to make them comfortable. Simple, if you have an open mind.

        • Joseph Heschmeyer

          Right. I do understand the "God of the Gaps" argument, and I'm telling you that's not what classical theism argues for, not a good understanding of my own faith (or Catholicism more broadly), and not what I would present as a solution to this problem.

          But again, this is a great big tu quoque, ignoring that atheistic materialism doesn't have a single coherent theory accounting for existence.

          Even if you don't see how theism works, it doesn't really get you past the fact that atheism's explanatory power on this score is 0.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Right. I do understand the "God of the Gaps" argument,

            It doesn't actually seem that you understand it.

            and I'm telling you that's not what classical theism argues for, not a good understanding of my own faith (or Catholicism more broadly), and not what I would present as a solution to this problem.

            Then explain how your God of the Gaps is not everyone's God of the Gaps.

            But again, this is a great big tu quoque, ignoring that atheistic materialism doesn't have a single coherent theory accounting for existence.

            So what? The question is not even determined to be coherent, let alone answerable. Your "answer" resolves nothing - it merely engages in special pleading and moving the goalposts backward one touchdown.

            Even if you don't see how theism works,

            Actually, most atheists understand theism far better than theists understand atheism. I offer this entire site and its comboxes as evidence for that claim.

            it doesn't really get you past the fact that atheism's explanatory power on this score is 0.

            "I don't know" is better than X did it, but I don't know why X and I can't explain X, and I don't know how X did it.
            It is at least more intellectually honest.

          • Joseph Heschmeyer

            Solange,

            You're just asserting that classical theism (and apparently, all forms of theism) believe in a "God of the Gaps," and that anyone who disagrees just doesn't understand "God of the Gaps." Might the problem be that you don't understand classical theism?

            So what? The question is not even determined to be coherent, let alone answerable. Your "answer" resolves nothing - it merely engages in special pleading and moving the goalposts backward one touchdown.

            How is the question not coherent or answerable? How is it special pleading?

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Ah, I see I am not being entirely clear. My bad. Any theism which postulates a "creator" is engaged in "god of the gaps" argumentation. It find a proposed gap (where did the universe come from) and fills that with a placeholder called "god".
            Does that help?

          • Danny Getchell

            atheism's explanatory power on this score is 0

            True, but merely a subset of "human thought's explanatory power on this score is 0".

          • Tom Rafferty

            "But again, this is a great big tu quoque, ignoring that atheistic materialism doesn't have a single coherent theory accounting for existence."

            Joseph, I am not making a form of an ad hominem.here. You are positing that Christianity has a "theory" (really an hypothesis) accounting for existence and that it adds to our knowledge about such. It doesn't, thus, it is a "god of the gaps" argument (Wikipedia ----- God of the gaps is a type of theological perspective in which gaps in scientific knowledge are taken to be evidence or proof of God's existence).

            I clearly see how theism works. I was a devout Catholic and was very active in the Church for most of my 69 years. I searched Facebook for you and see you have a page. I will send you a private message on Facebook. I invite you to peruse my FB page and to accept my initial conversation-starter to Christians. It will be your choice to respond or not. In any event, I wish you well and will not be commenting further on this post. Good day.

      • M. Solange O’Brien

        Actually, what theism proposes is precisely a "god of the gaps" argument: why is there something? We have no scientific explanation at the moment, therefore God did it.
        QED

        • Steve Law

          God-of-the-Gaps always presupposes that scientific explanations somehow preclude or disprove God. But all they do is show there are regularities in nature. God and science aren't an either/or.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            That's not what god-of-the-gaps refers to. It's a reference to a fallacy that assigns "god" as a cause where science has no current explanation. The conflict between science and religion lies in what they accept as evidence and how they uncover truth. Or in science's case, an approximation to the truth.

          • Steve Law

            It is a fallacy only where God is assigned as a cause *because* there is no scientific explanation. Theism has been asigning God as a cause for the universe since long before modern science existed.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Um, sure. It's not a fallacy that existed before we had alternative, naturalistic explanations. But God-of-the-gaps does not involve proof or disproof of god. And it's purely a fallacy committed by theists: "no scientific explanation right now? GOD!"

    • Excellent point, Tom.

      Joe wraps up his article with:

      If you believe in God, then you can give a coherent account of why there exists something, rather than nothing, and you can explain why that something is ordered and coherent.

      But that's such an obviously cheap move. The materialist equivalent is:

      If you believe in the Universe, then you can give a coherent account of why there exists something, rather than nothing, and you can explain why that something is ordered and coherent.

      Both cases just show that if you start with your conclusion, then you can reach your conclusion.

      As you pointed out, materialists at least admit they don't know why the Universe exists. Good luck getting a theist to speculate on why there should be a God rather than nothing.

  • M. Solange O’Brien

    Because Joe seemed concerned that I was not representing him correctly, I went back and reread the post. My comments (or position):

    Joe says:

    Any worldview, including atheism, should be able to give some sort of coherent answer to the rudimentary question of why the universe exists. I don't mean “why does this universe exist rather than another?” I mean, “why does there exist anything, rather than nothing?”

    Two things to be observed here. One, WHY should a worldview be able to give an answer (coherent or not) to this question? Because a famous philosopher says so? And two, if we agree that failure to answer this question dooms a worldview, then we must consistently apply that rule.

    Joe then goes on to quote Stegner, as if Stegner's position held for all atheists, and what does Stegner say? It's an incoherent question - unless you're talking about vacum states.

    Joe then spends several paragraphs dealing with vacum states, without addressing Stegner's position: that it's an incoherent question.
    I'll skip Joe's comments about vacum states - they're not really relevant to the problem.

    Joe then trots out the old strawman that atheists must logically deny logic and science if they adhere to a position that only matter exists. But this is a strawman that no atheist would espouse. Athiests have various ways of trying to explain to theists why they're misunderstanding our position, but the basic point is that logic and math and systems of symbols invented by the human mind. They are 'generalizations' if you will of the observed behavior of the universe. And they exist perfectly well and materially in the human mind, itself apparently an emergent property of the matter of the nervous system. That's one, undoubtedly poor attempt to clairfy for the theists.

    Joe then comes down to the final - oft repeated claim - that coherent thought is only possible if god exists. This is one of the older arguments for god, as just as problematic then as it is now.

    Science DEPENDS on atheism. It depends on accepting observed regularity and presuming that NOTHING SUPERNATURAL is going to muck with it.
    Provisional atheism is a basic necessity of science; the leap to metaphysical atheism disturbs nothing.

    Let the discussion begin!

    • Peter

      Rational order is not an invention of the human mind since it existed before humans evolved. The rational order in the Andromeda galaxy is observed with light which left before our hominid ancestors walked the earth. The same rational order exists outside the observable universe, beyond the range of our perception.

      The rational order in the universe exists independently of the human mind and that of any other sentient species which may have evolved. In fact, without rational order, humans and other possible sentient species would not have evolved at all. It is absurd to claim that we are the inventors of the rational ordering which brought us into existence.

      The rational ordering of universe is an objective fact It gives rise to sentient species like ourselves who begin to recognise and comprehend that rational ordering. It leads all sentient beings to realise with wonder that rational order existed not only before they were created but even before the stars and galaxies themselves were formed.

      • Susan

        It is absurd to claim that we are the inventors of the rational ordering which brought us into existence.

        No one claimed that.

        What you call "rational ordering", I call map making.

        The fact that there is terrain that requires maps to navigate doesn't mean there were transcendent maps that gave rise to the terrain.

        • Peter

          The rational ordering of the universe existed when humans didn't, so it is wrong to claim that humans invented it. Yet the ordering is so rational that it must be the product of something which is itself rational such as a mind.

          If it is not the product of the human mind what is it the product of? The only possible materialist answer is that it is the creation of super-intelligent aliens in another universe who "monkeyed with the physics". If I were a materialist, that's the only conclusion I could honestly reach, as Fred Hoyle did.

          • Susan

            Yet the ordering is so rational that it must be the product of something which is itself rational such as a mind.

            A mind whose order is so rational that it must be the product of something itself which orders rational minds, which is not a mind.

            We can just assert stuff, if you'd like.

            But that's not going to help anything.

          • Peter

            You can philosophise all you like but I'm only going on the evidence. From a purely materialist perspective the evidence is that the rational order of the universe has been put there by a super alien intelligence who created it from within its own universe.

            We suspect that universes emerge from the other side of black holes, so the alien has to create a black hole and configure it in a way that a universe with rationally ordered properties emerges.

            This is far more plausible than the absurd notion of human beings inventing the rational order within their minds, or the mind-boggling concept of an infinite number of random universes producing ours by chance.

          • Michael Murray

            From a purely materialist perspective the evidence is that the rational order of the universe has been put there by a super alien intelligence who created it from within its own universe.

            There is no evidence for that. The evidence is the universe shows regularities that allow us to make rational predictions. There is no evidence those regularities are the result of a mind.

          • Peter

            How can you make predictions which are rational unless the observed regularities on which those predictions are based are themselves rationally ordered? And where does the rational ordering of those observed regularities come from if not from a source of reason which is a mind?

            Because we have a mind we can recognise the rational ordering of those regularities but they existed before our minds evolved. The rational ordering must have been conceived before we existed in a mind similar to ours since ours is naturally capable of recognising it.

            It is therefore eminently plausible based on the evidence that the intelligent aliens who created our universe seeded it with the same rational configurations as existed in their own.

          • Michael Murray

            I've read and replied to a lot of your posts so instead of doing it again let me make a general remark. You are far too quick to jump from a small amount of evidence to a conclusion that you would like to be true. It's a common human failing as Richard Feynman pointed out.

            “Science is a way of trying not to fool yourself. The principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.”

          • Peter

            Reaching a conclusion from evidence, no matter how small, is far superior to reaching conclusions from no evidence whatsoever, such as claiming that an infinitely random mutliverse exists or that the rational order we observe is not reality but the product of the human mind.

            It seems to me that those who fool themselves most of all are materialists who go to extreme lengths to deny the obvious, which is that the universe has all the signs of being what Fred Hoyle would call a "put up job".

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            But as he pointed out, you're not reaching a conclusion based on evidence. You are just making things up. Period.

          • Peter

            What is made up is the claim that logic does not exist in the universe unless human beings are around to invent it. Not only is there no evidence for such a claim but there is also much evidence against it.

            It seems to me that the materialist position hinges on humanity being the only sentient species in the universe which, ironically, is the same as the creationist position but for different reasons.

            If many sentient species were to evolve and all equally observe the same logical and consistent application of laws throughout the cosmos, which they inevitably must, then such observed logic could not be an exclusive invention of the human mind.

            The fact that it would be recognised by the entire population of sentient races would indicate that the logical behaviour of the cosmos is an objective fact instead of being the product of the genetic make-up of the human brain or of any one sentient brain.

            Like creationism, materialism rests on thin ice which is the presumption that we are totally alone in the universe.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            The materialist position has nothing to do with the number of intelligent species in the universe. Which you would know if you bothered to find out what the materialist position actually is. But you never do that. Why?

          • Peter

            A universe bursting with intelligent species like man would leave the materialist hard pressed to justify a universe without a purpose.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Absolutely false. It would make no difference at all.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Not all. It would make no difference to a materialist.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Why? It would have no impact whatever. Materialism can accommodate any number of sentient species.

          • Peter

            Can materialism accommodate a universe with a clear purpose which is to create intelligent life?

          • Michael Murray

            Why not ? I don't see the relationship. A purely material universe could exist in the matrix, be a super alien experiment, be seeded by alien self-replicating robots.

          • Peter

            I have already argued that from the evidence the most likely materialist explanation is that the universe is a "put up job".

            Your first and third examples are unlikely though. A simulated universe would need virtually infinite computing power and, anyway, it wouldn't be material. Furthermore, the alien source of self-replicating robots from within the universe would need an explanation for being there in the first place.

            This leaves super-intelligent aliens from a parent universe which is what I've been arguing all along.

          • Michael Murray

            But I don't think there is actually serious evidence for any of these. Your question was could materialism "accommodate" such an idea. I am just saying it could. I'm not saying I think it likely.

          • Peter

            I believe that the evidence that the universe is a "put up job" is staring us in the face. With the James Webb telescope planned to peer into protoplanetary discs, and the European extremely large telescope to analyse exoplanetary atmospheres, it will only be a question of time before we find signs of greater organic complexity and even life itself.

            If the universe is configured with widespread potential for life, that would clearly indicate a purpose.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            No materialist would claim that as the only answer. In fact, no materialist does.

          • Peter

            I am not surprised that no materialist would admit that the universe is a "put up job" even through the evidence is staring therm in the face.

            Any suggestion that a super-intelligent species from another universe intentionally created our own, and seeded it with rational laws, would shatter the illusion that mankind is a freak occurrence in an otherwise hostile and indifferent universe who creates order in a meaningless and chaotic cosmos by inventing it from within his own mind.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            No materialist would admit to your absurd idea without evidence. My point is that you continually invent straw men to spar with. Wouldn't it be more interesting to deal with what atheists actually think, rather than your incredibly incorrect notions of what they think?

          • Peter

            Straw men are the speciality of the materialist, especially when they restrict God's existence to acts of supernatural intervention. Inasmuch as nothing supernatural is seen to muck with the workings of the universe, God is deemed not to exist.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Describe some of these straw men you claim exist. Given that you've been wrong about everything else you've said about materialists, it should be amusing to show you are wrong.

      • M. Solange O’Brien

        I've never understood why theists have so much trouble understanding something so simple. Peter, try reading my post again - I'm not claiming regularities don't exist independently of the human mind.

        • Peter

          "..the basic point is that logic and math and (are?) systems of symbols invented by the human mind. They are 'generalizations' if you will of the observed behavior of the universe. And they exist perfectly well and materially in the human mind.."

          The logic of the universe is not invented by the human mind but has existed for aeons before the human mind was created. The universe follows a logical pattern of behaviour irrespective of the human mind's ability to observe it.

          "What we call the "laws" of physics are not something inherent in the universe. They are not commandments that material objects must obey. They are principles that physicists build into models to describe their observations."

          The same applies to Victor Stenger's quote above. The laws of the physics are inherent in the universe. They commanded the behaviour of matter for aeons before physicists were created and they exist independently of physicists' ability to observe them.

          The laws of the universe and the logical and consistent manner in which they apply throughout the cosmos have existed for aeons before any sentient species evolved to observe and recognise them as such. The universe is as it is. Our minds do not create it.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            That's what I said. What's your point?

          • Peter

            There's a bit of backpedalling going on here. Either the laws of the universe are are an integral part of the universe or they are a figment of human imagination. Which is it?

          • Loreen Lee

            Pythagoras described the intelligibility/order in the universe as the Harmony of the Spheres, in which mathematical (Platonic?) 'realities operate in a way analogous to the monads in the philosophy of Leibniz. Coincidentally he also described his universe as having a pre-established 'harmony'. The fascinating thing is that for Pythagoras the mathematics was the support for a religious movement.

  • M. Solange O’Brien

    By the way, and appropos of nothing, I would like to commend Joe for engaging in responses to his post. We don't appear to be agreeing on anything (yet), but it's some of the lively and productive discussion I've had on Strange Notions. This is the kind of thing I think we OUGHT to be doing.
    Thanks, Joe.

  • Loreen Lee

    A little 'something' for your amusement!
    "Nothing is often a good thing to do and always a clever thing to say."
    "As for me, all I know is that I know nothing" Socrates
    "Thou has seen nothing yet." Cervantes.
    "We brought nothing into this world and it is certain we can carry nothing out." Epistle of Paul to Timothy.

  • severalspeciesof

    Why is there something instead of nothing? isn't as good of a question as...

    Why is there nothing?

    Glen

  • Hyder Noori

    Let me get this straight, the writer discredits the materialistic approach (as he understands it) so he can, at the last paragraph, imposes a diety he doesn't know where it came from?
    How is his position any different than the physicist he's criticizing?

  • If you believe in God, then you can give a coherent account of why there exists something, rather than nothing, and you can explain why that something is ordered and coherent.

    Uh, the conclusion to the article is blatant bunkum. There exist many people who believe in God, yet none of them have solved the mystery of why there is something rather than nothing.

    I'd love to see a theist try. If they were successful that'd be a huge piece of evidence in favor of theism.

    • Ben Posin

      Apparently, repeatedly saying tu quoque makes this issue vanish. The fact that theism doesn't actually provide a better answer to this question than "atheistic materialism" is apparently irrelevant, and we should only be concerned with the proposed gap in materialist thought. Joe won't be "baited" into a discussion of theism here, when the topic is clearly how silly materialism is.

      • Oh, I see that deeper in the nested comments now. It's very weird on multiple counts. Joe is the one who brought the issue up in the first place and trumpeted its importance, so how is asking him to explain his conclusions "baiting"? Second, for him to hide behind tu quoque accusations is literally for him to admit his position is hypocritical. And third, since the whole purpose of the discussion here is to compare and contrast evidence for theism and atheism, tu quoque is not even a fallacy in this context -- it's a logical requirement.

        I originally came to SN hoping to see if Catholics had good evidences that I wasn't aware of. A solution to the mystery of why there is something rather than nothing, and why there is this something rather than some very different something, would be just such an evidence. They claim they have it, but that seems to be a lie.

        Mostly I stay to try to help prod religious culture in a more rational direction. Who knows, they might someday be driven to make their ideas rigorous, and they might come up with the long-awaited evidence, or even evidence that is wholly unexpected.

        • Ben Posin

          Ad hominem! Sini Plenis Piscis!! Olfacere Violarum !!!

          • Ignorant Amos

            My partner is called Violet, so go easy there

          • "Pockets full of fish!" Heheh, that's a wonderful accusation. And fair, too, since there are in fact some Catholic commenters here worth listening to.

  • Michael Murray

    Going back to physical nothing for a moment it seems Sister Maria (nothing come from nothing, nothing ever could ...) was wrong

    https://medium.com/the-physics-arxiv-blog/ed7ed0f304a3

    • [---
      Going back to physical nothing
      ---]

      Except that nothing can not physical.

  • Johnny Mortel

    I really want to understand 'Nothing' Seriously !

  • bill gates

    "Any worldview, including atheism, should be able to give some sort of coherent answer to the rudimentary question of why the universe exists."

    This assertion is explicitly wrong and not defended in any convincing manner by the author. The rest of the article has troubles, but not compare to the fact that in order for any of what follows to be a problem for "atheistic materialism," this first assertion has to be flushed out and defended.

    You've created the problem you're describing simply by your choice of definition. That's not an argument. That's a baseless assertion.

  • De Ha

    "What exists beside the material world?
    Nothing.
    Oh, a vacuum?"

    Ok: he's not the one being silly, YOU are. A silly word game is NOT a paradox. If you want to "destroy atheism", pick a more important topic that can be debunked in a less silly way.

    It's like you're trying to debunk Internal Combustion by concentrating entirely on the fuzzy dice. The dice can be completely removed without affecting the engine even slightly, and yet, you think the dice somehow reflects on the entire car.
    Also, you're trying to destroy the dice by slapping them with a rubber chicken.

  • De Ha

    "Any worldview, including atheism, should be able to give some sort of coherent answer to the rudimentary question of why the universe exists."
    Atheism and the Big Bang are different subjects.

    "I don't mean “why does this universe exist rather than another?” I mean, “why does there exist anything, rather than nothing?”
    This is gonna be full of Reducto Ad Absurdum, isn't it?

    Dr. Victor Stenger, in a recent Huffington Post piece on how to debate religion, claims to have an answer. It turns out to be the standard materialist response given by many atheist scientists:
    How can something come from nothing?

    ""Nothing" is notoriously difficult to define."

    No it isn't.

    "To define it you have to give it some property."

    To define THINGS you have to give it some property. To define "nothing" you just say "not that".

    " But then if it has a property it is not "nothing." So this is an incoherent question unless you define nothing as an empty vacuum."
    You're the one asking it!
    :
    "Reason #1: Vacuum States Are Something, Not Nothing"
    Oh my Satan, this isn't just a single point to you, is it? You're gonna go on and on about the definition of "nothing".

    "The first reason his answer fails is because a vacuum is something, not nothing."
    No, a vaccume is nothing.

    "Obviously, there's air in my “empty” glass, and there's radiation, light, gravity, and such travelling through “empty” space."
    Alright alright, fine whatever. You know, the whole point of being a pedantic asshole is to make language CLEARER, not disect words to the point that language is useless. You're doing pedantic assholery wrong!

    "It also possesses dimensonality, which nothingness can't."

    Yes it can. Any empty space or blank page or silent recording can have *this* amount of space/time of nothing.

    "We can say that there are nearly 60 million kilometers of empty space between the sun and Mercury. If empty space were nothing, it would be incoherent (and impossible) to quantify it spatially."
    This isn't Fantasia and no one is trying to kill the Childlike Empress.

    "Of course, for a vacuum to be described as empty, it must first exist, and therefore, be something."
    This is all supposed to be an argument against Atheism, right? You're trying to make US look bad? Because so far, you're the one being ridiculous.

    This is easily illustrated by visualizing two people: one has an empty bag, while the other one doesn't have a bag. Which of these people has nothing?

    "This is similar to the analogy that the physicist Stephen Barr uses to explain the difference between a vacuum state and metaphysical nothing:"

    OH! Oh oh you're talking about *METAPHYSICAL* "nothing". Well... That's bullshit.

    Reason #2: When We Say “Nothing,” We Don't Mean “Vacuum States"

    There is a related, but more fundamental problem with Stenger's answer: it isn't responsive to the question asked.

    "If I asked you what a rock eats, you would rightly answer “nothing.” And you wouldn't mean that rocks eat vacuum states."
    *FACEPALM*
    Words can sometimes mean more than one thing, you know, especially negatives. Negatives can not be lots of things. And the word we're arguing about is "nothing".

    "He's asked how the materialist can get from utter, metaphysical, non-existence to a universe."
    You're assuming there ever was an empty universe in the first place.

    "It's clear why he wants to shift the debate: Stenger, a physicist, seems to know very little about philosophy (or history, but that's a matter for another day), so he's simply redefined the question to make it about physics."
    IT IS ABOUT PHYSICS! Why the hell are you asking about the real physical world and expecting a philosophical answer?

    "But the actual question isn't a question about physics, but about something more basic: metaphysics. A related question would be: how and why is there a universe that physics can study?"
    I shall hereby answer all questions about metaphysics that anyone ever has, ever will, ever can, theoretically or hypothetically might ever ask in this or any other point in the multiverse:
    Who the hell cares?
    I have spoken. The mysteries of metaphysical are all hereby resolved.

    "What exists beside the material world?
    Nothing.
    Oh, a vacuum?"

    *FACEPALM*
    "Since a vacuum is part of the material universe, this answer would be equivalent to saying, “outside of my house is the rest of the inside of my house.” In other words: utter incoherent. "
    Someone here is incoherent.

    "And of course, if he have any other answer—if he said that there exists something other than the material world—then he would also be rejecting materialism."

    Wow, you really think Science is that fragile, don't you? You think "nothing exists outside of matter" is a strict doctrine we must stick to lest we anger the gods even though we're Atheists.
    Look, "matter" is a general word for anything that anything is made of. Everything is made of matter. If it's not, it's made of nothing. If the supernatural did exist, it'd still be made of... I dunno, ectoplasm or something. By denying your God is made of something, you're telling me he's made of nothing, therefore your God doesn't exist. Is that what you are telling me?
    See? I can come up with semi-bullshit head scratchers too.

    "So you can see why understanding “nothing” as “an empty vacuum” is nonsensical, right?"
    No

    "The philosopher Jim Holt pointed out that if you equate “nothing” with “lacking matter,” this would mean that mathematics, physical laws, and consciousness are nothing."
    They are abstract concepts, so yes and no.

    "Otherwise, he'd have to conclude that mathematicians somehow make 2 plus 2 equal 4, rather than discovering that it does."
    You are *really* stretching to find a contradiction somewhere no matter how pedantic you have to be to take it seriously.

    "Stenger dodges the question “Where did the laws of physics come from?”
    Oh for fuck's sake! That is Reification: the fallacy of treating abstract concepts like physical objects and demanding that they "came from" somewhere". Also if we could say where they came from they wouldn't be Laws, they would be THEORIES. Theories are complete explanations. Laws just things we don't know why they happen yet, they just do.

    "So we end up with this mishmash, instead: the laws sort of correspond to reality, and sort of don't."
    I would have thought someone as obsessed with metaphysics as you would be familiar with the idea that abstract concepts are real and unreal at the same time.

    "Of course, this still suggests that reality behaves in some sort of mathematical and ordered way"
    So... Logic.
    "And of course, he's failed to give any answer to why the universe would be behave in such a mathematical and ordered way,"
    Logic.
    "other than to claim that we're wasting our time asking questions that he can't answer."
    You are.
    You remind me of Zeno's Paradox. You think way too much about fractions of fractions of fraction of fractions to the point of absurdity, drawing the even more ridiculous conclusion that a human can never outrun a tortoise. OF COURSE humans can outrun tortoises!

    I'm reminded of the biologist Richard Lewontin, who candidly admitted that he and other scientists accepted materialism in spite of the evidence, rather than because of it, simply to avoid any reference or need for God:
    "Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between sc.... Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door."

    I will not copy-and-paste the ENTIRE original quote, but here's my favourite part:

    "When, at the time of the moon landing, a woman in rural Texas was interviewed about the event, she very sensibly refused to believe that the television pictures she had seen had come all the way from the moon, on the grounds that with her antenna she couldn't even get Dallas. What seems absurd depends on one's prejudice."
    He is not "admitting" that Science is absurd, he's saying Science SEEMS absurd to the very stupid. It's similar to the Darwin Eye quote.
    Don't believe me? I encourage you to look it up for yourself.

    "That gives you the foundation upon which to do real science"
    You don't need a "foundation" to do Science. In fact, that's detrimental. Science is all about trying to prove things wrong and, if you're lucky, failing. Assumptions are bad for science, unless you're actively trying to disprove that assumption.

    "(which is why, as a matter of historical fact, modern science was born in Catholic universities and monasteries,"
    That is true. And Chemistry came from Alchemy, and Astronomy and astrolog used to be the same thing. At some point, some stopped looking at the stars and others stopped trying to predict the future.

    "you risk ending up in Stenger's incoherence, undermining the truth of mathematics, denying the truth of the laws of physics, and incapable of answering why the universe exists."

    YOU were the one arguing against Mathomatics.

  • Luke Nemeth

    Can we use materialism to prove whether a nonmaterialistic 'God' exists if the entity in question can change materialism to make itself completely anonymous to the material?

  • De Ha

    JOE
    "Any worldview, including atheism, should be able to give some sort of coherent answer to the rudimentary question of why the universe exists. I don't mean “why does this universe exist rather than another?” I mean, “why does there exist anything, rather than nothing?”"
    ME
    A) Atheism is not a "Worldview"
    B) Atheism is a lack of belief in a god or gods. It has nothing to do with the Universe
    C) "Why" is a philosophical question not a scientific one.

    JOE
    "Nothing" is notoriously difficult to define."

    ME
    No it isn't. Nothing is the absence of things.

    JOE
    "To define it you have to give it some property."

    ME
    No, you have to define "Things" then say "not that".

    JOE
    "But then if it has a property it is not "nothing."

    ME
    Not necesarily.

    JOE
    "So this is an incoherent question unless you define nothing as an empty vacuum."

    ME
    Uh, didn't you just ask it?

    JOE
    "The first reason his answer fails is because a vacuum is something, not nothing."
    ME
    Why do I have a feeling your entire argument against Atheism is going to be some trivial unimportant thing not all Atheists even necesarily agree with? You are literally arguing about the definition of "Nothing"!

    JOE
    "But in all of these cases, we're using “nothing” loosely."
    ME
    Or, we're using a language practically rather than being so pedantic nothing means anything.

    JOE
    "It also possesses dimensonality, which nothingness can't."
    ME
    Yes it can. Empty space, blank pages etc.

    JOE
    "We can say that there are nearly 60 million kilometers of empty space between the sun and Mercury. If empty space were nothing, it would be incoherent (and impossible) to quantify it spatially."
    ME
    Bullshit.
    JOE
    "Likewise, vacuums are something: namely, they are physical states that periodically contain matter, and are not completely empty voids:"
    ME
    "Then they're not vacuumes. Ok, you're going on and on about this so i'm gonna skip to the part where you say how any of this has anything to do with Atheism or something.

    JOE
    "There is a related, but more fundamental problem with Stenger's answer: it isn't responsive to the question asked. If I asked you what a rock eats, you would rightly answer “nothing.” And you wouldn't mean that rocks eat vacuum states. You would mean that they eat nothing, that they don't eat. If I asked what you know about quantum mechanics, and you said “nothing,” you wouldn't mean that you know all about vacuum states. For that matter, when Stenger says “Nothing like this has ever happened,” he isn't talking about empty vacuums."
    ME
    OK... you're doing it on purpose now. You know damn well "nothing" has multiple meanings (all of which are "not something else").
    JOE
    "Stenger is simply changing the question. He's asked how the materialist can get from utter, metaphysical, non-existence to a universe."
    ME
    FINALLY! 'Bout time you actually got to WTF this has to do with anything.
    ...Aaaaand you're wrong. You're assuming there ever was a universe with nothing in it. Before we explain how we got from an empty universe to this one, first you have to prove that there ever was an empty universe. Personally, i suspect the reason Theists just assume there ever was an empty universe is because an empty universe is easy to imagine. Just black.
    Besides, Astronomers don't claim to know what happened before the Big Bang, or even during, just what happened 1 second after the Big Bang.
    JOE
    "He doesn't answer this. Instead, he changes it to an argument about whether matter can appear within a quantum state (inside of an already-existing, empty universe). But these aren't even remotely the same question."
    ME
    Yes they are. You assume there ever was an empty universe. The closest thing Science can even theorise to that is an empty vacuumed. The assumption that there ever was "nothing" is already baseless, to assume that there was a *metaphysical* "Nothing", not even empty space, is just rediculous.

    JOE
    "It's clear why he wants to shift the debate: Stenger, a physicist, seems to know very little about philosophy (or history, but that's a matter for another day), so he's simply redefined the question to make it about physics."
    ME
    In other words, you asked a Scientist a Philosophical question and are somehow suprised a Scientist answered like a Scientist. That's like asking a surgeon about the heart and getting upset that he talks about blood vessels and not about love.
    JOE
    "But the actual question isn't a question about physics, but about something more basic: metaphysics."
    ME
    I will answer any and all real and theoretical questions anyone has ever, will ever or could ever ask right now: Who cares? There! The mysteries of the metaphysical world are all solved
    JOE
    "A related question would be: how and why is there a universe that physics can study? Obviously, that's not a question that physics can answer, since physics necessarily assumes the prior existence of this universe in order to operate."
    ME
    And the Universe DOES exist, therefore no problem.
    JOE
    "Since a vacuum is part of the material universe, this answer would be equivalent to saying, “outside of my house is the rest of the inside of my house.” In other words: utter incoherent."
    ME
    OK... you're debunking things you yourself made up now.
    JOE
    "And of course, if he have any other answer—if he said that there exists something other than the material world—then he would also be rejecting materialism. So you can see why understanding “nothing” as “an empty vacuum” is nonsensical, right?"
    ME
    Nope, not at all.
    JOE
    "The philosopher Jim Holt pointed out that if you equate “nothing” with “lacking matter,” this would mean that mathematics, physical laws, and consciousness are nothing."

    ME
    OK, here's your problem: you think we're "materialists", specifically you think we're the theist straw-man "materialists". The Theist straw-man "materialism" states that we think everything is made of matter and that abstract concepts don't exist even if those abstract concepts explain the behaviour of physical objects, sometimes eve maths, logic or even gravity.
    This is stupid.
    The idea that you can even imagine such an ideal let alone accuse others of thinking it, makes you an idiot.
    The Deeper Problem: Atheistic Materialism v. Science

    JOE
    "The fourth reason I mentioned points to a broader problem: atheistic materialism is deeply anti-scientific."
    ME
    OK, you and I aren't even speaking the same language anymore.
    JOE

    "In other words, if he can deny that the laws (or “laws”) of physics are actually true, he doesn't have to explain where they come from, or why they exist (a question that physics, by definition, can't answer)."
    ME
    No. Wrong. The question "where do laws come from" implies you don't know what a Law is. In Science, Laws are stuff that happens that we don't have a full explanation for yet, they just happen. If we had an explanation, they would be THEORIES. You might as well be asking "who wrote them", just admit that you blame everything on Gods so we can call you an idiot and be done.

    JOE
    "Of course, this still suggests that reality behaves in some sort of mathematical and ordered way"
    ME
    It does.
    JOE
    And of course, he's failed to give any answer to why the universe would be behave in such a mathematical and ordered way, other than to claim that we're wasting our time asking questions that he can't answer."
    ME
    OK... if you know less about Science than Newton worked out before Powdered Wigs went out of fashion, you are disqualified from calling anyone else "Unscientific".
    JOE

    "The debate is often presented, even by Lewontin, as a feud between science and religion. That's not the case: rather, atheistic materialism undermines science as much as it does religion."
    ME
    No one who doesn't understand the first thing about physics i.e. That Maths is involved, is allowed to accuse anyone else of being "anti-science".
    JOE
    "If you believe in God, then you can give a coherent account of why there exists something, rather than nothing, and you can explain why that something is ordered and coherent."
    ME
    "Why" is philosophy not Science.
    JOE
    "That gives you the foundation upon which to do real science"
    ME
    Then you are doing it wrong. Science isn't about "foundations" it's about questioning everything. ESPECIALLY your own hypothesise.

    • Lazarus

      Why is the absence of a belief not a worldview?
      My own worldview consists of several such negative propositions, such as I don't believe Islam is true, I do not believe that euthanasia is morally justifiable and so on.

      • De Ha

        Why would it be? I don't believe in dragons either. My adragonism has nothing to do with my beliefs on philosophy, science or politics. And quite frankly, I have little respect for anyone who gets ALL their religious, philosophical and political beliefs from a single think. It kind of seems like they've been brainwashed.

        • Lazarus

          From a "single think". Who does that?

          • De Ha

            You just said you get all you politics, religion and philosophy from...

            wait.. islam isn't true? That's not a "worldview" you idiot. That's a single small thing you don't believe and has little to do with everything else you do believe. You might as well call "that dress would look better in blue" a worldview, at least that's an actual belief not a lack thereof.

          • Lazarus

            You are a rude little man.
            There's no "block" button on this thing , is there?

            Ah, I see there is a block function. Done.

          • De Ha

            Wow, you are the most thin-skinned crybaby I've ever spoken to. I accuse you of being open-minded and you throw a hissy fit about it.

      • Valence

        I think a worldview much more than a single proposition, and you seem to think so with your reference to Islam (both Christians and Muslims believe in God, Abraham, Satan, angels, demons, ect). Thus theism itself isn't a worldview any more than atheism...theism/atheism is just a small piece of the worldview. There have been some attempts to turn atheism into a worldview/religion, such as Atheism plus and certain strains of New Atheism, but they haven't been successful. I think trying to start movements around non- belief is probably misguided. Movements generally work much better when they focus on actual propositions of what they do believe.

        • Lazarus

          Personally I think that atheism is a worldview and that it is absurd to argue otherwise. Much has been written about it. I understand the atheist's strategy and the perceived value of not having a worldview to defend or be critiqued on, but a worldview is just that : your thoughts and views on the world, on reality, on the existence or absence of God.

          • Valence

            Personally I think that atheism is a worldview and that it is absurd to argue otherwise.

            An odd dogma to have, but certainly it's pointless to debate something if the other person thinks any other position then their own is absurd.
            Do you also think agnosticism is a worldview? As an agnostic, I can see from the viewpoint of an atheist or a theist (possibly why I'm an agnostic) and many, many things don't change from one perspective or another, but some might. I can tell you, with certainty, that much of my worldview is not dependent on the existence or non-existence of God. Of course, the theism I'm imagining here is probably quite a bit different than your theism, but the point remains.

            A comprehensive world view or worldview is the fundamental cognitive orientation of an individual or society encompassing the entirety of the individual or society's knowledge and point of view. A world view can include natural philosophy; fundamental, existential, and normative postulates; or themes, values, emotions, and ethics.[1] The term is a calque of the German word Weltanschauung [ˈvɛlt.ʔanˌʃaʊ.ʊŋ] ( listen), composed of Welt ('world') and Anschauung ('view' or 'outlook')[2] The German word is also used in English.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_view

            Do you object to this definition of worldview? Perhaps the dogma can be explained by a semantic disagreement.

          • Lazarus

            I would regard agnosticism as a worldview, yes. Being tentative or cautious or undecided does not disqualify those views from forming a worldview, in fact, those are the views forming your worldview.

            I am happy with that definition of yours, and I would equally agree that this debate often (not necessarily between you and I ) amount to a semantic argument.

  • De Ha

    "Your god was nailed to a tree. That's stupid."
    "First of all, it wasn't a tree, it was 2 pieces of wood. Second..."
    "But that's not a tree!"

    That's you. That's what you sound like. When you complain that a scientific explanation doesn't match your straw-man exactly, that's how stupid you sound.

  • donsalmon

    Hey Joe:

    Great article (are you still around? These comments are 3 years old - well, I'll try)

    Here's something I've been playing around with recently.

    I find that when you talk to materialists about the last problem you raised, "laws of nature" (or to take the theological overtones out of it, orderly patterns) they are at a loss to understand why it's a problem. Even when you go through it with them, and the say, "well there's no explanation, these patterns just happened, you need to accept it and get over it. Or, maybe you want to say "God did it"?

    And you try to explain to them that they just said the materialist equivalent of "God did it" (Matter did it - chance did it) and they still have no clue.

    So just the other day, this occurred to me.

    1. The latest cosmological estimates are that the orderly patterns we call laws took about 300,000 years after the big bang to develop their current form. Virtually all materialists agree this 300,000 year period occurred purely by chance.
    2. First question: is there, for a materialist, any problem with the possibility that for at least 2 seconds (it really wouldn't be measurable as seconds, but this is a loose thought experiment so leave that alone for now) the whole process fell back into chaos?
    3. If the answer is yes (and i can't conceive of any way a materialist could justify saying no) is it also possible for "2 seconds" the patterns continued, but they changed radically (the constants were different, the patterns unfolding were different, etc) then they resumed the way they are today?
    4. If the answer is yes (can't be no, for materialist??), then couldn't that have happened again - say, 5 billion years ago, for 2 seconds, 20 seconds, 200 seconds,, 20000 seconds, etc etc (a) that the whole process, the whole universe, fell into chaos, then resumed where it picked up from; or, for a certain period of time, the "patterns' changed, and then resumed where they were.

    And finally, what reason could a materialist possibly give for suggesting, if it's happened before, it couldn't happen again?

    If the answer is yes to all of these, that means all the materialist arguments against parapsychology are gone (telepathy violates the "laws of nature" sort of arguments) and as we know, materialists being deathly afraid of psychic phenomena, once you admit there's no more argument against parapsychology, the whole materialist enterprise just dissolves.

    Now, you and I know there's not a single good reason that's ever been put forward in history for materialism. But most of the arguments I've heard (and I've been "listening" for nearly 50 years) don't seem to me as air tight as this one.

    The only one I think is better is that there's no justification for hypothesizing some kind of imaginary self existent matter. Since Awareness is the only medium through which we know anything, there's absolutely no justification for having faith that something "material" (whatever the heck that means - nobody seems to be able to agree) exists apart from the framework of Awareness (note - this is neither solipsism nor idealism, since I am not talking about "mind" or "my" Awareness) - we're close to what David Hart Bentley (is that his name) says is a good name for God - Existence, Consciousness, Bliss (or Sat Chit Ananda)

    • Michael Murray

      Have you got a link for (1) ? I've not seen it suggested before what that we call the laws of physics were different during the first 300,000 years. Thanks.

      • Caravelle

        It sounds like they're confusing "atoms formed and the Universe became transparent after 300,000 years" with "the laws of physics were different in the first 300,000 years".

        They could also be confusing the symmetry breaking that led to there being different forces and particles with "the laws of physics appeared", but if they did they also got the timescale wrong as that's supposed to have happened in the first, what, ten picoseconds?

        • Michael Murray

          Well spotted. I didn't know what happened at 300,000 years.

      • donsalmon

        Sorry, Michael, I wrote that from memory. Just looking around quickly, there's a wikipedia article (I know, not the greatest source) giving "379,000 years" as the time it took for subatomic particles to congeal into atoms https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Bang.

        In our book ("Yoga Psychology and the Transformation of Consciousness") we wrote that the so-called "laws of nature" took about a trillionth of a second to come into being. But we didn't (arghh!) give a source for that. I remember spending a few days on that very sentence, interviewing cosmologists and reading up on it rather extensively, and I'm sure we had a number of sources, but I guess we failed to include it in our endnotes.

        We have Daniel Dennett saying "the laws of physics could themselves be the outcome of a blind, uncaring shuffle through Chaos." Dennett is a philosopher, of course, but I assume he didn't just say that on no basis - though I suppose that assumption is tough to defend.

        In any case, if there was even a trillionth of a second when the universe shifted from chaos to "laws," all the points I made remain, I believe. If for one trillionth of a second there's chaos, and then the great God "CHANCE" orders there to be laws, well, there's just no reason why the God CHANCE can't:

        1. remove the laws

        or

        2. change the laws.

        And He (it?) can do that now just as well as he/it could have done it 13.7 billion years ago.

        At least, I can't conceive of any reason why the fundamaterialist God CHANCE can't do that. He seems to be all powerful in the eyes of the physicalists. As Richard Dawkins put it, "In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, and other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it...The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference."

        There are, of course, a few scientists who aren't quite so arrogant. Feynmann said, "It is important to realize that in physics today, we have no knowledge of what energy is." And chemist A G Cairns-Smith said, "It is a fundamental mistake to identify a model with reality....Force, field...mass, energy...space, time...particle, wave, [are simply elements in the scientific model]... We know now for sure that we do not know at all what matter is."

        • Michael Murray

          So why do you think you need atoms before the laws of physics ? The laws of physics work fine inside the large hadron collider and I doubt there are many atoms in there. The most fundamental laws of physics govern the basic quantum fields that it seems everything else is built out of. See for example

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zNVQfWC_evg

          • Caravelle

            In fact some hypotheses, like the kind with eternal inflation and bubble universes, involve laws of physics that exist beyond [what we currently define as] our universe (and by that I don't mean made-up unknowable laws; I mean basic extrapolations of quantum field theories like you mentioned and such). By such a hypothesis there definitely never would be a moment during the creation of the Universe where the laws of physics didn't apply.

            I think I've seen some of those "bubble universe" ideas described as allowing different Universes with different "laws of physics" to exist but AFAICT what they actually mean is different universal constants. But even under such a scenario the differences between Universes and how the constants become what they are come about as the result of the laws of physics, not an absence or change in them. It also implies said constants can't just change on a whim, in the same way that just because I can melt ice into water under certain circumstances doesn't mean I can transform ice into water anyhow at any time regardless of temperature or pressure.

          • donsalmon

            Hi Michael: If I understand you correctly, you’re commenting about empirical facts that have been derived from observations. I’m addressing the assumptions that shape how we interpret those observations.

            “Laws” is a term shaped by theological assumptions, which is why I’m using the term “patterns.”

            Here’s the view I’m trying to understand:

            Within the materialist framework, whether patterns emerged over the course of several trillionths of a second or 379,000 years, the question remains the same. If these patterns emerged by pure chance, is there any logical basis for claiming they couldn’t change – even for a trillionth of a second – or cease altogether, with everything falling back into chaos, even for a trillionth of a second.

            That question is a good place to start.

          • Michael Murray

            I don't see any logical basis. It's an assumption.

          • Caravelle

            If these patterns emerged by pure chance

            As far as what physicists think and theories of the beginning of the Universe goes, these patterns are thought to have arisen under very specific circumstances, and not be capable of arising under just any circumstance. Nobody thinks they arose "by pure chance" if "by pure chance" you mean "randomly with respect to any possible variable". Don't confuse "random with respect to some specific outcomes or variables" with "random with respect to absolutely anything", or "uncaused".

            You can think those things if you like, but you can't base that reasoning on mainstream theories of the Big Bang; they do not involve this kind of "pure chance" at all, let alone for whole trillionths of a second.

          • donsalmon

            I don't understand, Caravelle. is there some kind of empirical way of determining what the cause of those circumstances are?

            If there is no direct way of experimenting to determine a cause, how could a physicalist determine that there is any cause whatsoever?

            In a purely physicalist world, how could the word "cause" have any substantial meaning?

            What cause could there be other than chance?

          • Caravelle

            I don't understand, Caravelle. is there some kind of empirical way of determining what the cause of those circumstances are?

            This conversation started with you saying this:

            1. The latest cosmological estimates are that the orderly patterns we call laws took about 300,000 years after the big bang to develop their current form. Virtually all materialists agree this 300,000 year period occurred purely by chance.

            You didn't talk about empiricism or why materialists agreed on something, you were stating the bare fact that they did. And what I am telling you is what the "latest cosmological estimates" and what "materialists agree on" are, and how they're not what you claimed they are.

            "The circumstances", their properties, causes and consequences are described by the very cosmological theories you appealed to to begin with. It's you who chose to appeal to them and base an argument on them.

            In particular, the circumstances under which the forces and elemental particles separated out involve (and are mathematically required to involve) higher temperatures and pressures than are encountered anywhere currently; physicists are trying to get there with particle accelerators but aren't at those levels yet. If you want to claim physicists have nothing to base their claims on and that they're wrong or making things up about the temperatures involved in the beginning of the Universe then you cannot also appeal to hypothetical claims they might make about something or other appearing "by chance".

            In a purely physicalist world, how could the word "cause" have any substantial meaning?

            For sure, fundamental physics definitely is iffy on the concept of "cause", things like statistical correlations are more robust, but if "cause" has no meaning in a "purely physicalist world" then how can "chance" have a meaning in the same world?

          • donsalmon

            I'm asking the same question over and over again but using different words. I "appealed" to certain theories merely in order to provide yet another illustration of the point I'm making.

            You came close to it in your last paragraph. I agree "chance" has no meaning - that's one of the major points I'm making.

            But to get to the heart of it:

            "fundamental physics is iffy on the concept of cause."

            My understanding is not just that it's "iffy" but it really has no way to explain the cause of anything. Statistical correlations are not a cause. In fact, if physicalists want to stay out of philosophy, statistical correlations are fine. They don't make any assumption about the nature of things.

            Now that we've gotten that out of the way, here's the main idea again, taking your last paragraph into account.

            1. Physicalists (not physicists - because at least 60% of all physicists - at least, as of 2012 - accepted the possibility of parapsychological phenomena, which most agree are not consistent with a physicalist view of things) have no way of accounting for the original arising of order.

            2. What follows from this (here is where my question is - do you agree this follows from the first statement - assuming you agree with the first statement) is

            (a) there is no reason, within a physicalist view, that order should continue, if one has no way of accounting for how it began

            (b) there is no reason, within a physicalist view, that the order of things cannot change.

          • Caravelle

            I "appealed" to certain theories merely in order to provide yet another illustration of the point I'm making.

            It wasn't an illustration, it was the basis for an argument you made. You said "according to physicists there were milliseconds where things happened by chance, therefore couldn't things happen by chance at other points". Do you disagree that you made this argument? Do you acknowledge that the premise of this argument ("according to physicists there were milliseconds where things happened by chance") is false?

            (a) there is no reason, within a physicalist view, that order should continue, if one has no way of accounting for how it began

            (b) there is no reason, within a physicalist view, that the order of things cannot change.

            Um, we're throwing out evidence now? If you're claiming that Last Thursdayism is impossible to rule out, congratulations you've seen the Matrix. If you're talking about how people build actual mental models of the world, then a physicalist view builds this model based on what it observes of the world, and there is no evidence for "order" failing to exist at any point, or any evidence to indicate it will fail to exist in the future. That's not proof, but it is "reason".

            I agree "chance" has no meaning - that's one of the major points I'm making.

            Would you mind clarifying what that specific point is and how "chance" having no meaning relates to it? Because I missed that bit.

          • donsalmon

            CARAVELLE: You've drifted from your original point. Do you acknowledge that current theories about the origin of the Universe don't necessarily involve any point at which the laws of physics didn't apply?

            (DON): Caravelle, you’re writing as if you think I’m trying to argue with you, or prove a point, or slip in some religious view. I understand, given the site this is on, why you might think that. I’m not. Also, you keep bringing in physics. I’m not talking about physics. I’m talking about the metaphysical basis of physicalism.

            CARAVELLE: As for your questions, you're confusing a million things. "Order" and "Chaos" are usually concepts referring to things within the laws of physics, not the laws of physics themselves.

            DON: I’m not using “order” or “chaos” as a scientific term, but as a philosophic term going back 2000+ years. Since you may then wish to quibble about philosophic terms, I’ll say, just consider “order” in the ordinary, everyday, colloquial sense – it won’t change the essence of the question I’m asking.

            Note also, I have no intention of challenging physicalism here. I’m simply asking a question about what physicalists believe (note again, this is not a question about scientce, but about metaphysics.

            CARAVELLE: The "laws of physics" are nothing more or less than "how things behave".You have things, that do things and not other things: you have laws of physics. And the current mainstream theories of the beginning of the Universe involve things existing at every point we know of (mainly energy at the earliest points, but that's a thing that does things and not others, i.e. "follows the laws of physics"). And most speculative theories that propose hypotheses for how things were at earlier points, and even outside (what we currently consider the) Universe also involve things at every point. I mean, those theories are mainly derived via maths so that should say something about whether or not they involve the absence of rules at any point.

            The question "how did things/things doing things in specific ways/'the laws of physics'/'order' arise" supposes that they needed to, that they didn't always exist. And who knows, maybe they didn't. But there's no evidenc e to suggest that.

            DON: I don’t know if you saw my earlier comments, but I referred to a cosmological view that these “laws” (or as I’m now referring to it, “order”) did not exist for at least the first trillionth of a second after the origin of the universe. But whether order existed at first or a moment later is entirely irrelevant to the question I’m asking.

            CARVELLE:

            I'd say that a precondition to asking "how did X arise" is making sure it did arise in the first place (well, assuming it is fine but in that case it needs to be a shared assumption. So you can't appeal to physical theories that don't share that assumption to support your point).

            DON: I don’t know why you’re suggesting I’m appealing to any physical theory. I’m not trying to prove ANY point. I’m only asking a question.

            QUOTING ME: To the best of my knowledge, virtually every physicalist philosophy of science, as well as every physicist, cosmologist, biologist, chemist, etc when asked this question, says, "we have no idea," and lets it go at that.

            CARAVELLE: It's not a matter of "letting it go at that". Scientists are in the business of figuring things out, not making things up. If they don't know, and don't know how to investigate a question, then any answer other than "I have no idea" is a lie. You're asking scientists to lie?

            DON: I’m baffled by how you got that from anything I said. Please don’t’ go back and quote any earlier statements as you have misinterpreted them throughout. I’ll state the 2 questions at the end, again.

            CARAVELLE: It's not like religious people have any idea either, they just claim God is eternal and call it a day.

            DON: I assume you’re bringing in “religious people” because you think I’m trying to counter phsycalism (or worse, physics, since you seem to be trying to shift this discussion from philosophy to science) with religion. You brought in religion, I didn’t.

            Here are the questions, with some extra points to avoid misunderstsanding.

            1. I have absolutely no interest in anything religious in regard to these questions.

            2. I have no interest in bringing in scientific theories here, I’m asking 2 metaphysical questions.

            3. You seem to be conceding the point that nobody knows how order arises initially (“it’s not like religious people have any idea EITHER). I think Nobel Prize winning physicist Steven Weinberg made the same point quite thoroughly and definitively in his essay from about 14 years ago, “Does Science Explain Everything? Anything?” So we have an agreement on a philosophic assumption underlying physicalism: “Physicalism has no explanation for the existence of order at the birth (or shortly after the birth) of the universe. I’m not shifting now to a religious defense, no need to mention God, and I’m not challenging physicalism here, nor do I intend to with the following questions. I’m simply looking for an answer from a physicalist point of view. That’s all. If you can read the questions as they are, starting from the beginning of the question, it should be very easy to answer. I think the answer to both question is ‘No,” but I’m not sure, which is why I’m asking the question here.

            Ok, here’s the two questions:

            1. Given that physicalism simply accepts the existence of order without being able to account how it comes into being, is there any reason why – taking a purely physicalist perspective – that order could not cease to exist - whether for a brief period of time, say, trillionths of a second, or for months, years, decades or century, or more?

            2. Given that physicalism simply accepts the existence of order without being able to account how it comes into being, is there any reason why – taking a purely physicalist perspective – that order couldn’t change - whether for a brief period of time, say, trillionths of a second, or for months, years, decades or century, or more?

            As I said, I think the answer is no. And I’m not interested in drawing ANY implications from this, I’m not looking to do a “gotcha.” There’s no hidden assumptions, no hidden agenda. I’m really, sincerely, honestly and truly interested in how physicalists think. I’ve followed philosophic arguments on this for decades, and I’m not aware of any philosophers addressing these specific questions.

            Hi Caravelle: Could I have permission to publish this discussion at http://www.integralworld.net? I'll be happy to send you a copy before publishing it? And if you prefer not to, that's fine.

          • Caravelle

            Caravelle, you’re writing as if you think I’m trying to argue with you, or prove a point, or slip in some religious view. I understand, given the site this is on, why you might think that. I’m not. Also, you keep bringing in physics. I’m not talking about physics. I’m talking about the metaphysical basis of physicalism.

            I am writing as if I believe you said something incorrect and am correcting you on it. If that is arguing, then I am arguing with you.

            Go back through my responses in this discussion if you need to, starting with my replies to Michael Murray as I tried to figure out with him where the assertion we were wondering about came from, you will see that all I've been doing since the beginning is addressing this specific statement:

            . The latest cosmological estimates are that the orderly patterns we call laws took about 300,000 years after the big bang to develop their current form. Virtually all materialists agree this 300,000 year period occurred purely by chance.

            and the ways in which it evolved as you walked back various aspect ("it doesn't have to be 300,000 my argument works as well if it's one trillionth of a second...").

            That is also why I am talking about physics, because that statement is based on physics. If you don't think so, those cosmologists certainly do.

            But it has become clear that you still think that statement is correct, since you have repeated it as fact twice in your last two replies (apparently only just now noticing I "don't accept it"... I think I've done a bit more than that! I also liked the "I don't know if you've seen this in my comments, but..."), so I will have to ask you a cite on this statement or similar ones.

            I know you've forgotten where you read this, as you told Michael Murray. That happens to me too, citing things I've read somewhere but have forgotten where. When asked for a cite in those circumstances, I still look for one, be it where I read it first or another source. And if I can't find one I stop defending the claim at the very least, but I often also re-examine it for myself because I can no longer rule out the possibility I misremembered something I read, or that the source was not credible. So since you're still making the claim I expect you to find something. If cosmologists do think there was a time in the history of the Universe with no law of physics then they've said this in more than one place.

            And no, that Daniel Dennett quote isn't an example of that. Reminder of the quote:

            "the laws of physics could themselves be the outcome of a blind, uncaring shuffle through Chaos."

            I'm pretty sure I've said the same thing myself in this thread. Your assertion goes further, saying that "according to cosmologists" the laws of physics were the outcome of chance, if only for a trillionth of a second. (aka "materialists agree this 300,000 period occurred purely by chance")

            Besides Daniel Dennett is mostly interested in philosophy of consciousness and intelligence; I don't see an indication in his books that he's in a better position to talk about (what cosmologists think of) the beginning of the Universe than any informed layperson is. Which makes his "could" all the weaker a position.

            I’m simply asking a question about what physicalists believe (note again, this is not a question about scientce, but about metaphysics.

            Physicalists believe that to understand reality one must engage with reality, which means basing one's model of the world on evidence, logical and observational, and that since science is modern humankind's most rigorous and advanced evidence-based method of figuring out how the world is, one's model of the world must be constrained by what science says first and foremost. Insofar as that is a metaphysical position (and I think it is), then that's what physicalists believe, and that's also why any question about what the possibilities are around the world's beginning must start with what hypotheses are considered plausible or impossible by the scientists investigating the question (Which I would have thought you knew since it's what you started with when describing a materialist position, but apparently not). Whether it ends there is another question, but if you consider "metaphysics/philosophy" and "evidence/science" to be mutually exclusive concepts then that would need to be addressed first.

            Also, as far as "how do physicalists think the laws of physics started", or "do physicalists think the laws of physics had to start in the first place", I don't know of a unified position that physicalists share on this question. Because, again, science is the principal constraint on how physicalists think the world works and that's a question science has very little constraints on.

          • donsalmon

            I just saw this:

            DON: "appealed" to certain theories merely in order to provide yet another illustration of the point I'm making.

            CARAVELLE: It wasn't an illustration, it was the basis for an argument you made. You said "according to physicists there were milliseconds where things happened by chance, therefore couldn't things happen by chance at other points". Do you disagree that you made this argument?

            DON: If you wish to characterize it as a philosophic “argument” you may. I’m trying to understand the implications of their assertion. But now you’ve changed the grounds of the discussion because you won’t accept that some cosmologists that there were milliseconds when things happened by chance.

            CARAVELLE: Do you acknowledge that the premise of this argument ("according to physicists there were milliseconds where things happened by chance") is false?

            DON: That is not my “argument.” It is not an argument at all. It is an empirical assertion made as a result of mathematical calculations by some cosmologists. But since you don’t like that point, we can discard it because it’s irrelevant to the question I’m asking.

            You quoted my questions again:

            (a) there is no reason, within a physicalist view, that order should continue, if one has no way of accounting for how it began

            (b) there is no reason, within a physicalist view, that the order of things cannot change.

            CARAVELLE: Um, we're throwing out evidence now?

            DON: Once again, you’re taking philosophic questions and setting them aside, and by asking for “evidence” you’re confusing what I’m saying, which is a metaphysical question.

            Evidence is tangential to the question I’m asking. If you accept the “evidence” that order (as I define the word in the other comment, in the everyday sense, if you don’t want to go off into a wild philosophic tangent), arose with the birth of the universe, and you accept the philosophic observation that physicalists cannot, within physicalism, account for that order (which, I must remind you, is not a religious argument or an argument against physicalism or an argument of any kind), then your last statement is irrelevant:

            CARAVELL: a physicalist view builds this model based on what it observes of the world, and there is no evidence for "order" failing to exist at any point, or any evidence to indicate it will fail to exist in the future. That's not proof, but it is "reason".

            DON: the question I’m asking is completely apart from whether order has failed to exist in the past or will fail to exist in the future. If it is in fact true that order existed from the birth of the universe until now, and will continue forever into the future (something, in fact, I believe, as a non-physicalist), it’s completely irrelevant to the question I’m asking.

            Listen again.

            I am asking from entirely within the physicalist perspective.

            1. The physicalists cannot account for the existence of order, it is simply taken as a given. We both agree on this, there’s no problem with this, I think, in fact, it’s the way science should work at present, given its current methodology. All is hunky dory so far.

            2. Given that physicalism cannot account for the existence of order, is there any reason – from a purely physicalist perspective, whether or not it has ever occurred or ever will occur – why this order could not stop briefly, or permanently, or change, briefly or permanently?

            Do you understand that from a purely PHILOSOPHIC perspective, as a thought experiment, it’s entirely irrelevant whether in our physical universe, using physics and mathematical methodology, this order has not paused or changed (in fact, there are also cosmologists who claim on the basis of solid physics and mathematical methodology, that it has changed, but that is entirely irrelevant for my question, which is not a scientific question but rather a metaphysical one?)

            I think the answer is no, but if you think the answer is yes, can you explain, from a purely philosophic physicalist perspective, on what basis you would make that claim?

            I’m not trying to ARGUE that the answer is no. I’m not trying to reach any conclusion whatsoever. I’m not making an argument. I’m simply trying to get the answer to a question.

          • Rob Abney

            Does this help?

            Aristotle:

            Spontaneity and chance are causes of effects which though they might result from intelligence or nature, have in fact been caused by something incidentally. Now since nothing which is incidental is prior to what is per se, it is clear that no incidental cause can be prior to a cause per se. Spontaneity and chance, therefore, are posterior to intelligence and nature. Hence, however true it may be that the heavens are due to spontaneity, it will still be true that intelligence and nature will be prior causes of this All and of many things in it besides.

            In other words, it is not possible for chance and spontaneity to be the first cause or causes of the universe and all that happens therein.

          • Caravelle

            1. The physicalists cannot account for the existence of order, it is simply taken as a given.

            I disagree with this. The existence of order is observed, it doesn't need to be "taken as a given". Take Alice in Wonderland - she falls into a world in which many rules of logic no longer apply, and it's definitely a world that makes no sense - how could living things even exist and observe things if basic logic doesn't apply? Then again, if basic logic doesn't apply then why wouldn't they? But what is clear is that Alice can plainly notice the lack of order around her, even as she can't make sense of it. And it puts in sharp relief the fact that we observe every day (if not every night :)) that we aren't in a Wonderland crazytown; if we live in a fundamentally disordered world it's making a very good job of masquerading as an ordered one. (and in fact plenty of people do disagree on how fundamentally ordered the world is, based on personal observations and experiences)

            Similarly, it is an interesting observation that contrary to stereotype, science progresses by constant refinement rather than all-upending-revolution. Scientific revolutions do occur that change our fundamental understanding of how the world works, but even as they do so they remain consistent with previous observations - to the point that the previous theory can usually be considered a useful approximation to the new one. This doesn't have to be true; in fact many laypeople don't realize it is true. And maybe it won't continue to be true in the future. But it is the kind of thing one would expect if there existed a consistent reality (or "order") and science was an effective algorithm for building a model of it.

            Or put another way, the ways in which Asimov's The Relativity of Wrong describes how our ideas of the shape of the Earth have evolved is evidence for Earth having had a consistent shape over that time; it's not how we would have expected things to go if it didn't.

            2. Given that physicalism cannot account for the existence of order, is there any reason – from a purely physicalist perspective, whether or not it has ever occurred or ever will occur – why this order could not stop briefly, or permanently, or change, briefly or permanently?

            I answered this already. "Reason", as in "is there any reason to think", from a purely physicalist perspective, includes evidence. If you artificially exclude evidence then the answer (if I wasn't clear enough about that in my previous reply) is "no". But then you're not talking about how any materialist I've ever run into thinks.

          • donsalmon

            Nothing you have said has even come close to recognizing, much less addressing, the simple question I'm asking, so I'm going to leave it at that (and sorry, Aristotle is an intelligent person making an intelligent point, so, no, it has no bearing on physicalism, which is incoherent view so lacking in intelligibility that it can't even be said to be contradictory - "not even wrong" is perhaps the best description of it.

            So I'll leave you with the words of a Nobel Prize winning physicist, Steven Weinberg (from his essay on whether or not science can explain anything)

            Finally, it seems clear that we will never be able to explain our most fundamental scientific principles. (Maybe this is why some people say that science does not provide explanations, but by this reasoning nothing else does either). I think that in the end we will come to a set of simple universal laws of nature, laws that we cannot explain. The only kind of explanation I can imagine (if we are not just going to find a deeper set of laws, which would then just push the question farther back) would be to show that mathematical consistency requires these laws. But this is clearly impossible, because we can already imagine sets of laws of nature that, as far as we can tell, are completely consistent mathematically but that do not describe nature as we observe it.

            For example, if you take the Standard Model of elementary particles and just throw away everything except the strong nuclear forces and the particles on which they act, the quarks and the gluons, you are left with the theory known as quantum chromodynamics. It seems that quantum chromodynamics is mathematically self-consistent, but it describes an impoverished universe in which there are only nuclear particles - there are no atoms, there are no people. If you give up quantum mechanics and relativity then you can make up a huge variety of other logically consistent laws of nature, like Newton's laws describing a few particles endlessly orbiting each other in accordance with these laws, with nothing else in the universe, and nothing new ever happening. These are logically consistent theories, but they are all impoverished. Perhaps our best hope for a final explanation is to discover a set of final laws of nature and show that this is the only logically consistent rich theory, rich enough for example to allow for the existence of ourselves. This may happen in a century or two, and if it does then I think that physicists will be at the extreme limits of their power of explanation.

            **

            Weinberg manages to contradict himself at least 4 times within each paragraph. Being an expert in physics doesn't guarantee any understanding of philosophy.

            Thanks for taking the time. I don't think this kind of conversation tends to go anywhere on line. I devoted a good deal of time between 2011 and 2013 to online conversation on these subjects, and people very very rarely step out of their perspectives long enough to look at others. I had based my 2011 essay, "Shaving Science With Ockham's Razor," on this kind of dialog, but I've found over the years it works much better (though still requiring a great deal of work) in person.

            Thanks again.

          • Caravelle

            Nothing you have said has even come close to recognizing, much less addressing, the simple question I'm asking

            I answered your "simple question" twice, the second time pretty explicitly I thought. I can't say the same for you, who apparently managed to go through several exchanges without realizing what all of my comments had been about (or that they weren't primarily about answering your question - that I did was a mere aside because I'm nice that way), and in fact I have no way of telling from this last comment that whether you did finally figure it out or not. Or maybe the flounce indicates that you did; your comments have been consistent with someone who (for this conversation at least) is here to have people talk on their terms and isn't really interested in correcting their own errors or learning new things. I would have been interested in knowing more about where you feel Steve Weinberg contradicts himself for example, but conversations with someone who consistently misunderstands what I write are frustrating so it's probably for the best.

            I devoted a good deal of time between 2011 and 2013 to online conversation on these subjects, and people very very rarely step out of their perspectives long enough to look at others.

            You don't seem to be having conversations in a way that's conducive to that kind of thing. Maybe you go about it differently in person.

          • donsalmon

            http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/blogs/physics/2015/10/are-the-laws-of-physics-really-universal/

            http://discovermagazine.com/2010/apr/10-is-search-for-immutable-laws-of-nature-wild-goose-chase

            Here are scientists - including nobel prize winners - suggesting the following as possibilities:

            1. There may have been a point - one can hardly even refer to it as a 'time" - near the birth of the universe, when there were no regularities of the kind we identify as "laws" of nature
            2. The "laws of nature" - or "regularities," or what I'm colloquially referring to as the "order" of nature - may change over time.

            None of them in the articles i've linked to have speculated that the order could cease, but there are other physicists - folks who identify themselves as mainstream, good, materialist-believing, scientists, who say given their philosophy of science (what I'm referring to as physicalism) there's no basis for asserting that's impossible.

            That's all I was asking about. Are the views expressed by these scientists consistent with physicalism? They agree that those views are.

            Here's an alternative approach from an internationally renowned nuclear physicist: https://www3.amherst.edu/magazine/issues/04spring/eros_insight/Zajonc_Goethe.pdf

          • donsalmon

            In fact, this is even more to the point. This is precisely what I've been saying all along. Paul Davies expresses it most eloquently.

            *****

            Physicist Eugene Wigner confesses that the mathematical underpinning of nature "is something bordering on the mysterious and there is no rational explanation for it."3 Richard Feynman, a Nobel Prize winner for quantum electrodynamics, said, "Why nature is mathematical is a mystery...The fact that there are rules at all is a kind of miracle."4

            This astonishment springs from the recognition that the universe doesn't have to behave this way. It is easy to imagine a universe in which conditions change unpredictably from instant to instant, or even a universe in which things pop in and out of existence. Instead, scientists cling to their long-held faith in the fundamental rationality of the cosmos.

            ****

            How the Universe Works - Scientists Baffled by Laws of Nature

            Physicist Paul C. Davies comments, "...to be a scientist, you had to have FAITH that the universe is governed by dependable, immutable, absolute, universal, mathematical laws of an unspecified origin. You've got to BELIEVE that these laws won't fail, that we won't wake up tomorrow to find heat flowing from cold to hot, or the speed of light changing by the hour. Over the years I have often asked my physicist colleagues why the laws of physics are what they are? ...The favorite reply is, 'There is no reason they are what they are--they just are.'"5

          • Ignatius Reilly

            from a purely physicalist perspective, whether or not it has ever occurred or ever will occur – why this order could not stop briefly, or permanently, or change, briefly or permanently?

            Non-physicalism solves this how?

          • donsalmon

            If the universe is a dynamic expression of "Rta" (other Sanskrit terms include Vijnana and Mahat) or as Plotinus refers to it, "Nous" or non-dualistic intelligence ("non dualistic" because it is - at least in Indian philosophy - the substance and action of everything in every possible universe) then inevitably, the expression of intelligence would be orderly, though in a supra-rational manner, not entirely captured by rational thought, somewhat along the lines of what Schrodinger, Bohr and Eddington thought about the implications of quantum physics. Schrodinger referred specifically to the Upanishads, and Bohr to Taoism, in an attempt to find an appropriate reference to supra-rational intelligence.

            But in my conversation with Caravelle, my only interest is the question - "Since Davies, Smolin and numerous other physicists agree that (a) it's possible for the order or regularities - or non-necessary regularities, if you wish - of nature to change, and they agree there's no basis for asserting otherwise, since one can only, if one is a physicalist, have faith that order can be created, and sustained in the way it has been in our universe - if all this is the case, then isn't it the case that it's also merely a matter of faith that the "rules of order" couldn't either change massively (Smolin, Davies, et all have only, to the best of my knowledge, talked about relatively small, incremental changes) or cease altogether.

            The problem with that conversation, in case anybody else wishes to join in, is that Caravelle keeps taking the philosophic question and bringing it back to quantitative methodology, which cannot even address much less answer such questions. "Why" questions are out of the sphere of empirical investigation.

            A physicist begins with sensory data - either data obtained by direct senses or through the aid of technology, then dispenses with the immeasurable qualia, leaving pure quantitative relations, then proceeds to analyze those quantitative relations and comes up with general and ultimately, fundamental principles. That is where the work of empirical physics ends.

            Then the philosophic questions emerge - why is this order here? The scientists, as in the link above where Davies refers to it, when they stick to their own sphere say, "we don't know, it just is. We don't ask those questions." And as scientists, they don't ask because they dont' have the tools to answer them. But as human beings they're perfectly entitled to ask.

            The other philosophic emerge quite naturally -

            how did the order arise (if there was something rather than nothing, the quantitative processes by which the order arose are again completely irrelevant to the philosophic question, which would then revert to, how is there order in those quantitative processes by which order arose)

            how is it sustained?

            Even if it hasn't changed for 13.7 billion years (and we know from Smolin and Davies and many others, that it has, but even if it hasn't), why not? And could it change? And could it cease to exist?

            These are not questions amenable to a quantitative, empirical questioning. These are metaphysical, non scientific, philosophic questions.

            You might ask the epistemological questions, how would we know it? If you think a quantitative, experimental method could provide evidence, then you need to go further in epistemology until you realize why that's impossible (much as Hume noted that it is impossible to get from "is" to "ought").

            You might say I'm asking "ought" questions, which are metaphysical questions, not "is" questions, which are susceptible to quantitative investigation.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            If the universe is a dynamic expression of "Rta" (other Sanskrit terms include Vijnana and Mahat) or as Plotinus refers to it, "Nous" or non-dualistic intelligence ("non dualistic" because it is - at least in Indian philosophy - the substance and action of everything in every possible universe) then inevitably, the expression of intelligence would be orderly....

            If.

            What you wrote above does very little to explain your position. I'm not familiar with Sankrit terms. You would make yourself much more clear if you laid off the Sanskrit and used common parlance. Although, if obfuscation is your goal by all means carry on.

            But in my conversation with Caravelle, my only interest is the question....

            A question that a physicalist cannot answer is not very damning if the non-physicalist can't answer it either. Just because cultural group think makes us think that non-physicalism (specifically theism) gives an intuitive answer to your questions, does not make it so. We should be careful of cultural intuitions.

          • donsalmon

            Look, I'll try to make it clearer.

            You're saying that you believe that, within the framework of physicalism, the cosmologists view the patterns as having emerged under 'specific circumstances" (whether or not it was specific or any other, is irrelevant to the question I'm asking).

            Those "specific circumstances," I assume, represent, in your mind, some kind of order.

            Here is the question I'm asking, rephrased:

            Within the physicalist view of the universe,

            (a) how does order arise (that is, how does it emerge from non-order or chaos)

            and

            (b) how does it persist?

            Your statement not only doesn't provide an answer, it doesn't actually address the question.

            So the patterns we call "laws of nature" arose under a set of very specific circumstances. Those "specific circumstances" are obviously orderly, not pure random chaos, as you rightly assert.

            Now you're ready to address those questions - in a strictly physicalist universe (one devoid of intelligence, sentience, life of any kind) how does the order underlying those "specific circumstances" come to be?

            To the best of my knowledge, virtually every physicalist philosophy of science, as well as every physicist, cosmologist, biologist, chemist, etc when asked this question, says, "we have no idea," and lets it go at that.

            Do you have an alternative answer?

          • Caravelle

            You've drifted from your original point. Do you acknowledge that current theories about the origin of the Universe don't necessarily involve any point at which the laws of physics didn't apply?

            As for your questions, you're confusing a million things. "Order" and "Chaos" are usually concepts referring to things within the laws of physics, not the laws of physics themselves. The "laws of physics" are nothing more or less than "how things behave". You have things, that do things and not other things: you have laws of physics. And the current mainstream theories of the beginning of the Universe involve things existing at every point we know of (mainly energy at the earliest points, but that's a thing that does things and not others, i.e. "follows the laws of physics"). And most speculative theories that propose hypotheses for how things were at earlier points, and even outside (what we currently consider the) Universe also involve things at every point. I mean, those theories are mainly derived via maths so that should say something about whether or not they involve the absence of rules at any point.

            The question "how did things/things doing things in specific ways/'the laws of physics'/'order' arise" supposes that they needed to, that they didn't always exist. And who knows, maybe they didn't. But there's no evidence to suggest that. I'd say that a precondition to asking "how did X arise" is making sure it did arise in the first place (well, assuming it is fine but in that case it needs to be a shared assumption. So you can't appeal to physical theories that don't share that assumption to support your point).

            To the best of my knowledge, virtually every physicalist philosophy of science, as well as every physicist, cosmologist, biologist, chemist, etc when asked this question, says, "we have no idea," and lets it go at that.

            It's not a matter of "letting it go at that". Scientists are in the business of figuring things out, not making things up. If they don't know, and don't know how to investigate a question, then any answer other than "I have no idea" is a lie. You're asking scientists to lie?

            It's not like religious people have any idea either, they just claim God is eternal and call it a day.

  • De Ha

    You’re assuming that there ever was a universe with absolutely nothing in it. Based on what, exactly? An empty universe would be so completely different from this one that there would be no connection whatsoever.

    If you have to dismiss an idea because it doesn’t explain something, first you have to make sure the thing not being explained is/was there at all. Evolution does not explain the existance of unicorns. History does not record the exact number of vampires Abraham Lincoln killed. Are those problems for evolution/history, or are they problems for unicorns/vampires? For the history books to be wrong, you first have to prove that vampires exist at all.

  • Miguel Deton

    If it is true that we can neither prove the existence of God/of a Divine Realm, nor prove the non-existence of anything adequate to such names, then perhaps this post should be about 'Agnostic Materialism', not about "Atheistic Materialism".

    I like the work of a research programme, called Foundation Encyclopedia Dialectica, that does not waste a lot of effort debating Theism vs. Atheism vs. Agnosticism, but, instead, uses a new 'contra-Boolean algebra' of dialectics that they have discovered, to build qualitative models -- '''ontological models''' -- of the entire known universe -- the 'Dialectic of Nature' -- and of the many 'sub-universes' of our one experientially-known Universe. Their work is available for free-of-charge download at http://www.dialectics.org .