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The Ultimate Jeopardy Question

Jeopardy

“Why is there something rather than nothing?” In The Grand Design (2010), Stephen Hawking made headlines by denying the need for God to get matter to jump into being; the law of gravity was enough to do it. Then, Lawrence Krauss created a Youtube sensation and book called, A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing (2012), that made the same case, including an afterward by Richard Dawkins who heralded it as a death blow to the last proof for the existence of God. Jim Holt’s bestselling, Why Does the World Exist? An Existential Detective Story (2012), surveyed contemporary thinkers on this ultimate question as he sought some alternative to the theistic answer to the question. For these authors, the question is ultimate, but God isn’t.

Due to this explosion of interest in the question and the common aversion to God as the answer, it is worth asking a second-order question about the question: Why is there the question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?”?

A Copernican Shift

A peculiar thing about the question, “Why something rather than nothing?” is that we were given the answer before it occurred to us to formulate the question. Like Jeopardy, the answer came first, and only second did we ask the question.

Usually it is otherwise. We see a rainbow and ask what caused it, and then after extensive inquiry, we discover the properties of water and light that explain it. In this case, we naturally come upon the context of the world as what is ultimate. Against the mythologies of the poets, the ancient philosopher Heraclitus articulated what he took to be the ultimate necessity when he said, “The cosmos, the same for all, no god nor man has made, but it ever was and is and will be” (frag. 30, trans. Kahn). For the natural habit of mind, the world just is.

Then something happened. Human reason was given something that had never occurred to it before: the idea of God the Creator. Ancient philosophers already knew about the mythological tales of makers who fashioned chaos into order. Such makers would be co-eternal with matter, a part of the cosmos. They would not be the kind of thing that could exist independent of the cosmos. Now, thanks to biblical revelation, philosophy was given to think of a being that need not create, a being whose nature qualified it to be before and outside the cosmos. A new insight was nourished: compared to such a being, the cosmos need not be. Now the ultimate is not the cosmos, as Heraclitus assumed, for a new possibility emerged: a first cause that need not even cause.

Slowly did the powerful logic of the answer insinuate itself and fully work itself out into a corresponding question. God is. The cosmos and all the creatures in it need not be. Instead of the cosmos, there could be nothing other than God. Hence the question formed, “Why is there something rather than nothing?”

Nothing in this question means the negation of all that once was, now is, and will at some future time be. Hence, nothing is not something at all. It encompasses and negates the totality of finite being. Nothing harbors no possibility in itself; in it lurks no hidden potentialities and powers, no laws or propensities. Nothing excludes the watery chaos of mythology, the unformed matter of ancient cosmology, but also all the stuff of contemporary physics.

To ask the question is to be in the performance of the distinction between God and world, a distinction Robert Sokolowski argues in God of Faith and Reason is original to Christianity. Due to the genealogy of the question, attempts to answer the question with another answer necessarily fail as answers to the question. They may very well succeed in answering a different question, but they do not do what their authors would like them to do, namely provide an alternative answer to the ultimate question.

If there is no God, then the ultimate thing will be the cosmos, and there is no sense in pretending to ask the question why something rather than nothing. The nothing in the question will be a closet something otherwise there could never be something here, but we each know quite certainly that there is a something here. The nothing in the question only makes sense provided that we affirm the existence of the God who is not part of the cosmos, who is not a being among beings, but the generous granter of existence. Such a God is precisely the God affirmed by Christian philosophers and theologians in every century.

I am proposing, then, that the question only occurs as a result of a basically theological answer. Does that mean it is not a philosophical question?

The God of the Philosophers

Even though, as a matter of verifiable historical record, no ancient philosopher asked the question, now that it has occurred to us to ask the question it can be explored and appreciated by reason as a question. It would occur to few of us to ask most of the questions we now know the answer to, but that doesn’t mean the questions are not able to be understood once they occur to us (it doesn’t occur to a child, for instance, to ask how many suns there are, since the answer seems to be obviously one, even though this turns out to be illusory). Naturally, it seems obvious the cosmos just is, even though it turns out this is just an illusion in perspective.

Also, the question itself is a philosophical question which occurs to the philosophizing mind; it does not appear in the Bible and was not dictated by an angel. So, while the answer comes by way of revelation, the question comes by way of reason reflecting on the world in light of the answer.

But even this is not quite right. For the answer is only an answer in light of the question. Thus, strictly speaking, revelation does not give us the answer to the question; revelation shows us there is a God who defies worldly categories, a God who creates all things. The logic of such a God implies the question, why something, and suggests the answer: there is a necessary being who is not part of the system, responsible for sustaining the system. The philosophical question, then, actually enriches our understanding of the answer. Both revelation and the answer identify the same one being, but revelation does so theologically and the question does so philosophically. Strictly speaking, then, it is an act of faith that it is the same being in both cases.

Who Created God?

At first glance, it doesn’t make sense to ask about the origin of the cosmos. That seems like a non-starter. But having confronted the non-intuitive possibility that God need not have created and could have been all there is, we can appreciate the non-ultimacy of the cosmos. In light of the possibility of such a God, it makes sense to ask about the origin of all things.

But what about the origin of God? It would only make sense to ask this question if there was a conceivable origin to the origin of all things. But further consideration shows the silliness of the question. Either God is the origin of the cosmos, himself unoriginated, or the cosmos is somehow ultimate. There’s no sense in asking about the origin of something that is the origin of everything. It must simply be.

When we ask about things like rainbows and turtles and even the cosmos itself, it makes sense to ask after a cause. But when we are dealing with the necessary being, the one responsible for the fact that all of these caused causes are, it no longer makes sense to ask what causes it. If we ask, “Who created God?” we are not really targeting God the Creator but a creature, something with an origin.

Can we answer the question without invoking the God of theism? What else could transcend the whole cosmos? Something like a physical law doesn’t make sense apart from a cosmos to govern, but something like God the Creator does. Attempts to pose the question while dodging the theistic answer necessary fail to engage and thus answer the question.

Holt’s Existential Detective Story dismisses the theistic answer in one page as obviously incoherent. Hence, the pathos of his book, earnestly seeking a satisfying answer to the question other than the only possibly satisfying answer to the question.

If one wants to avoid the answer to the question, one can deny it is a legitimate question, as some philosophers have chosen to do. Bertrand Russell for example insisted, “The universe is just there—and that’s all.” The problem is that the question exercises a peculiar hold on our reason and won’t quite go away. Even philosophers, like Wittgenstein, who deny the question has sense, admit it is a question which grips us. He said he regularly has the following experience:

“I believe the best way of describing it is to say that when I have it I wonder at the existence of the world. And I am then inclined to use such phrases as ‘how extraordinary that anything should exist” or “how extraordinary that the world should exist.’”

Why from moment to moment should the universe exist? Like the Copernican revolution, the movement at work in this question is strange and disorienting. It questions what seems to be beyond question. The question, once asked, provokes us, and we must choose what is ultimate: God the Creator or almost nothing.

Dr. Chad Engelland

Written by

Chad Engelland, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Dallas, where he regularly teaches Philosophy of Being, and he is the author of The Way of Philosophy: An Introduction (Cascade Books, 2016).

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  • Paul Brandon Rimmer

    I have great respect for these sorts of arguments. The question of why there is something rather than nothing cries out for some explanation, even if we don't know it yet, or even if we can't really understand the answer ourselves. This is one of the core tests of the principle of sufficient reason, the belief that everything has an explanation. The traditional conclusion to the cosmological argument creates an exception to this principle. It allows for something outside of the fabric of explanations. There should be an explanation for why God is the way God is, and not another way. If there isn't such an explanation, why does there need to be an explanation for why the universe is the way it is and not another way?

    For myself, I prefer to combine Engelland's cosmological argument with Hawking's philosophy of the cosmos, and to identify God with the eternal originating principle, the force such as gravity, that started the universe. God isn't simply part of the fabric of explanation. God is the totality of the fabric into which our universe is woven.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      God is the totality of the fabric into which our universe is woven.

      That's a neat metaphor, and one that I think I could buy into. But that metaphor strongly suggests that the universe (that which is woven into the underlying fabric) is in a sense a gratuitous add-on. The universe is not as fundamental, not as necessary, as the fabric itself. Do you intend for the metaphor to work in that way?

      • Paul Brandon Rimmer

        That's a great question. If an explanation for something is adequate, it should explain why that thing is the way it is and not another way. So the explanation for the universe will satisfy our question about why this universe and not another. The fabric is woven the only way it can be. Some things are more fundamental, some things are closer to God's essence, but everything is necessarily the way it is.

        If something wasn't necessarily the way it was, that would mean that whatever explanation it has really doesn't explain it. It doesn't really answer the question of why that thing is the way it is and not another way.

        What you say about the universe is correct as regards fundamentality. The force such as gravity, the explanatory fabric, God, is more fundamental than our universe. But the universe is just as necessary as everything else, owing to having a satisfactory explanation (whether or not we can actually find that explanation out).

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          Do you have a way, in your mind, to reconcile the PSR and free will? Is it possible to have a choice that is both freely made and yet also completely explicable?

          Given a hard choice, I think I would ditch the PSR before I would ditch free will. I gather it is the opposite for you? In any case, it sure would be nice to have both!

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            I think that it depends on what you mean by free will. My actions are free insofar as I explain my own actions. I'm never completely the explanation for my own actions, but in some cases I'm mostly the explanation for my own actions (when I write a paper or order a drink), and in other cases I'm not as much an explanation for my actions (when I pay taxes).

            If by free will you mean the freedom to do other than I do, my actions are only free due to my ignorance of their full explanations. They may be free given the background facts I know about, or can take into account, but given fully adequate explanations, my actions could not be any other way than they are.

            I hope this helps clarify in what senses I might accept or reject free will. I definitely respect that many people would reject the PSR in favour of a more robust free will. I'm definitely in the opposite camp. Try as I might, I've never been able to understand how freedom to do something different would work.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            There are parts of that that I can sign up for. My starting point on this topic is (and here I have to ask everyone's tolerance as I re-use phrases that I have used multiple times in the past): this life sure feels like "live music", and not like something that has been pre-recorded. I suppose that my intuition of the "aliveness of existence" could just be due to my ignorance of what will happen next, which would fit with what you are saying.

            But I also have a very strong intuition that all of this existence is gratuitous (and that I should therefore adopt a basic orientation of gratefulness in the way that I live my life). Gratuity / charity involves, by definition (I think?), more than what is necessary, and therefore (perhaps?) more than can be explained. Either that, or perhaps charity somehow explains itself.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            How to you reconcile gratuity with the PSR? Do you give up on the PSR? Or do you weaken it?

            I kind of have this intuition (one that stronger intuitions have lead me to believe is almost certainly a mistake), that God did have a choice, a single choice, to either make this exact universe or not. It could have been this or nothing. God thought that this was better.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            To be honest I have never tried too hard to reconcile the two things in a completely satisfactory way, but I believe, on the one hand, that God is charity, and I accept, on the other hand, the philosophical arguments that God explains himself. So if I mash those two ideas together, I conclude that charity explains itself.

          • Lazarus

            I share those thoughts. It dissolves the problem of evil / suffering into rather this than that debate, rather this than nothing. It causes trouble in the traditional view of omnipotence, but it's quite a solution in my view.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Thanks. It takes some courage to bite the Epicurean bullet.

          • Darren

            PBR wrote,

            ...that God did have a choice, a single choice, to either make this exact universe or not. It could have been this or nothing.

            Yes, the Best of All Possible Worlds as most fully developed by Leibniz (though apparently even Aquinas made passing use of it).

            It is an attractive system, vis.a.vis the POE, just hard to bring oneself to believe the existence of flesh-eating anal worms is logically Necessary.

          • Mike

            well per evolution everything has SOME purpose in the whole scheme. nature abhors a vacuum. nothing nature does is wasteful.

          • Doug Shaver

            per evolution everything has SOME purpose in the whole scheme.

            Have you got a quotation to that effect from any book or journal article written by an evolutionary biologist?

          • Mike

            not sure what you mean. aren't all species in a symbiotic relationship with each other?

          • Doug Shaver

            aren't all species in a symbiotic relationship with each other?

            Not as biologists defined symbiosis. That sounds like something a New Ager might say.

          • Mike

            what i mean is that every creature participates in the 'balance' of nature. there is nothing in nature that is w/o purpose of some sort. everything evolved to adapt to survive if it didn't it's dead. even nasty bacteria are a part of that process of ever greater adaptation and more diverse life.

          • Steve Brown

            Hello Doug, You mean like "Gaia"? That's definitely not neo-Darwinian.

          • Doug Shaver

            I didn't have Gaia specifically in mind when I wrote that, but rather the interpretation given to it by New Agers.

            I have not read anything by Lovelock or Margulis explaining their hypothesis, so I don't know whether they used "symbiosis" in the way to which I objected. If they did, then I stand corrected. Gaia is unorthodox biology, but apparently some biologists take it seriously.

          • Steve Brown

            Hello Darren, I also thought of Leibniz and his notion of "Best of all possible worlds" though I must confess that I haven't delved further into understanding what Leibniz means by it. I was told in one philosophy class that Voltaire's "Candide" was written mainly to poke fun of it. I'm sure Voltaire probably did not understand what Leibniz was getting at; Voltaire not being a mathematician. It must have something to do with Leibniz's Monad.

        • Phil

          Hey Paul--

          Do you think something that has a material nature could even in principle necessarily exist as it does and therefore completely explain itself? It seems that every material entity would be composed of at least metaphysical parts and therefore need an explanation for its existence from outside itself.

          In the end, you would need something whose very essence is to exist with no potentiality to exist in any other way, as the Aristotelian-Thomist puts it.

          So I don't think a material entity(s) could even in principle provide the answer to a question such as this. But I'm curious to your thoughts on this!

          (PS -- the Dr. Chad Engelland who wrote this essay was one of my main undergrad philosophy teachers--great guy and wickedly smart!)

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Do you think something that has a material nature could even in principle necessarily exist as it does and therefore completely explain itself?

            That's a very good question. I'd have to first respond with another question. Do you think this force like gravity is material? If you think this force like gravity is material, then yes, I think matter can explain itself. But I wouldn't think this force like gravity is made of matter. I'd rather like to say that matter is made out of this force like gravity.

            My own intuition is that fundamental reality is neither mental nor physical but can be explained in terms of ideas or in terms of physical objects. Explanations are ideas. They correspond to the physical objects that they explain. I do think that God explains God: the entirety of the explanatory fabric explains itself. Nature taken altogether is completely actual and has no potential to be different. Entities in nature, like you or me or rocks or trees, can be different than they are considering only themselves and their proximate causes. Insofar as we explain ourselves, we can be different than we are. Insofar as we are part of this grand explanatory fabric, we cannot be different in any way than we are. There's really no other possible world.

          • Phil

            Nature taken altogether is completely actual and has no potential to be different. Entities in nature, like you or me or rocks or trees, can be different than they are considering only themselves and their proximate causes.

            For it to be true that nature taken as a whole is pure actuality with no potentiality, all of what we call the material cosmos must not be composed of any parts. How do you explain the fact that all of reality we experience seems to be composed not only of physical parts, but metaphysical parts as well?

            That's a very good question. I'd have to first respond with another question. Do you think this force like gravity is material? If you think this force like gravity is material, then yes, I think matter can explain itself. But I wouldn't think this force like gravity is made of matter. I'd rather like to say that matter is made out of this force like gravity.

            Do you mind re-explaining this point? As I don't really know what you were trying to say here. I apologize if it's my thick skull that's the problem!

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            For it to be true that nature taken as a whole is pure actuality with no potentiality, all of what we call the material cosmos must not be composed of any parts. How do you explain the fact that all of reality we experience seems to be composed not only of physical parts, but metaphysical parts as well?

            (1) I'm not a materialist. I think the explanatory fabric is not made of matter but instead that matter is woven out of this fabric.

            (2) One way to understand parts, a part is something that can be conceived without the whole. In this sense, there are no parts to nature, because nothing can be actually be conceived of outside the explanatory fabric without violating the PSR (it could conceivably exist without there being an adequate explanation for why it is the way it is and not another way).

            (3) I'm not sure what you mean by 'metaphysical parts'.

            Do you mind re-explaining this point? As I don't really know what you were trying to say here. I apologize if it's my thick skull that's the problem!

            Hawking says that because of a force like gravity the universe can create itself out of nothing. Let's imagine Hawking means to imply that the force like gravity explains both itself and the universe. Let's also imagine this is true. Is this force like gravity material or is it something else?

          • Phil

            (1) Yeah--the view you propose is interesting, and I'll have more to ask when I get through studying your email and the essays I have on it! I've studied the monisms of "materialism" and "immaterial, spiritualist monism", but never one saying that there was a substance that underlies both of these things.

            (2) Going back to my original quote of you:

            Nature taken altogether is completely actual and has no potential to be different. Entities in nature, like you or me or rocks or trees, can be different than they are considering only themselves and their proximate causes.

            If all of reality (I believe what you called "nature") is to be understood as completely actual and having no potentiality, how do you explain the fact that things appear to change? To have the ability to change seems to necessitate the potentiality to exist in a different way from how it exists right now? (This was the Greek debate ~2300 years ago, and how Aristotle came to his actuality/potentiality distinction, that is, to account for the existence of change.)

            For example, there is a rubber ball in front of me. If there is no potential in all reality, then this rubber ball has no potential to be melted--it has no potential to exist in a different way than how it does right now.

            But we obviously know this is not the case with everything around us. It has the potential to exist in a different way.

            One way to understand parts, a part is something that can be conceived without the whole. In this sense, there are no parts to nature, because nothing can be actually be conceived of outside the explanatory fabric without violating the PSR (it could conceivably exist without there being an adequate explanation for why it is the way it is and not another way).

            It makes sense that one might propose that all of reality is actually composed of a single substance underlying everything, but then one needs to account for the obvious fact that things exist in different ways and are composed in different ways. If everything is composed of the same thing, there must be an adequate explanation for why oxygen-arranged stuff acts differently from hydrogen-arranged stuff, which acts differently from water-arranged stuff?

            (3)

            I'm not sure what you mean by 'metaphysical parts'

            This would simply be what "falls out" of the actuality and potentiality distinction. Since that distinction is needed to account for change, how changes happens is explained by the metaphysical truth that all material things exist as a "form/matter" union.

            The next question is the existence of something. We can know what something is, but that doesn't explain why it actually exists. Unicorns potentiality exist right now. If they actually came to exist, we would need to explain what actualized their potential to exist. (This is the "essence/existence" metaphysical distention.)

            So these two distinction point towards metaphysical dissection in the very make-up of material entities.

            (4)

            Hawking says that because of a force like gravity the universe can create itself out of nothing. Let's imagine Hawking means to imply that the force like gravity explains both itself and the universe. Let's also imagine this is true. Is this force like gravity material or is it something else?

            Well, I don't know exactly what Hawking was proposing, because his statement is incoherent. He proposed that the universe came from nothing, but then he said that nothing was actually "gravity". Well, obviously, gravity is not nothing. Nothing is complete non-being. That is why it is always true that from non-being, only non-being comes. If there ever was truly nothing, there would be nothing right now. (We know that to not be the case because of our existence right now.)

            Now, if he wants to say that the universe came from gravity, then we would have to ask him what he means by "gravity". Is he referencing the law of gravity, or gravity itself? If it is the latter, then does he propose that gravity exists apart from all reality that it brought into existence? If the former, is this law immaterial or material in nature...is it God...?

            If your question is meant to reference my own opinion of gravity...if the best physicists admit that what gravity actually is is one of the biggest science mysteries right now...then I'm even more clueless! My "armchair quarterback" view of gravity right now would be that it is not a thing, but rather a property of physical reality. Physical things have mass and/or energy. If mass/energy exists, then gravity exists. So if no mass/energy exists, then gravity doesn't exist.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            If all of reality (I believe what you called "nature") is to be understood as completely actual and having no potentiality, how do you explain the fact that things appear to change? To have the ability to change seems to necessitate the potentiality to exist in a different way from how it exists right now?

            Hopefully this will be clear by the way I would understand potentiality and actuality. I don't accept Aristotle's description of change using these terms due to my necessitarianism (which itself logically follows from the strong PSR). Something having a potential means it could be different than it is. A rubber ball could melt, it has that potential, so long as fire is applied. But this can only be true at a certain limited scope. The rubber ball can melt, when considering a rubber ball and flame by themselves. This is an artificial conception, really an abstraction, from nature. Why is the rubber ball in the flame? Why does rubber melt? Why is it melting at the rate it is and not another rate? Why is it the distance from the fire that it is? If all of these questions have satisfying answers, that satisfy why the ball is melting exactly the way it is and not another way, then the ball can't but melt. From the perspective of all of nature, the ball can't do anything but what it does, and so has no potential.

            I also accept an eternalist 4-dimensional view of space-time. From God's perspective, all of the universe exists eternally as one Space-Time block with no beginning and no end, but instead with boundaries. This 4-dimensional block is shaped in exactly the way it is and not another way because of God's intellect and will. It could not have been otherwise. Its essence is identical to its existence.

            Regarding your answers about that force like gravity, it is rather mysterious. I don't know how ultimate explanations will work out. I have unshakable faith that these questions do have satisfying answers. The explanations will fix the facts. Since I don't know how the mind-body problem will be resolved, I'm not sure if the ultimate explanations are properties of physical objects (and therefore matter CAN in my opinion explain itself), whether explanations are mental and not physical, and therefore some sort of idealism is the case, or (what I suspect though without evidence) that there's a substance that is neither matter nor mind, but can be understood in terms of physical things or in terms of ideas (Spinoza's dual-aspect monism). I hope this helps!

          • Phil

            1) In regards to change and the melting of the ball--

            My first question before I would consider your view on the reality of time would be what of the potential before the ball melts? The heat need not come close to the ball. The ball need not ever actually be melted. But whether or not the ball is actually ever melted, it must have the potentiality in its very nature to be melted.

            But I believe your answer to this problem would be that if time is a single eternal 4-D block there is no true "before the ball was melted". Would this be a correct guess at your answer?

            When you say that "the ball could not have melted"--What if nothing with the power to melt the ball was ever brought into causal relationship with the ball? If one does propose some type of unique "hard determinism", then you arguing for the truth of this view could not have been any other way. Whether it is actually true or not is a different question and you are left in complete skepticism in regards to every belief of yours.

            2) Now, in regards to this 4D eternalist view of time, how do you deal with the issue that if there was a point when the ball was not melted and then a point when the ball was melted, how does one not conclude that the ball is not both melted and not-melted at the same time, in the same place, in the same respect because of an eternalist view of time (obviously this being a violation of the principle of non-contradiction)?

            From God's perspective, all of the universe exists eternally as one Space-Time block with no beginning and no end, but instead with boundaries.

            I'd absolutely agree that from God's eternal perspective there is no before and after. But that doesn't then necessitate that "before and after" don't actually exist. If things actually change, then it seems there must be a "before the change" and an "after the change".

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            There are quite a few issues you raise, some which really would take much more space than this format provides, and some I haven't adequately worked out yet. But I'll pick up two issues I think are worked out and that can be addressed concisely.

            If one does propose some type of unique "hard determinism", then you arguing for the truth of this view could not have been any other way. Whether it is actually true or not is a different question and you are left in complete skepticism in regards to every belief of yours.

            The strong PSR requires not only determinism but necessitarianism. The future isn't simply determined by the past. Both future and past are determined such that neither can be different than they are. I don't think this introduces any problems with skepticism that aren't already there. If we know that our beliefs tend to track reality, then we have good reason not to be skeptical. If we don't know that our beliefs tend to track reality, then we do have good reason to be skeptical. I don't see how determinism makes any difference either way.

            Especially with beliefs, because I don't think we can determine our own beliefs, even if we had libertarian free will. At least, I can't. I have no say about what I'm going to believe. If there's sufficient evidence for it, I believe it, even if I don't want to, even if I live as though it's not true, I still have to believe it. And when I don't have sufficient evidence, I don't believe it's true. There are exceptions, like when my dad was diagnosed with cancer, and I didn't believe it, but those exceptions are likewise outside my control. I can choose what religion to call myself, but I can't choose what religious claims I actually believe. Maybe you are different, maybe you can. Could you right now choose to think that Mohammed is really God's prophet and that Jesus was never God or God's literal son? I couldn't. But even if you can, the PSR would have it that your choices themselves have an explanation as to why they are the choices they are and not some other choices. If the choices could be different, then they really don't have a sufficient reason and are to a certain degree brute. They are what they are and there's no complete explanation as to why.

            I think that ideas represent reality. Electrons and ideas of electrons are united, they are part of the same thing (neither physical or mental), which can be understood as physical electrons or as ideas of physical electrons. My idea of the idea of electrons, my own understanding, has to be connected to the idea of electrons. As Spinoza would say, the order and connection of ideas is the same as the order and connection of things. Errors in my understanding come only from incompleteness. My ignorance can lead me to put things together in the wrong way, or to leave gaps in my understanding. And although I have no ultimate say in what I believe, my beliefs couldn't be any other than they are, my beliefs are determined at the end of the day by their truth content. If I'm exposed to a different idea that is more likely to be true, has more evidence, I'll almost always accept that new idea and give up on the old one. Whether I want to or not.

            Now, in regards to this 4D eternalist view of time, how do you deal with the issue that if there was a point when the ball was not melted and then a point when the ball was melted, how does one not conclude that the ball is not both melted and not-melted at the same time, in the same place, in the same respect because of an eternalist view of time (obviously this being a violation of the principle of non-contradiction)?

            I'd say that within region 1 of space-time there is an unmelted ball and within region 2 there is a melted ball. Imagine a single ball half of which is melted and half which is not. It's both melted (w.r.t. region 1) and unmelted (w.r.t. region 2) at the same time. It would be like this, except in 4 dimensions.

          • Phil

            Thanks for taking the time to write this all out; it is greatly appreciated as it helps me to truly understand your position instead of me just assuming I know what you think.

            1)

            If we know that our beliefs tend to track reality, then we have good reason not to be skeptical. If we don't know that our beliefs tend to track reality, then we do have good reason to be skeptical. I don't see how determinism makes any difference either way.

            The reason why determinism in any form in regards to true/false beliefs is a big problem is that even those two beliefs in my quote above can't be shown to be true/false. How do you show whether your beliefs track or don't track how reality actually exists?

            This was the exact reason I wrote my essay last year for this site. Short of an immaterial intellect and true free will, one will be left in a state of necessary complete skepticism (and complete skepticism is an incoherent belief, so therefore we can reject the premise that led to complete skepticism, whether it be determinism, materialism, etc...)

            2) This below gets towards some of my questions on a Spinozian metaphysics--

            I think that ideas represent reality. Electrons and ideas of electrons are united, they are part of the same thing (neither physical or mental), which can be understood as physical electrons or as ideas of physical electrons.

            What is the reason for supposing that there is a single substance that actually underlies the material and immaterial? What problems and evidence does such a position explain that can't be explain with a more standard hylomorphism? And what evidence is there that this underlying single substance actually exists?

            3)

            I'd say that within region 1 of space-time there is an unmelted ball and within region 2 there is a melted ball. Imagine a single ball half of which is melted and half which is not. It's both melted (w.r.t. region 1) and unmelted (w.r.t. region 2) at the same time. It would be like this, except in 4 dimensions.

            What exactly are these "regions" that you speak of? For example, I'm assuming you'd say that "before" the ball was melted is "region X" and "after" the ball is melted is "region Y". Is this correct?

            (I'm not worried about what is going on during the actual change right now.)

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            How do you show whether your beliefs track or don't track how reality actually exists?

            Let's assume free will and an immaterial soul. How do we know that our beliefs track reality? How would that answer change if free will is negated?

            If the truth of a statement forces belief on the person who discovers it, and if we know that this is the case, there's no free will and we have good reason to trust that what we believe is true.

            What is the reason for supposing that there is a single substance that actually underlies the material and immaterial?

            It's the clearest way I can see to hold to the metaphysical implications of the PSR. Somehow you have to have explanations connect to the things that they explain. If they are one in the same substance, that's one way to do it. Not the only way. But regardless of how you do it, if the PSR holds, then explanation for the truth of a thing will be part of the explanation for why I believe in the truth of the thing, and we get that ideas track reality.

            What exactly are these "regions" that you speak of? For example, I'm assuming you'd say that "before" the ball was melted is "region X" and "after" the ball is melted is "region Y". Is this correct?

            Pretty much. The analogy to the 3D ball that's half melted should help. The part of the 4D ball that's melted is what we would call the ball after it's melted, and the part of the 4D ball that's not melted is what we would call the ball before it's melted. Another way to say it is that some temporal parts of the ball are melted and some are not.

          • Phil

            1)

            Let's assume free will and an immaterial soul. How do we know that our beliefs track reality? How would that answer change if free will is negated?

            (See answer 3 below for the direct explanation to this.) The short answer is that the intellect is that which seeks the true and the will is that which seeks the good. The intellect's beliefs "track reality" when the intellect is in line with how reality actually exists. But this means that in some way the intellect must "transcend" the reality it is coming to know. If the intellect is on the "same level" as that which one is getting to know, that means it too is at the whim of causes and effects at that level.

            In short, the human intellect must transcend material causality and reality at some point. If it doesn't, one is left in a state of complete skepticism. And knowing that complete skepticism is incoherent, we could then reject the claim that the human intellect is purely material in its nature.

            2)

            If the truth of a statement forces belief on the person who discovers it, and if we know that this is the case, there's no free will and we have good reason to trust that what we believe is true.

            What strikes down this belief is evidence from reality. What we find is this is not the case in reality. One person can hold that something as true while another person holds it to be false, at the very same time.

            One may then claim, well that means that one person just doesn't have enough knowledge to know the actual truth. But even that statement/belief that one person has or doesn't have enough information to have a true/false belief is thrown into complete skepticism. Everything single belief and statement one could ever make is thrown into complete skepticism. (And we know the issues with complete skepticism already from above.)

            3)

            It's the clearest way I can see to hold to the metaphysical implications of the PSR. Somehow you have to have explanations connect to the things that they explain. If they are one in the same substance, that's one way to do it. Not the only way. But regardless of how you do it, if the PSR holds, then explanation for the truth of a thing will be part of the explanation for why I believe in the truth of the thing, and we get that ideas track reality.

            Sure -- A-T hylomorphism does this simply, comprehensively, and without proposing that things exist beyond what is needed to explain the evidence.

            All material things exist as a unified whole composed of materiality and immateriality (i.e., "form" and "matter"). Note that this isn't a dualistic view, there is a single substance composed of form and matter.

            When a human mind encounters external reality we are in actual contact with the actual physical entities through our senses (external reality includes the light, sound, and such that our sense use). We are in contact with the entire entity, form and matter. When we come to know something, we come to know its form shown forth through its material existence. We abstract (i.e., "take from") external reality and the intellect is formed in the truth of reality through that process. We come to know the form of external reality and form all our conceptual thought through that (this can actually be confirmed by those that have been blind from brith and how their conceptual thought is limited based upon that.)

            This means that coming to know the truth of reality and the good of reality is a dynamic process. The intellect and will is free from the constraints of a purely material process and can search for truth. (Again, don't consider the human person in a dualistic sense. We are a single composite substance composed of immaterial form and matter.)

            3)

            Pretty much. The analogy to the 3D ball that's half melted should help. The part of the 4D ball that's melted is what we would call the ball after it's melted, and the part of the 4D ball that's not melted is what we would call the ball before it's melted. Another way to say it is that some temporal parts of the ball are melted and some are not.

            So what ball actually exists? Does the ball that is melted or the ball that is not melted exist? Or do they all equally exist? If they all equally exist, then how do you avoid breaking the principle of non-contradiction and falling into an incoherent view?

            --------

            On a side note in regards to the single substance underlying materiality and immateriality. This I find interesting, because what it means to say "immaterial" is simply to say everything that is not material. So, it seems in matter of fact every that exist can either be material or not-material (i.e., immaterial). That is what is called a "complete disjunction"; this splits reality into only two categories.

            (Of course something could have both material and immaterial compositions, but not a 3rd category besides these two.)

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            It seems that at this point you are no longer interested in clarifications, because you've come to an understanding of my philosophy. You just disagree with it. That's fine, and it would be great to discuss in further detail some of the points of disagreements. I've certainly not worked out all the problems in my philosophy. There are a lot of open questions for me. I'm just glad that it seems like we've come to an understanding of each other's views, and I don't think we can hope for much more right here and right now.

            Now, if you'd like to debate a particular part of our philosophy, why Thomism or Spinozism might seem to better account for a given problem, I'm happy to do this, but probably in e-mail.

            I think I'm done with this particular thread for right now. Please take the last word. If you do have any specific questions about what I think or why I think the way I do, I'll do my best to briefly answer them, but otherwise, I'm very happy about our exchange here, and hope its conclusion satisfies you for the present.

            You did have a couple lingering questions about my position that I'd like to clarify, which I will briefly below.

            What strikes down this belief is evidence from reality. What we find is this is not the case in reality. One person can hold that something as true while another person holds it to be false, at the very same time.

            But not with the same background beliefs and evidence. If this were possible, then I would grant you that there would be a problem with skepticism, but also the PSR would be violated, because there would be no explanation of why one person's beliefs were different from another person's beliefs. Given that the two explanations for their beliefs, their justifications, would be identical, the beliefs must also be identical.

            The reason why I at least, from my position, cannot fall into radical skepticism is because of the PSR itself. The PSR will not be consistent with radical skepticism, given the above reasons. Now, you might ask why I would accept the PSR, what my reasons are for accepting it, and I can't adequately answer that question, but not being able to answer that question doesn't lead to skepticism. I hope this answers the lingering questions you might have about my epistemology, so that you can understand it, and understand why I don't see skepticism as a threat, even if you disagree.

            So what ball actually exists?

            This four-dimensional space-time worm exists, each slice of which looks like a 3-D ball. Some slices look like a melted ball and some like an un-melted ball.

          • Phil

            Thanks for the discussion--yeah, I'm starting to get the position you're presenting. Though I'm not gonna say I'm proficient in it. (I've have studied the eternalist view of time before and rejected that pretty thoroughly, but the Spinozean metaphysics is something I'd still have to study more!)

            I'll just throw out a few things:

            1)

            This four-dimensional space-time worm exists, each slice of which looks like a 3-D ball. Some slices look like a melted ball and some like an un-melted ball.

            I still do have questions about this issue of time, if you have the time (you don't have to address the comment below and that thread anymore).

            Does the ball have a space-time worm that equals itself? Or does a single space-time worm encompass all of reality? If it is the latter, is the entire space-time worm equally real?

            2)

            But not with the same background beliefs and evidence. If this were possible, then I would grant you that there would be a problem with skepticism, but also the PSR would be violated, because there would be no explanation of why one person's beliefs were different from another person's beliefs. Given that the two explanations for their beliefs, their justifications, would be identical, the beliefs must also be identical.

            I think we'd both agree that a person's experiences and past beliefs influence their current beliefs, but that would just push the question back to those beliefs about those previous experiences. Eventually you'd push yourself back to the person's birth and then nothing about a person's beliefs could be explained. You are left in complete skepticism.

            And as you state, the PSR is incompatible with complete skepticism. So if we rationally conclude that complete skepticism is true, then we would conclude that the PSR is false. (Where I would argue the opposite case is the actual state of reality.)

            I do believe also in the PSR, but in a A-T metaphysics, that doesn't lead to any sort of determinism, which I would argue would account better for the evidence of reality.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Does the ball have a space-time worm that equals itself? Or does a single space-time worm encompass all of reality? If it is the latter, is the entire space-time worm equally real?

            There's one space-time worm, so I don't get what you are asking about the entire space-time worm being equally real. Equally real to what?

          • Phil

            I guess I could have also said "equally exists". That's what I mean when I say "equally real".

            The reason I'm asking is because if one holds that there is a single space-time worm that is equally real and existent, then one would be saying that the ball is both melted and non-melted at the same time because the ball is melted at one point of the space-time worm and melted at another "point" of the space-time worm. But the space-time worm is one wholly existent "thing". One wouldn't normally say that one point of the space-time worm is less existent or real than another point. (At least that is what I believe the standard eternalist proposes.) Does that make some sense?

            Maybe it will become more clear if I compare it to another view. My view is the more classical view that time is simply change. Time is not a thing. So the only "time" that is actually real and existent is the way that things exist in the present. The future does not exist because things haven't yet changed into the way they will be in the future, and the past doesn't exist because things have changed from the way they were.

            I think this view is the simplest, explains the most data, and as a bonus is perfectly compatible and harmonious with an Einsteinian universe!

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Oh, I see what you are asking now. No, I don't think there's anything objectively special about the present vs the future or the past. There's no marker that God can see running through time saying 'the present'.

            The idea that there is no future or past but only the present is inconsistent with special and general relativity. This is actually the main reason William Lane Craig denies that special and general relativity are correct (but instead that some theory like them is).

          • Phil

            The idea that there is no future or past but only the present is inconsistent with special and general relativity. This is actually the main reason William Lane Craig denies that special and general relativity are correct (but instead that some theory like them is).

            This isn't true at all from what I studied! I jumped up and down when I learned about the classical understanding of time because it wasn't compatible with a Newtonian understanding of the cosmos, but it is perfectly harmonious with an Einsteinium cosmos, General and Special Relativity! (So yeah, WLC is definitely a bit wrong here, possibly he doesn't understand something fully here.)

            I actually did my undergrad thesis on the metaphysics of time, so it holds a special place in my heart. And my thesis was under the very writer of this essay above--Dr. Chad England. What is so sweet is that Aristotle actually anticipated the general/special theory of relativity some 2300 years ago!

            The general and special theories merely say that when someone experiences that something has changed it is relative to the observer. It doesn't say that the past or future suddenly become more or less real. When something has changed, it has changed. When exactly an observer experiences or observes this change can vary.

            For example, when a ball melts, it experiences a change right then and there. When an observers comes to be aware of this change is a whole different question. (If time was truly perfectly relative and not merely relative to the observer, that would mean that the ball was both melted and not-melted at the same time, in the same place, in the same respect -- the principle of non-contradiction would be undermined.)

            The general principle of relativity simply says that things change faster or slower depending upon to proximity to mass/energy. (Just replace faster/slower with "time dilation".)

            So again, time is simply change. There isn't any "river of time". Time is not some entity of some short distinct from material objects.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            It's definitely true. Large regions of the past and future have to exist with the present for either special or general relativity to work. Otherwise, there's no way to even do a Lorentz transform between different reference frames. It's strictly not possible.

            Now, there are theories that are for present observations and tests equivalent to special relativity and general relativity that have a special reference frame (which MAYBE someone could say is the only reference frame).

          • Phil

            Large regions of the past and future have to exist with the present for either special or general relativity to work. Otherwise, there's no way to even do a Lorentz transform between different reference frames. It's strictly not possible.

            Can you expand upon this claim and defend it further? Because if this is referencing the math and physics, that is very different from the reality being studied. Mathematics is merely an abstraction seeking to model reality. So reality is not reducible to the mathematics trying to model it.

            In all my studying of the philosophy of physics and metaphysics of time I have come across no such absolute need to take on an eternalist view of reality. (I'm more than willing to become aware of some need!) Sadly, it has normally been scientists doing bad philosophy when talking about science leading to beliefs about an eternalist view of time...

          • Phil

            I guess, in short, what could be said is if an eternalist view of reality is ultimately incoherent, then it wouldn't be rational to say that a certain scientific theory should be interpreted as supporting an incoherent view.

            (I am very curious as to a defense of eternalism based upon the Lorentz transformation.)

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Eternalism isn't required by special or general relativity. Relativity is consistent with some sort of metaphysical priority placed on the present. Maybe that 'present' designates all the regions that are or can be present to some observer (which includes very large regions of what would in my reference frame be the past and the future). Or maybe there's a metaphysically preferred reference frame. Jesus's reference frame, when he was on Earth, maybe. Or the reference frame in which the cosmic microwave background appears the most homogenous.

            Eternalism may ultimately be incoherent, but if so, I don't see how. But if a scientific theory supported something incoherent, wouldn't that be a good reason to reject the scientific theory, in favor of some alternative? If a version of presentism where past and future don't exist at all is the only coherent view, that seems to be a good reason for throwing relativity out.

            What about Lorentz Transforms and the present and the past?

            If nothing in my past or future exists, say I observe an event A, and then an event B. When A is happening, A exists, and when B is happening, B exists. A does not exist when B exists. Where A happens and where B happens are separated by some reasonable distance. Go to a reference frame with some large velocity, near the speed of light. Someone in that reference frame will see A and B happen at the same time. So B both exists and does not exist when A exists. This is a contradiction. So something in my past or future must exist with my present.

    • Peter

      There should be an explanation for why God is the way God is, and not another way. If there isn't such an explanation, why does there need to be an explanation for why the universe is the way it is and not another way?

      Because God is eternal and the universe is not.

      • Paul Brandon Rimmer

        If there are some things without explanations for why they are the way that they are, why can't non-eternal things be without explanation? If we give up the PSR, why not just have things popping into existence for no reason at all?

        Why does being eternal matter at all for whether something needs an explanation?

        • Peter

          Why does being eternal matter at all for whether something needs an explanation?

          For some existing thing that has never begun, it is pointless to ask how or why it began, because it never did so. It's like asking why did you go to Mars, or how did you get there, when you didn't go to Mars at all.

          For centuries the universe deemed eternal was just there and that's all, to paraphrase Bertrand Russell. The eternal God is just there and that's all, while the universe no longer deemed eternal needs an explanation of how and why it began.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            For some existing thing that has never begun, it is pointless to ask how or why it began, because it never did so.

            Sure, but we can ask other questions about why that thing is the way it is, or why it exists at all. Those questions make sense. Maybe there are no answers to them, but the questions themselves are sensible questions to ask. If there were a blue glowing ball that existed eternally, it would make sense to ask why that ball is there at all, why it's blue, why it glows. If God is eternal and triune, it makes sense to ask why God exists at all, or why God is three people and not seven or zero.

            If we give up on the idea that some of these questions even have answers, then:

            the universe no longer deemed eternal needs an explanation of how and why it began.

            Why does the universe need an explanation for its beginning? Why can't it have just started and that's it?

          • Phil

            If there were a blue glowing ball that existed eternally, it would make sense to ask why that ball is there at all, why it's blue, why it glows. If God is eternal and triune, it makes sense to ask why God exists at all, or why God is three people and not seven or zero.

            Why does the universe need an explanation for its beginning? Why can't it have just started and that's it?

            If one understands what one means by God in the Judeo-Christian tradition (and by "the philosophers"), then you've heard that God is understood as the very foundation of all reality; that which is most real; the very act of to-be; a sheer acting of being, of existence.

            In short, God is the reality that perfectly explains itself from within. So to ask any questions further about God is to look for something beyond and outside of God. But that would not be talking about God as properly understood, because the answer to God is contained within Himself! To look outside God for a reason for why he exists as He does is to stop talking about God!

            Now, sure, one could ask as you did--why can't the universe be this "god" we are talking about and reason leads us to conclude must necessarily exist? That is something that would need to be discussed reason...could the universe(s) be a sheer act of being...existence itself...etc...

            [As an aside--if one desires answers to those questions about God, simply speak with Him in prayer! Christianity teaches us the crazy belief that God actually wants to be united with us. Because Jesus was truly God and truly man, it shows that this is actually possible. He wants us to share in his very Divine being...yeah...crazy! We are the ones that turn away from him, but he is always pursing us...he is madly in love with us, as he is Love itself!]

          • Claire Maddy

            First, if god is totally, unquestionable basic, to plain to need any details, then it follows he is simple, not unnecessarily complex.. Extra complexity is an extra burden.

            But, he is plainly not basic to most xtian types. He's god the super ghose at least, who did stuff ages ago (and might regret it??) and then the body guy, who tells fables, morals, endorses slavery, misogyny, hates his own family, fucks up people crops because he happened by at in the off season, claims to be immortal, then, dies? Or he never dies? He can't be immortal and never die. It's a contradiction.

            And 3, 4 5, 7 , or umteen women came to the tomb. Which had a boy, nothing, or an angel, it's all the same, really..

          • Phil

            Hey Claire--

            Many people get confused on what philosophers mean when they say "Divine simplicity". It isn't exactly like what you are thinking.

            Divine Simplicity means that God is perfect actuality and could not exist any other way that how God does (to be able to exist in another way is a potentiality; there is not potentiality in God). To say that he is perfect actuality means that we should expect him to be very active, he couldn't be any other way!

            A couple articles if you are interested in clarification:
            -http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/09/classical-theism.html
            -http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06612a.htm

          • Claire Maddy

            Phil said, "As an aside--if one desires answers to those questions about God, simply speak with Him in prayer!"

            Really? Doesn't that seem super moronic?

            If one wants answers about gun control, just ask the NRA, that'll sort it out. Because thats an unbiased account..

            But, how about the National Pistol Association.. Gotta side with them, too, why I have no clue, but, they proll are full of shit..

            So, speak with your imaginary friend? Does that ever work more than raw chance?

          • Phil

            Hey again Claire--

            I would never force anyone speak to the God who created us all (i.e., pray), but I would merely invite everyone.

            There comes a point in our life where we realize that we have desires that can't be met by the things in this world; for example: desires for perfect love, happiness, goodness, beauty, justice, and truth. So we either live with the conscious or unconscious desire that we want more, or we make a decision to "search for more".

            This "search for more" includes considering that the ground of all reality may be the perfect love, happiness, goodness, beauty, justice, and truth that we are seeking. The only way to come into contact is to quiet our hearts and speak to this God we are considering. Only arrogance and pride keeps us from at least attempting to seriously pray.

            (And yes, keeping a regular prayer life can be hard. We want to live life apart from God because of original sin. But wow...when we come into HIs presence and he pours his love upon us...we know nothing more real exists!)

          • Peter

            The question regarding the blue glowing ball does not make sense. How can an object be eternal as part of a universe which is not?

            God is eternal; he is as he is. He has always existed, without beginning. There can be no prior probability of him being any different from what he eternally is.

            The same cannot be said for the universe which is not eternal. Having a beginning, there is a prior probability that the universe could have been different, including the probability that it did not exist. This raises the question of why it is as it is and not something else, or of why it exists instead of not existing

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Why should those questions need answers? I don't get it.

          • Lazarus

            It's called theology ;)

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Exactly, Lazarus! My theology is that all these questions need answers. But if there's an exception for one, I don't see why there can't be an exception for the rest. I don't understand why 'having a beginning' makes any difference at all about whether a thing needs an explanation.

          • Peter

            There is no need to ask me why the questions of why the universe is as it is and why it exists need an answer. Instead ask the thousands of scientists around the world who are busy experimentally and theoretically trying to find out what caused the big bang.

            These questions are so compelling to them that they are prepared devote a large part of their lives to finding the answer. In the past, right up to last century, scientists never bothered to ask them because the universe was considered eternal and beyond explanation. Now they do.

            The response to your query of why those questions need an answer is because we are human.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Many scientists dont think there is necessarily any real answer as to why the big bang. Many think that there may well be no answer to be found. Why should they?

          • Peter

            Who are these scientists and how can they call themselves scientists if they abandon science in their pursuit for the truth?

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            For the sake of amusement, I'll point to just one, Sean Carroll, from a quote from the very next article:

            It’s not true that every effect has a cause,” Carroll replies. “That’s just a convenient way of talking about certain features of the macroscopic world of our everyday experience, one that is not applicable to how nature works at a deeper level. . . . There’s certainly no reason to think that there was something that ‘caused’ it; the universe can just be.

            As to how Sean can live with himself, it's easy to find his e-mail, so I'll leave it to you to ask him.

          • Peter

            As I said, how can he call himself a scientist? I think he believes himself to be more of a philosopher.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            You can always write him and ask.

          • Darren

            Peter wrote,

            In the past, right up to last century, scientists never bothered to ask them because the universe was considered eternal and beyond explanation. Now they do.

            Actually, up until 200 years ago, Western scientists assumed the universe was created by God 6,000 years ago and had been unchanged since the flood - and that was the explanation.

          • Claire Maddy

            God is eternal; he is as he is. He has always existed, without
            beginning. There can be no prior probability of him being any different
            from what he eternally is.
            ****Bold claim. Can you support it with any shred of evidence?

            The same cannot be said for the
            universe which is not eternal.

            ***Again, can you provide any shred of evidence to support this position?

            Having a beginning, there is a prior
            probability that the universe could have been different, including the
            probability that it did not exist.

            ****Really, you are an expert on probabilities of the absolutely impossible? How do you know, especially as it's a hypothetical. Can it be proved/shown?

            This raises the question of why it is
            as it is and not something else, or of why it exists instead of not
            existing

          • Claire Maddy

            You may be right in Einsteinien worlds, but, in Quantum, or Bohrsian worlds, the evidence says that you are wrong on all counts.. To paraphrase an expert of quantum mechaniccs, yes, it doesn't make sense. If you think you get it, you don't.. Doesn't mean it isn't stupidly perfectly able to predict the future..

      • Claire Maddy

        Nice try but...

        A) What evidence do you have that
        A1) God exists
        A2) That it is eternal

        So, with that alternative being shaky, how does one know that the universe isn't eternal?

        If time began, when the universe began, then the universe is also time eternal, so...

        Even if time stretched before the big bang, what we call the universe is only the remains of that Big Bang. There was a set of circumstances that created the Big Bang. We are not able, at this point, to discern their nature, but, it could well be that the eternal thing we seek is existence itself..

        Can this hypothesis be proven? Not yet, to be sure. But neither can god so far. But, the eternal universe has mathematical models that support this possibility, while god, zero models,.

        So, while obviously, nothing is proven beyond a doubt, using reason leads clearly in one direction
        ..

      • Will

        Because God is eternal and the universe is not.

        Why do you think the universe isn't eternal, the Big Bang does not imply the universe didn't exist before it, it implies it was a singularity. The universe began to change at the Big Bang, time began, but not the universe. Here is an interesting discussion about theories on the universe before the bang, but they all agree it existed. Claiming the universe didn't exist before the Big Bang is unscientific, though considering the difficult in modeling such a time (since GR breaks down and we need a theory of quantum Gravity to do so) no one can claim you are certainly wrong. I'd just you stop saying that science claims the universe began at the big bang because it's flat out wrong, science claims no such thing. The fact that apologists continue to repeat this is an indication of their lack of scientific knowledge, or intellectual dishonesty (maybe both?).

  • I see no sense in which ‘rather than nothing’ modifies the question, ‘Why does something exist?’ Also the generic, ‘something’ is never the object of anyone’s existential knowledge, whereas ‘this cat’ is. Also, the cosmos, as such, is not within the scope of human experience. In human knowledge, the cosmos is not an entity, but a logical set. Consequently, “Why does something (or the cosmos) exist?” is not an existential question.

    • "In human knowledge, the cosmos is not an entity, but a logical set."

      A logical set *is* an entity. But if that's holding you up, we could easily rephrase the question: Why do contingent things exist within our universe rather than no contingent things? Or why does space-time exist, or why the laws of physics, all of which are contingent?

      • David Nickol

        I am not sure exactly what meaning you intend for contingent, but I suspect including it in the question rigs things in your favor.

      • In Aristotelean philosophy, matter is an existential principle. It enables the very existence of each material entity. Material things possess existence in their individuality. As humans, we experience the existence of individual material beings, not logical sets. Sets of entities such as the set of domestic cats is a logical construct, not an entity. Similarly, space-time and the laws of physics are logical concepts. Within the terminology of space-time, e.g., time is a quantitative human concept. It is the logical comparison of one local motion with another, where one of the motions, preferably a cyclical motion, is chosen as a standard of measurement. In philosophy, time is not quantitative, but qualitative, namely, the condition of mutability. Notice that ‘now’, which refers to the condition of mutability, is not quantitative.
        It is not possible to draw existential conclusions from premises, the terms of which are of logical definition. The sets, ‘contingent things’ and ‘our universe’ are logically defined. Sets are logical, not existential. In contrast, ‘this cat’ exists as an entity, is within an individual human’s (i.e. the individual philosopher’s) experience and is not a logical construct. Its nature fully explains ‘this cat’ except for its existence. ‘This cat’ must be contingent for its existence on another entity. Notice that this meaning of contingent arises within the inquiry. Contingent, in this sense, is not definable at the initiation of the inquiry.

      • Claire Maddy

        Can you please establish that these are contingent?

  • Will

    Perhaps there simply can't be "nothing", because, by definition, "nothing" doesn't exist, so it can't be...

    FWIW I like Sean Carroll's take on this. Currently reading his book "The Big Picture" so it's biasing me to post links to his blog :)

    • Mike

      one day maybe there won't be anything no universe no laws of physics nothing but then how did all of this something come out of nothing if it really was pure nothing. maybe something is at bottom somehow necessary for anything to exist at all.

    • Finished Carroll's book last week and am almost finished with a multi-part review here. Stay tuned!

    • "Perhaps there simply can't be "nothing", because, by definition, "nothing" doesn't exist, so it can't be..."

      You're making the same mistake Krauss, Dawkins, Hawking, Carroll and other philosophically-confused scientists make by presuming "nothing" is a thing that can either exist or not exist. But as has been noted ad nasueum by their critics, "nothing" is not a thing--it's a term of universal negation. Therefore it makes no sense to suggest "nothing doesn't exist"; it's a completely meaningless phrase, as meaningless as me saying "sadness does not donkey."

      Also, if you believe "there simply can't be nothing" then you're implying everything that exists does so necessarily. This is an extremely audacious claim (I don't know a single philosopher who holds this view) and you'd have to provide serious evidence to support it.

      • Will

        Therefore it makes no sense to suggest "nothing doesn't exist"; it's a completely meaningless phrase, as meaningless as me saying "sadness does not donkey."

        That's the point. How can you ask "Why is there something rather than nothing" when "there is nothing" is nonsense. I suppose it could be rephrased as "Why is there something?" as Bob suggests below. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy answers the question simply "Well, why not?" I agree with the author there is no a priori support for "there is nothing" being the default state of things. Obviously the author is a philosopher.

        Also, if you believe "there simply can't be nothing" then you're implying everything that exists does so necessarily. This is an extremely audacious claim (I don't know a single philosopher who holds this view) and you'd have to provide serious evidence to support it.

        Just because there can't be nothing, doesn't mean that everything that exists does so necessarily. There is plenty of room to say that things could have been different from how that actually are, but I don't think anyone knows why, except God if he exists. Perhaps God had to do some things a certain way. In fact, the argument from Fine Tuning implies that very thing, that God couldn't make the universe certain ways because life could not exist. Of course, couldn't God make life exist with any laws or no laws of physics if he's omnipotent? Divine revelation with regard to these questions would be fascinating :)

        • "That's the point. How can you ask "Why is there something rather than nothing" when "there is nothing" is nonsense."

          Saying "there is nothing" is much different than your original assertion, which was "nothing doesn't exist". The former is akin to saying "there is not anything", which is sensible and meaningful. The latter, as I pointed out, is meaningless.

          Therefore, the question "why is there something rather than nothing?" is completely legitimate. There are only two metaphysical possibilities: either *something* exists or no things exist. We all (hopefully) agree that something exists, so the Principle of Sufficient Reason (and our natural curiosity) demands an explanation: why something rather than nothing?

          "The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy answers the question simply "Well, why not?""

          Of course, this is a silly avoidance of the question. Any scientist or philosopher who responded this way in regards to any other serious question would be dismissed. For example, supposed Darwin asked someone, "Why do we experience such a diversity of biological life?" and someone responded, "Well, why not?" That's not a serious answer.

          Real seekers who are hungry for truth are not satisfied with flippant rhetorical questions. We want to know!

          "There is plenty of room to say that things could have been different from how that actually are, but I don't think anyone knows why, except God if he exists."

          Of course things can be different than how they are. In fact, this is one of the main premises of the contingency argument for God! But admitting the contingency of certain items in our universe is not to answer (or even touch) the question of why the universe as a whole exists rather than nothing.

          • Doug Shaver

            There are only two metaphysical possibilities: either *something* exists or no things exist. We all (hopefully) agree that something exists, so the Principle of Sufficient Reason (and our natural curiosity) demands an explanation: why something rather than nothing?

            Those two possibilities are entailed by simple logic. Metaphysics has nothing to do with it until we start asking about the existence of certain particular somethings.

            Of course our natural curiosity demands an explanation. If it didn’t, we would not be asking for an explanation. But the fact of our curiosity contains no guarantee that it can always be satisfied at least in principle if not our finite lifetimes. The PSR seems to offer such a guarantee, but I have never seen a logical argument offered in its defense. Until I see such an argument, I must regard it as an axiom that many people find compelling. I don’t find it compelling. It does seem to be generally true, but I see no reason to think it must hold without any exceptions.

          • "The PSR seems to offer such a guarantee, but I have never seen a logical argument offered in its defense...I don’t find it compelling."

            Well, it's not surprising you'd doubt a principle for which you've never seen a logical argument. That's fair.

            But have you actually looked for such support? A simple five-second Google search would reveal several defenses of the PSR. Have you read any of them?

            It sounds more like you haven't taken time to genuinely explore the PSR--you've just made a predetermined judgement not based on a fair examination of the evidence.

            For starters, I'd encourage you to read Alexander Pruss' magnificent book, The Principle of Sufficient Reason: A Reassessment. It offers many lines of support for the PSR, including several logical arguments.

            It's worth adding that almost every academic discipline from science to philosophy to history depends on the PSR. If you're ready to throw the PSR overboard, you need to eschew all those disciplines, too.

          • Doug Shaver

            But have you actually looked for such support?

            Probably, but it would have been many years ago when I first started hearing about it from apologists. Presumably, the defenses I found didn't satisfy me, and in that case I might have eventually forgotten that I'd even seen them.

            A simple five-second Google search would reveal several defenses of the PSR. Have you read any of them?

            I will undertake the search again and return with some comments on whatever I find.

            It's worth adding that almost every academic discipline from science to philosophy to history depends on the PSR. If you're ready to throw the PSR overboard, you need to eschew all those disciplines, too.

            I'll include a response to that when I comments on my search results.

          • Doug Shaver

            For starters, I'd encourage you to read Alexander Pruss' magnificent book, The Principle of Sufficient Reason: A Reassessment. It offers many lines of support for the PSR, including several logical arguments.

            For the time being, I'll have to make do with whatever Google finds for me. The next book I read will be the Sean Carroll book that you're about to review.

            [Edited for followup]
            After a couple of hours of googling, with disappointing results, I came across an online version of Pruss's book that I could download. I'll get on it right away.

          • Will

            Of course, this is a silly avoidance of the question. Any scientist or philosopher who responded this way in regards to any other serious question would be dismissed.

            And yet, here we are, with it being stated right in the very prestigious Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, so you are obviously quite wrong about the author being dismissed.

            Real seekers who are hungry for truth are not satisfied with flippant rhetorical questions. We want to know!

            The article goes into pro's and cons and different approaches, and the obvious fact that we can't know with our current knowledge, we can only have untestable theories that we judge on a priori grounds. Can you answer the question you just ridiculed? Can you tell me "Why not"? Why would there be nothing if the universe were a brute fact? If you cannot answer the question (other than a presumption that "nothing" should be the default state) perhaps you should back off the snark by calling a question "silly". It isn't a silly question at all...Why not?

    • I agree, "nothing" can't "be". The question is better phrased "why is there anything", or "why does anything exist?"

  • David Nickol

    This is a very small point, but I watch Jeopardy occasionally, and Jeopardy "questions" always begin with, "What (or who) is . . . .?" I can't imagine an "answer" Alex Trebek could give that would prompt the question, "Why is there something rather than nothing?"

    • The necessarily self-existent ground of being which most people call God

      :)

      • Morrie Chamberlain

        (Pushes buzzer) "Why is there something rather than nothing?"

  • David Nickol

    If God created the universe from nothing, does that mean there was a time when there was "something rather than nothing"? It seems to me difficult to answer that question, considering that God presumably created time, and hence there was no time before the creation.

    It seems to me that it is impossible to say anything intelligible without the concept of time, or at least sequence. This leads me to wonder if any of our speculations that omit the concept of time, or posit things "happening" outside of time actually make any sense.

    It also seems to me that the concept of nothing can't exist apart from the concept of something. If we can, at least for the sake of discussion imagine that there was a time before which the universe didn't exist, it seems difficult to say that at that time nothing existed. Nothing really makes sense only if there is something.

    On the other hand, why do we assume matter and spirit are the only two "substances" possible? Why can't there be something (or an infinity of somethings) neither spirit nor matter? We can't conceive of what they might be, but when God set about to create something, why did it have to be made up of matter and energy?

    • Phil

      Hey David--

      1) I actually did my undergrad "thesis" on time (I was studying under the very writer of this essay at the time...Dr. Chad Engelland!).

      We have to understand time correctly first. One of the main insights I found is that a proper metaphysics of time goes all the way back to the Greeks and Aristotle, and while it didn't jive real well a Newtonian universe, it is perfectly harmonious with an Einsteinian universe. It truly begins to show us that truth cannot truth!

      Time is not a thing, as Newton proposed. It isn't some "river" that flows. Rather time is simply equal to change. If something changes, time exists. (Now the second level of time is a self-conscious creature who is aware of a "before" and "after" of a change.) But again, time is equal to change; no change, then no time.

      So time is simply a property of beings that change, and hence of all material reality. Both the "God of the philosophers" and of Christianity has come to be understood as immutable, unchanging. Something that is perfectly unchanging and immutable is eternal. If there is no change, then there is no time.

      (The interesting thing is God could "appear to change" from our perspective because we experience time, but for God there is no past, present, and future so it would only be from our perspective that this appears to be the case. Yeah, this gets crazy real fast because we are temporal creatures and can't in principle exist as an eternal, unchanging entity would. Nor can we perfectly conceive what this would be like)

      So it would be correct that it is an incoherent question to ask what happened before God created!

      2)

      It seems to me that it is impossible to say anything intelligible without the concept of time, or at least sequence. This leads me to wonder if any of our speculations that omit the concept of time, or posit things "happening" outside of time actually make any sense.

      Yeah--our very thought is sequenced and change; and therefore it is temporal, "timed". (Remember, time = change.)

      So we cannot know what it is from the eternal "God's eye view". We can contemplate the concept of God's "eternal now" as he experiences all our past, present, and future as a single moment. But to know what it is like...impossible.

      It also seems to me that the concept of nothing can't exist apart from the concept of something. If we can, at least for the sake of discussion imagine that there was a time before which the universe didn't exist, it seems difficult to say that at that time nothing existed. Nothing really makes sense only if there is something.

      And if there is something, there never could have been nothing! From complete non-being, only non-being comes!

      3)

      On the other hand, why do we assume matter and spirit are the only two "substances" possible? Why can't there be something (or an infinity of somethings) neither spirit nor matter? We can't conceive of what they might be, but when God set about to create something, why did it have to be made up of matter and energy?

      To clarify, it is normally not understood philosophically that "matter" and "spirit" are the two existing substances. Rather it is "material" and "immaterial".

      And what is "immaterial"? It is everything that is not material! That splits reality into two distinct categories, apart from which there could be no other. (Could there be different "types" of immaterial and material categories? Sure, why not. But you can't can any more basic and general than those two.)

      • Alexandra

        Hi Phil, How do philosophers define "material"? Would time be considered material?

        • Mike

          all that is actual AND subject to change?

          • Alexandra

            Thank you Mike. This gives me something to think about.

            It reminds me of St. Augustine's "time does not exist without some movement and transition". A material object bound by time, will be bound by space. (I think.)

          • Mike

            i think my answer is close to the standard scholastic metaphysics approach. i'd recommend this book highly if you're interested: https://www.amazon.com/Scholastic-Metaphysics-Contemporary-Introduction-Scholasticae/dp/3868385444

          • Alexandra

            Thanks for the recommendation. I will check it out.

        • Phil

          Hi Alexandra,

          That is actually a phenomenal question. I actually never directly studied this. We have a basic common sense understanding of material...that being the physical world around us and its effects. But I wonder if we can't come up with a better definition. (Science itself doesn't easily define what "matter" is; energy is easier to define.)

          I guess you could say that the physical is that which is normally taken in through the senses. That which can be observed and its effects would be that which is material/physical. Anything that the physical sciences could in principle study would be considered "material".

          But I'll definitely be pondering this one!

          • Alexandra

            Hi Phil,
            I read in one of Trent Horn's books that something "immaterial" is outside of space, so I wonder if it follows that something "material" is bound by space (and so then time?), as a starting point.

            Thank you for your response.
            May God bless you in your studies.

    • Phil

      I put this separately as a side note because it has little to do with my slightly more relevant response below--

      What is so ridiculously sweet about this proper understanding of time and when it is combined with our understanding from the General and Special Theories of Relativity is that when it is stated that time "slows down" or "speeds up", things are simply changing faster or slower. That's all that it going on, which is pretty crazy!

      Why exactly mass/energy causes things to change more slowly, beats me...but I was so tempted to study theoretical physics to pursue questions like this!

      • Do study it, it is fascinating. I could recommend the first three chapters of A Brief History of Time. Brian Greene has a good series on space and time available on Youtube.

        • Phil

          Ahh...sometimes I wish I could...but the Lord has called me to spend my energy elsewhere right now...

          Though as I did my basic studying of physics and cosmology over the past several years, since my main area of study was philosophy in undergrad, it took a bent towards "philosophy of physics" and the philosophy of science as a whole. Because of that, it is truly the theoretical and more metaphysical questions of science that truly fascinate me (like the whole space/time discussion).

          So I guess you could say my main interest is the whole intersection of science and philosophy, and the harmony that they must ultimately come too. (Though I do wish, as Einstein did, that more great scientists also had some solid background in philosophy. I did read many reviews and essays on Hawking's A Brief History of Time, and many said the first several chapters were more philosophy than science, and unfortunately philosophy wasn't a strong point for Hawking. I guess I'll have to check it out for myself!)

    • If God created the universe from nothing, does that mean there was a time when there was "something rather than nothing"?

      Do you mean "nothing rather than something"?

      "Nothing" is definitely more thorny conceptual territory than a chair or even a universe, but much like the "via negativa" vis-à-vis God, I think we can still have a coherent, meaningful discussion about it as a possible metaphysical state of affairs without crossing into absurdity. Jim Holt has a great chapter on this in his book. The danger is against smuggling in "some remainder of being", as Holt puts it - a faint echo of time (e.g., "at that time nothing existed"), a vacuum with nothing in it, etc. - before we even get off the ground. Nothing is nothing. It's not a proto-time before time, an empty space without things, or an ontological tabula rasa waiting for God to swoop in. It's just nothing. (Interestingly enough he uses Quine and "free logic" - not the notion of creation "ex nihilo" - to secure nothing as a coherent metaphysical possibility.)

      • David Nickol

        Do you mean "nothing rather than something"?

        Yes, thanks!

        The other question, if we may think of "before the creation," is, "Where was God before the creation?" We learned from the Baltimore Catechism that God is everywhere. But where was he before creation, or where will he be if he should let the "contingent" universe wink out of existence? I am sure that the correct answer is that God does not exist physically, and therefore it does not make any sense to talk about his location, but the existence of a "pure spirit" who exists timelessly and nowhere is totally impossible to imagine. That doesn't necessarily mean it is totally impossible, but it does make me wonder, when we talk about these things, whether we are talking about anything real.

  • This is a great piece. It's good to be back at SN!

  • Darren

    What is, “Because God’s hind end isn’t going to kiss itself”?*

    * - apologies to Maimonides.

  • Hi. I'm new to this site but have a comment on the “Why is there something rather than nothing?” question. Up front, I lean towards a non-God answer to the question but am an agnostic because neither I, nor atheists, nor believers in God can step outside the universe to show where it came from. So, we can never prove our points, but we can provide evidence and arguments. I think our problem in answering the question is caused by our thinking that the situation we think of as "absolute nothing" really is the lack of all existent entities. I don't think it is. I don't think it's possible to have a complete lack of existent entities because even what we think of as "absolute nothing" is itself a "something". This will go along with Dr. Engelland's point that "the nothing in the question will be a closet something". My argument is below. The “nothing” I’m thinking about in the question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” is the lack of all matter, energy, space/volume, time, abstract concepts, laws or constructs of physics and math as well as minds to consider this supposed lack of all.

    Two choices for answering the question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” are:

    A. “Something” has always been here.

    B. “Something” has not always been here.

    Choice A is possible but doesn’t explain anything. If we go with choice B, if “something” has not always been here, then “nothing” must have been here before it. If this supposed “nothing” were truly the lack of all existent entities, there would be no mechanism present to change this “nothingness” into the “something” that is here now. But, because we can see that “something” is here now, the only possible choice then is that the supposed “nothing” we were thinking of was not the lack of all existent entities, or absolute “nothing”. There must have been some existent entity present. Because we got rid of all the existent entities we could think of, the only thing that could be an existent entity would be the supposed “nothing” itself. That is, it must in fact be a “something”. This is logically required if we go with choice B, and I don’t think there’s a way around that. What this means is that the situation we visualize as being the lack of all existent entities, or “nothing” is not the true lack of all existent entities and is, in fact, a “something”. This also means that it’s not possible to have the true lack of all existent entities because even the resultant “nothing” is a “something”.

    How is it possible that what we visualize as “nothing” can be a “something”? I think it’s first important to figure out why any normal thing, like a book or a thought exists. I propose that a thing exists if it is a grouping or relationship present defining what is contained within. This grouping/relationship is equivalent to a surface, edge or boundary defining what is contained within and giving “substance” and existence to the thing. Some examples of existent entities and their groupings defining what is contained within are as follows. First, consider a book. Try to imagine a book that has no surface defining what is contained within. Even if you remove the cover, the collection of pages that’s left still has a surface. How do you even touch or see something without a surface? You can’t because it wouldn’t exist. The surface is what groups the individual atoms inside together into a new and unique existent entity called the “book”, which is a different existent entity than the individual atoms inside. Second, think about a set of all the positive integers. If it were unknown what numbers were contained in the set, would that set exist? No. Even for the null set, it’s known exactly what is contained within: the lack of all elements. The grouping defining what elements are contained within is essential for a set to exist. The grouping is shown by the curly braces, or surface/edge, around the elements of the set and is what gives existence to the set.

    Applying this definition of why a thing exist to the question of “Why is there something rather than nothing?” To start, “absolute nothing”, or “non-existence”, is first defined to mean: no energy, matter, volume, space, time, thoughts, concepts, mathematical truths, etc.; and no minds to think about this “absolute lack-of-all”. Now, try to visualize this. When we get rid of all existent entities including matter, energy, space/volume, time, abstract concepts, laws or constructs of physics and math as well as minds to consider this supposed lack of all, we think what is left is the lack of all existent entities, or “absolute nothing”. But, this situation, this “absolute lack-of-all”, would be it; it would be the everything. It would be the entirety, or whole amount, of all that is present. That’s it; that’s everything; there’s nothing else. Is there anything else besides that “absolute nothing”? No. It is “nothing”, and it is the all. An entirety/whole amount/everything is a grouping defining what is contained within and is therefore a surface, an edge, and an existent entity. That is, this supposed lack of all existent entities is itself an existent entity. Because the “absolute lack-of-all” is the entirety of all that is present, it functions as both what is contained within and the grouping defining what is contained within. It defines itself and is, therefore, the beginning point in the chain of being able to define existent entities in terms of other existent entities. The grouping/surface/edge of the absolute lack-of-all is not some separate thing; it is just the “entirety”, “the all” relationship inherent in this “absolute lack-of-all”.

    Thanks for listening!

    • Mike

      tried to follow but think i missed the conclusion. in your opinion why is there something instead of Nothing?

      • Mike,

        Hi. Thanks for reading my comment. I think that what we consider to be "nothing" (the lack of all matter, energy, space/volume, time, abstract ideas, laws of physics, minds, etc.) is not actually the lack of all existent entities. It itself is an existent entity, or a "something". So, my answer to the question is that "something" is necessary. There really is no such thing as the lack of all existent entities, or "nothing" because even what we consider to be "nothing" is a "something". Then, the reason why this supposed "nothing" is an existent entity (e.g., how it can be self-defining) is that it would be the whole amount of everything. It would be all that is present. A whole amount is a grouping defining what is contained within or, based on my reasoning, an existent entity.
        Thanks.

        • Mike

          ah ok so you mean that even pure Nothing is something but when i think of Nothing i really mean Nothing at all no existence no anything no matter how small. That Nothing would mean no God no anything. Do you think that that pure Nothing is impossible/illogical?

          • I do think the lack of all existent entities, which would be "pure nothing", is impossible. When thinking about the question "Why is there something rather than nothing?", we think "pure nothing" is possible. But, I don't think it is for the reasons above. If, according to my argument, the lack of all space and volume, matter, energy, time, abstract ideas, laws of physics and the minds trying to visualize this lack of all is still itself an existent entity, I don't think there can really be the lack of all existent entities.

  • Doug Shaver

    Engelland’s argument seems to be along these lines:

    The question “Why is there something rather than nothing” is unintelligible unless the God of classical Christian theism is assumed to exist, but that God is the answer to the question if he does exist. Any alternative answer is incoherent because it presupposes the intelligibility of the question, which in turn presupposes the theistic answer. Conclusion: A philosophically consistent atheist must therefore deny that the question is intelligible.

    Does anybody think I've misunderstood something?

    • Mike

      unless there could be real Nothing w/o "God". but in that case how would something come out of Nothing?

      • Doug Shaver

        in that case how would something come out of Nothing?

        It didn't have to, as far as I can tell.

        • Mike

          we should distinguish btw Nothing including no God and Nothing as in No universe no laws of physics no quantum fields etc. though plus God (atheists would leave out the 'plus God' part).

          to affirm the first is to commit to something illogical seems to me. so the 2nd is the only viable option. there has always been SOMETHING either God at bottom or something approaching infinite Nothing but yet not pure Nothing.

          At that point why not just call that tiny tiny tiny something God?

          • Doug Shaver

            If the universe be defined as everything that exists, and if we assume that time exists, then there was never a time when the universe did not exist. That, to me, seems as close as we need to get to saying that the universe has always existed.

          • Mike

            but time presumes matter changing/existing. what about a time at which there was no matter then there wouldn't be any time. do you think it's illogical to think that pure Nothing is possible or just that the evidence indicates that there was never pure Nothing?

          • Doug Shaver

            If nothing existed, time would be meaningless. Its existence or nonexistence would be a null concept.

          • Mike

            so there must've been something, always. either mass/energy or "God" or the 2 are the same thing.

          • Doug Shaver

            It depends on how you define "always." My conclusion is not inconsistent with the universe having a finite age.

          • Mike

            ok well perhaps at one point there must've been only God or only energy/mass?

          • Doug Shaver

            I'm inclined toward the latter assumption.

          • Mike

            me too except when i consider the variety of life that exists today.

    • I do not know if that is what he is saying, but it is well articulated!

      What is your thought on "“Why is there something rather than nothing” is unintelligible unless the God of classical Christian theism is assumed to exist"

      I can't follow the logic. I don't see how this is the case. Maybe I am not understanding what is meant by "intelligible"?

      • Doug Shaver

        I think the question is better described as meaningless than as unintelligible, though I would be hard pressed to explain exactly what the difference is.

        Of course there is an obvious apparent meaning. There are some things that we all agree exists, and probably most of us, if not all of us, agree that those things possibly could have not existed. And then it seems to follow that we can sensibly ask why it is not the case that those things don't exist. When I say the question is meaningless (or unintelligible), I mean that to ask it presupposes that there must be an answer, and I don't agree that there must be an answer. I don't mean the answer is unknowable. I mean there just isn't one.

        • Thanks

        • Mike

          not only is the answer extremely hard to find; not only is it possibly out of our reach altogether but according to you the answer doesn't even EXIST! wow. that's bold.

  • Peter

    Bertrand Russell for example insisted, “The universe is just there—and that’s all.” The problem is that the question exercises a peculiar hold on our reason and won’t quite go away

    Bertrand Russell echoed the sentiments of philosophers and scientists since classical times which was that the universe itself is the ultimate fact. He, like them, observed the universe to be unchanging and therefore eternal with no need for an explanation. Until it was discovered that the universe had a beginning, this philosophical stance was very powerful and lasted for centuries among the most learned of society.

    To have asked then who created God was the same as asking who created the universe. Both questions would have been meaningless, since both God and the universe were deemed eternal. The reason why philosophers and scientists chose to believe in an eternal universe as the ultimate fact is because they could see no sign of a transcendent God within it.

    Now we know that the universe is not eternal. Those groups of philosophers and scientists who for centuries were able to avoid the question of who created the universe could no longer avoid it. This left only God who was eternal. But the philosophers and scientists would not accept that and instead came up with a ploy.

    They reasoned that if the universe is not eternal, nothing else can be, not even God. If the universe is has an origin, so too must God have an origin. If the universe is created, so too must God be created. And that's where we are today. The modern successors of the philosophers and scientists stretching back to classical times are now asking who created God because they cannot avoid the question of who created the universe.

  • "Hence, nothing is not something at all. It encompasses and negates the totality of finite being."

    Why does "nothing" not negate all being? Why narrow this to negating the totality of all being? Sure if nothing negates finite being, it negates infinite being?

    "nothing" here seems to be defined as "absence of anything except God", which seems to be a bit of a set up.

    For the question "why is there something rather than nothing" should "nothing" be defined as the absence of anything: no material, no non-material existence, no time, space, gods, anything, any way of being.?

  • I do not follow the logic of why the question of why anything, including any gods, exists is supposed to not make sense.

    Can someone explain that to me?

    • Mike

      i think it does make sense but some atheists seems to me say it doesn't bc it presumes that there could've been Nothing where as there is no "evidence" that there could've been nothing.

      • But it is the theist author of this piece that is saying it doesn't make sense, not atheists.

        • Mike

          i thought he was saying it doesn't make sense to ask why existence itself why the ground of all being exists. and if you understand God in the proper aristo-thomist way then that question doesn't make sense. but asking why anything other than God exists i think does make sense.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      I believe the idea is: to acknowledge nothing as a logical possibility is to affirm the contingency of the universe, and it makes no sense to speak of the contingency of anything without an encompassing context of necessity.

      • Mike

        "it makes no sense to speak of the contingency of anything without an encompassing context of necessity"

        can you explain this part?

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          When you say, for example, "I might have left the lights on in the living room", the possibility that the lights are on (or off) depends on the existence of the living room. The living room is the necessary context in which the contingent states (on or off) are possible.

          • Mike

            and we don't have that encompassing context? bc by asking the question we're begging the question by assuming there could be nothing? sounds like the atheist objection is correct then.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I believe the point of the OP is that, when we ask, "Why is there something rather than nothing?" we are indeed begging the question, in the sense that the answer is embedded in the presuppositions that the question requires.

            I don't think that it necessarily follows that the atheist objection is correct. It comes down to: if you think that "Why is there something rather than nothing?" is a valid question, then you already have the answer, namely that a necessary context exists (which we call God). If you don't think it's a valid question, well, then obviously you don't think there's a valid answer either.

            So at the end of the day, I think the argument will only move the needle for those who (unreflectively) think they do not believe in a necessary context but who do believe that, "Why is there something rather than nothing?" is a valid question and who, upon reflection, see that the latter belief implies the former belief.

          • Mike

            hmm. yeah i guess i am with brian green. i don't get why that's a logical problem. i think i can ask why something instead of nothing w/o presupposing God or some ultimate actual ground of all being. isn't it easy to conceive of there being nothing even w/o God?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Not to me :-)

            Again, it seems very clear to me that possibilities, by their very nature, by virtue of what we mean by the word "possibility", can only exist in a context. The ultimate possibility, that of something or nothing, must also (it seems to me) exist in a context (an ultimate context).

            I could be wrong, but I don't think I see any more fruitful way to explain my position.

          • Mike

            maybe the problem is that i think of Nothing as not even any context of possibilities, just a pure Nothing at all not even God not anything not even eternal silence.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            i think of Nothing as not even any context of possibilities

            I don't think that's a problem, I think that's correct - nothing is not a context of possibilities. But there can only be nothing within a context of possibilities. The context of possibilities is neither nothing nor something. It transcends our our normal categories of thought.

          • Mike

            if there was true Nothing then there wouldn't even be Nothing is maybe what you're saying. but so why is there something and not that pure Nothing? if there was that pure Nothing we wouldn't even exist in fact not even Nothing would.

            still seems like a logical question though to me. i think asking why God exists is muddled but not why all reality as we experience it exists.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I'm not saying there is anything at all that is muddled about the question. I think it's a great question. It happens to embed a key presupposition, and that means we are "begging the question" when we ask it, but that's not necessarily a bad thing when we do it "out in the open".

            In syllogism form it works like this:

            Major premise. The question is an excellent and valid question.
            Minor premise. The question embeds a key presupposition within it.
            Conclusion. Therefore, the presupposition embedded in the question is valid. (If the presupposition was invalid, that would invalidate the question, which would contradict the major premise. )

            For myself, I accept the major premise prima facie. If that's not a valid question, I don't know what is (other than, perhaps, "What's for dinner?"). The minor premise is a bit of a subtle point, but I believe it is sound.

          • Mike

            hmmm. is the presupposition that there could only be real Nothing bc there is God who could've not created anything?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Yup, I think so.

          • Mike

            finally got it! thx.

  • "Can we answer the question without invoking the God of theism?"

    Obviously, he himself suggested how this could be the case in the previous paragraph, one answer could be "the cosmos is somehow ultimate"

    "What else
    could transcend the whole cosmos?"

    If the cosmos is ultimate, nothing could transcend it.

    "Something like a physical law doesn’t
    make sense apart from a cosmos to govern"

    Not sure, but if the cosmos is ultimate it does have a cosmos to "govern", or more accurately, these laws would describe how the cosmos behaves.

    "but something like God the
    Creator does." That would have to be established.

    "Attempts to pose the question while dodging the theistic
    answer necessary fail to engage and thus answer the question."

    It is not a dodge to consider the cosmos being ultimate as one option, a God existing and creating the cosmos is another.

    "The question, once asked, provokes us, and we must choose what is ultimate: God the Creator or almost nothing."

    These are not the only options. And if the Cosmos being ultimate is the case, it is ridiculous to call the Cosmos "almost nothing". In such a situation the Cosmos would be absolutely everything, which in fact may be infinite.

    • Mike

      "the cosmos being ultimate as one option" what do you mean by "the" cosmos here? do you mean a mereological sum of all entities in the universe?

      if so what makes you think that adding them up will get you to something more fundamental than the things themselves?

    • Peter

      It is not a dodge to consider the cosmos being ultimate as one option, a God existing and creating the cosmos is another.

      Agreed. For many centuries and based on observations of a static universe, the cosmos was considered eternal. Since many could see no sign of a transcendent God in the cosmos, the cosmos itself was taken as the ultimate fact beyond explanation.

      Now, however, there are signs of God. The universe having a beginning is a sign that it's created; the finely-tuned low entropy of the early universe is a sign that it's designed; the progressive intelligibility of the universe as we dig deeper into its secrets is a sign that it is fundamentally rationally ordered; the ubiquity of organic molecules and multiplicity of planets are signs that it is fruitful and generous. These are all signs of God which did not exist prior to last century. We do indeed live in special times.

  • The question put in a straightforward way is "why is there anything". By definition "nothing" can't "be". "Anything" may be described as all that exists in any understanding of existence. I cannot think of any answers or where to begin to investigate such a question. I do not deny that it grips us and I could opine of some psychological reasons for this. The question may not make sense, I do not see why this would be the case, rather we just cannot think of how to approach an answer.

    This is an interesting philosophical issue.

    The question really being asked here is - what ultimately accounts for the universe we observe?

    As the author notes, there may be a number of answers, none of which are satisfying or really explain anything. It may be that a transcendent entity of some kind brought this universe into being by some unknown and unfathomable process, or by no process, which to me is equally unfathomable.

    This of course is no answer, because it does not tell us what "ultimately" accounts for it, it raises the question of "how" or "why". The answer may simply be that we this entity is ultimate and thus needs no explanation. This, to me seems very unsatisfying.

    Another option would be that the universe itself is ultimate. This also raises the question of "how" or "why" is it ultimate. The answer may simply be that we this entity is ultimate and thus needs no explanation. Again, to me this is unsatisfying.

    There may be other options that do not occur to us, or that we lack the ability to conceive of.

    I do not see why anyone need take a position that either of the options is the case, we simply do not seem to have enough information to make a call.

    But of course this does not make the existence of such a god, reasonable to believe in. It is neutral on this question, though I suppose Occam's razor might favour the atheistic version.

  • Chad Wooters

    In my experiences with skeptical atheists, they tell me the nature of the physical universe is a brute fact. And that's about as far as it goes. I can talk about the distinctions between possible and necessary, etc. till I am blue in the face and it simply doesn't make a dent.

    • Doug Shaver

      I can talk about the distinctions between possible and necessary, etc. till I am blue in the face and it simply doesn't make a dent.

      Two possible explanations for that: (1) Skeptical atheists are as pigheaded as you seem to think they are; (2) Your arguments aren't as good as you think they are.

      • Chad Wooters

        Do you believe the universe is the way it is for no reason at all, i.e. a brute fact? If so, why do you make that assumption?

        • Doug Shaver

          I believe there is a reason for the universe having the characteristics that we observe rather than any other characteristics. I do not believe that at this point in our history, we have any inkling of what that reason is.

          As for the universe's mere existence, as opposed to any of its particular characteristics, I am inclined to regard that as a brute fact. My reason is that the only alternative seems to be to assume the existence of a god of some sort, and that assumption seems unwarranted to me.

  • Dr. Chad Engelland

    Thank you, all, for your kind engagement with my piece. As the author, I would like to add some general comments.

    First, I had in mind the contemporary attempt to answer the ultimate why-question in terms of physics, and if you look closely you'll discover that they do not in fact answer the question but another one beside. They use the same words but with a different sense. They find some parts within the cosmos that give rise to the shape of the rest of the cosmos, but they do not identify something that could transcend the cosmos. And thus they do not explain the existence of the cosmos; they don't answer the ultimate why-question.

    Second, the difficulty that I call attention to is not so much a logical one but a phenomenological or experiential one: to appreciate the ultimate why-question it is necessary to be introduced to a kind of Copernican shift concerning the cosmos: though we assume it is necessary, it in fact is not. That is a startling, earth-shaking thought, with a taste of the vertigo the child feels when she discovers that as strange as it may sound there was a time when she did not exist. Revelation of God the creator, who transcends the world so radically that he could become incarnate as a creature without any contradiction and confusion, offers to thought the sense of transcosmic necessity that in time provokes the ultimate why-question. Now that the non-ultimacy of the world has been proposed, we have the impetus to see that what populates the world, from atoms to quarks to the laws that describe their behavior, have a kind of non-ultimacy. The contemporary mind has been provoked and thus there is a kind of existential decision: whether we acknowledge the non-ultimacy of the cosmos by acknowledging the transcosmic origin or whether we want to doggedly deny the non-ultimacy of the cosmos even as it appears so manifestly contingent in all its details. Thus I am not suggesting that the ultimate why-question isn't really a question. It grips us; there is something to it; asking it, thinking it through, gives us the eyes to see the contingency of everything we encounter, and that contingency is puzzling; it cries out for explanation.

    Third, as far as the form of the question goes, not a lot trades on it. My students have preferred the form, "Why everything that need not be?" The historical formulation is "Why is there something rather than nothing?" The advantage of that form is that it echoes the Christian doctrine of creation ex nihilo. But given the misunderstandings of "nothing" it could be set aside (one doesn't want to get tripped up by 'nothing'!). The advantage of "Why everything that need not be?" is that it sets aside the initial confusion that there could really be nothing at all; there can't be. Rather the question takes into its grips everything that does not exist of necessity. And it leads us to consideration of that which cannot fail to exist.

    There are many approaches one could take to the matter. My goal was to cast some fresh light on the issue by calling to mind the context in which the question arose and the requirement for answering it as it has been historically understood. My conclusion is that the question belongs to theism. Atheists must therefore not ask the question in earnest if they would like to persist in their atheism.

    • Doug Shaver

      Revelation of God the creator, who transcends the world so radically that he could become incarnate as a creature without any contradiction and confusion, offers to thought the sense of transcosmic necessity that in time provokes the ultimate why-question.

      This could be construed either of two ways. (1) We would not be asking the question unless Christians were claiming to have gotten such a revelation. (2) We would not be asking the question unless Christians had actually gotten such a revelation.

    • "Revelation of God the creator, who transcends the world so radically
      that he could become incarnate as a creature without any contradiction
      and confusion, offers to thought the sense of transcosmic necessity that
      in time provokes the ultimate why-question."

      I do not think so, I think the question "why anything at all?" does this on its own just fine.

      "Now that the non-ultimacy of the world has been proposed, we have the
      impetus to see that what populates the world, from atoms to quarks to
      the laws that describe their behavior, have a kind of non-ultimacy.

      Arguably, but impetus is not the issue. The issue is whether "what populates the world, from atoms to quarks to the laws that describe their behavior, have a kind of non-ultimacy

    • Will

      If God is the answer to the "Why is there something?" question, it's the first in a slew of other related questions, which could be posed directly to God.
      Why quantum mechanics, with it's zoo of particles that seem irrelevant to human life and intelligence in general?
      Why wait 13 billion years to allow intelligent human life to evolve?
      Why must evolution be so amoral with predator eating prey and parasite consuming host being such a common theme?
      Why is there no evidence of life other than on the earth if life is something God values? Intelligent beings tend bring into being what they value as much as possible (think children and food).
      These, of course, are just the beginning of why questions that make perfect sense in a theistic framework (not atheistic, of course). If we accept theism and the principle of sufficient reason, they must all have good answers/explanations. If we can't answer any of these questions, what are really explaining when we postulate God. If God is external exists necessarily, there must always be at least God. I have always failed to see how this is any better than postulating the universe exists necessarily. Even if time began at the Big Bang (and that's just an extrapolation from current theoretical knowledge) that doesn't mean the universe began at the big bang, it theoretically existed as a singularity. So many questions and possibilities with no way to test if we have a correct answer. Getting it right is hard enough when you can test and correct your hypothesis...

  • neil_pogi

    i don't think natural laws could make a 'something' out of 'nothing'

    if a 'nothing' really can create a 'something' then the universe would be full of stars, no spaces between them. it's like a solid hemisphere..

    that would jeopardized atheists

  • James1

    Perhaps the Hawking Creed begins thus(?):

    We believe in one Law of Gravity,
    the Father of Other Physical Laws, the Almighty,
    maker of heaven and earth,
    and of all that is, seen and unseen.

    Just thinking out loud, I guess, but I can't shake the feeling that sounds like a religious belief to me...

    • Doug Shaver

      but I can't shake the feeling that sounds like a religious belief to me...

      How do you think religious beliefs differ from beliefs that are not religious?

      • neil_pogi

        atheism has a set of beliefs. beliefs that are not explainable by science (thru experimentations in order for it to be valid). therefore it is considered a religion

        • Doug Shaver

          atheism has a set of beliefs.

          No, it doesn't.

          • Mike

            it at least doesn't believe in God

          • neil_pogi

            but they believe the 'self-replicating molecule' is their 'creator'

          • Mike

            yes i think they believe in magic but don't realize it. at least God is rational.

          • Darren

            ...says the man who eats magic cookies...

          • Mike

            oh you mean the host. couldn't figure it out at first. no magic there the church is very tough on 'magic' and 'superstition' - both are no nos.

            http://edwardfeser.blogspot.ca/2010/02/whats-black-and-white-and-misread-all.html

          • Darren

            Yeah, Feser does love to define himself out of a tough spot...
            His "the host isn't "magic" because it fits into our "rational" worldview" is utter B.S. to anyone who hasn't already drunk the Kool-Aid, but whatever.

          • Mike

            definitions matter in the real world. you folks change the defn of LOTS of things. if you mistrust obj reality you begin to believe in magic also known as gnosticism.

          • Will

            no magic there the church is very tough on 'magic' and 'superstition' - both are no nos.

            You could argue that the Church just wants a monopoly on magic, but defining magic is obviously critical. Fun fact, Did you know Jesus uses magic spells in Mark's gospel?

            In the gospels as a whole Jesus' miracles, prophecies, etc., are presented as evidence of God's rule, but Mark's descriptions of Jesus' healings are a partial exception to this, as his methods, using spittle to heal blindness (Mark 8:22–26) and magic formulae ("Talitha cumi," 5:41, "Ephphatha," 7:34), were those of a magician.[39][40] This is the charge the Jewish religious leaders bring against Jesus: they say he is performing exorcisms with the aid of an evil spirit (Mark 3:22) and calling up the spirit of John the Baptist (Mark 6:14).

            Magic can't be that bad if Jesus uses it, right? Here is some more info on the magic and it's context in first century Israel if you are interested.

            http://www.bibleodyssey.org/en/passages/related-articles/magic-in-the-first-century-world.aspx

            One could also regard the incantations at Mass and during excorcism as magical incantations. Protestants do actually, and condemn it, but that seems off when Jesus lead by example ;)

          • Mike

            you still sound very much like martin luther cursing at the wind

          • David Nickol

            you still sound very much like martin luther cursing at the wind

            Is this supposed to refer to an actual incident? I am reading a biography of Martin Luther at the moment, and so far, there has been no "cursing at the wind." What is your meaning?

          • Mike

            figurative lang./metaphore. darren is a former fundie so as atheist often sounds like luther quoting from the bible.

          • Will

            Lol, sounds like the response of a 5 year old, as usual. No substance or capitalization.

          • Mike

            but it's true. you and darren are former fundies.

          • Mike

            don't most 5 year olds learn uppercase first ;)

          • neil_pogi

            yes. atheists rely on 'after the facts' (ex: DNA was discovered in 1950s)

          • neil_pogi

            then kindly explain it

          • Phil

            Haha--This is great!

            The dialogue:

            Atheist: "I'm an atheist so I don't have any beliefs"
            Responder: "Well, I guess that's false since you have at least one belief...that you don't have any beliefs!"

            Love it...!

          • neil_pogi

            there is at least one: 'we don't know the answer yet' 'give us several million years to study how a 'nothing' can create a 'something' plllllsss?

          • neil_pogi

            so brian adams, since you upvote him, explain your sides why atheists have no sets of beliefs... you have to prove them on scientific grounds ONLY

          • Doug Shaver

            I didn't say atheists have no beliefs.

          • Phil

            Isn't atheism, by definition, the belief that God does not exist? That sounds like a belief to me?

          • Doug Shaver

            People have beliefs. In general, isms are beliefs. Beliefs do not have beliefs. Only minds, or creatures with minds, can have beliefs.

            The prefix a- is commonly used to denote "no" or "non-". Thus abiogenesis refers to the origin of life under abiotic (non-biological) conditions, and an apolitical person is a person without any political opinions.

            Theism is the belief in at least one god, and so strictly speaking atheism is simply the absence of such a belief. It is very probably true that people having no belief in any god are inclined to at least suspect that no god exists, and common usage does tend to presuppose this inference. Most people, most of the time, when they talk about atheists are thinking about people who believe the proposition "There is no God," and if that's what they're thinking, then that is their intended meaning.

            But most people are not atheists, and theists talking about atheists are a bit like Protestants talking about Catholics or creationists talking about evolution.

            Most of us who identify as atheists wish to defend only our not believing in any god. We are committed to the epistemological position that for any X, in the absence of sufficient reason to believe that X exists, we have all the justification we need to not affirm the existence of X. We see no obligation to seek or to present proof of X's nonexistence unless we explicitly affirm: "X does not exist."

            And when we call ourselves atheists, we refer only to our nonbelief in any deity. Notwithstanding what I just said about how most of us think, the word atheism by itself has nothing to do with our reasons for not believing or whether we even have any reasons, and it has nothing to do with any belief that is not dependent on any positive or negative theistic assumptions. Atheism does not entail any kind of generic skepticism or commitment to naturalism or any degree of confidence in science or anything we would call rationalism.

          • Phil

            Can there be an atheist that doesn't believe that a god doesn't exist?

            Is this can't exist, then that seems like there is an intrinsic connection between the belief that a god doesn't exist and "atheism".

          • Doug Shaver

            Can there be an atheist that doesn't believe that a god doesn't exist?

            There can be. There probably aren't many.

            It's at least partly a matter of semantic convention. For any proposition P, in normal conversation the statement "I don't believe P" is both intended and understood to mean "I believe P is false." Whenever that is not what we really mean, then we have to be more specific: "I'm undecided about P. Maybe it's true, maybe not"

            It's also just the way our minds tend to work. We can handle uncertainty about trivial matters, but are very uncomfortable being uncertain about the important stuff. Something about the way our brains got wired seems to compel us to make up our minds one way or the other, whether or not the evidence justifies such a definite conclusion. And so we'll usually go one of two ways. We'll think "There is not enough evidence to prove P, so P is false." Or we'll think, "There is not enough evidence to disprove P, so P is true."

          • Phil

            Hmm, that's an interesting view.

            For example, if someone says they are a theist and then says that they don't believe a personal God exists, I would say they don't know what it means to be a theist! Since the very definition of being a theist is the belief that some type of personal God exists.

            So too is it normally with an atheist. The definition of being an atheist is that one believes that a personal God does not exist. Or is there a better and more common definition of "atheist" you would propose?

          • Doug Shaver

            Words are defined by usage, not by anyone's fiat. The Oxford English Dictionary records four usages or definitions, none of which explicitly mentions "personal." Most generally, it means "Belief in a deity, or deities, as opposed to atheism." In some contexts, it means a bit more specifically "Belief in one god, as opposed to polytheism or pantheism." In some contexts, according to the OED, it is interchangeable with deism. When used most specifically, it means "Belief in one God as creator and supreme ruler of the universe, without denial of revelation: in this use distinguished from deism." The dictionary's most recent citations are all from the 19th century, suggesting that the editors don’t think there has been any significant change since then, and none of those citations indicate that the writers were thinking necessarily of a personal God.

            The definition of being an atheist is that one believes that a personal God does not exist. Or is there a better and more common definition of "atheist" you would propose?

            The OED gives two definitions:

            "1. One who denies or disbelieves the existence of a God."
            "2. One who practically denies the existence of a God by disregard of moral obligation to Him; a godless man."

            As I've already explained, we who call ourselves atheists generally go with the first. Personal, impersonal, whatever: If it's a god, we don't think it's real.

          • Darren

            Phil wrote,

            Isn't atheism, by definition, the belief that God does not exist? That sounds like a belief to me?

            Doug will have to speak for himself, but as an Atheist I have one belief, that no such thing as a Theist God exists.

            It is not, however, a dogma or a faith, since this belief could change in the face of new evidence.

          • Rob Abney

            Would it be new evidence or a different perception of the evidence? Especially considering that the evidence has not changed since you went from being a believer to a nonbeliever.

          • Darren

            Fair question... six of one, half a dozen of the other...

            But yeah... punishing humans (and everyone else) for sin, when you knew before you created them that this is exactly what they would do, and in fact you invented the metaphysical underpinnings for sin to even exist as a real thing in the first place, and really what skin off your divine nose is it anyways what some naked ape does with its penis, but sure let’s set them on fire for eternity anyways ‘case reasons, yeah, that hasn’t changed much, except having gotten less acceptable to mention that is what you really believe in mixed company. :)

          • Rob Abney

            that hasn’t changed much, except having gotten less acceptable to mention that is what you really believe in mixed company. :)

            That doesn't strike me as you having one belief, that no such thing as a Theist God exists. It sounds more like difficulty reconciling those issues and discussing those difficulties in public.

          • Darren

            No, as an Atheist I have one belief, but I have several data points supporting that belief. The incoherence of the entire Christian narrative, my comment referencing part of that narrative, is one of those points. It seemed appropriate to reference in consideration of your "the evidence hasn't changed" comment.

          • Phil

            That's fair, and what I'd expect.

          • Lazarus

            One belief, yes, which in turn is predicated upon several others. That the universe has a natural (or non-supernatural) origin, that science will probably fill the gaps that at this stage may appear to indicate a god, that there is no afterlife. Tons of those, accepted in many shades and combinations. Things assumed and accepted without it being proven by the scientific method. Nearly like, you know, faith.

          • Doug Shaver

            Isn't atheism, by definition, the belief that God does not exist?

            That depends on who is doing the defining. Don't Catholics think they should be the ones to define what it means to be a Catholic?

          • neil_pogi

            i know that you have.. you just deny it

    • Sample1

      It's interesting to me how square pegs are consistently squeezed into circular holes by people of faith. Case in point, you have a creed and atheists don't so you make one up for us.

      Why do you think you do that?

      Mike, faith-free

    • Will

      Do you deny the existence of our Father, Gravity? If so, jump off a very tall building to demonstrate your lack of faith ;)
      All hail Gravity!

  • neil_pogi

    it's interesting to note how atheist's and theist's beliefs are quite 'in-between'

    in atheism: 'nothing' has a creative power. - theists question it on how it works?

    in theism: 'immaterial' (God) has creative power - atheists question it on how it works?

    ...seems that the 2 are in jeopardized positions on how they can explain it.

  • This is another one of those articles where the author laid his ideology on so thick that it's almost totally disconnected from the best of actual philosophy, and even sometimes from coherent grammar. But it's a topic that ought to have been given better treatment, so here I present:

    The Ultimate Jeopardy Question, Corrected

    I.

    In The Grand Design (2010), Stephen Hawking made headlines by rejecting any supposed need for a supernatural entity to get matter to jump into being; the law of gravity was enough to do it. Then, Lawrence Krauss created a YouTube sensation and book called A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather than Nothing (2012) that made a similar case, including an afterward by Richard Dawkins who praised it as a death blow to the last refuge for arguments about the existence of supernatural creators. Jim Holt's bestselling Why Does the World Exist? An Existential Detective Story (2012) surveyed contemporary thinkers on this question in search of a plausible and justifiable answers. For these authors, the question is important, but jumping to conclusions isn't.

    Due to this explosion of popular interest in the question and the common aversion to unwarranted speculation as the answer, it is worth asking a second-order question about the question: Why is there the question, "Why is there something rather than nothing?"?

    II.

    A troublesome thing about the question, "Why something rather than nothing" is that many religious people presume to have the answer before it occurred to them to formulate the question. Like Jeopardy, proposed answers came first, and only second did humanity ask the question.

    Usually it is this way. We see a rainbow and ask what caused it; religious people immediately jumped in with an answer about a worldwide flood and a promise from their god to the world, but after extensive inquiry, we discovered the properties of water and light that explain it. In this example, the natural world was ultimately the correct context for understanding.

    Against the religious stories of his contemporaries, the ancient philosopher Heraclitus expressed a type of naturalism when he wrote, "The cosmos, the same for all, no god nor man has made, but it ever was and is and will be" (frag. 30, trans. Kahn). For that type of naturalist, the cosmos is conceived of as necessarily-existing. Previously something else had dominated. Human minds, with their strong bias to imagine intelligence behind every occurrence, had for millennia been telling and writing down stories about Creator gods. Ancient philosophers knew about mythological tales of Creators who fashioned chaos into order, such as Elohim in Genesis 1:2. Some such Creators were imagined as co-eternal with the material from which they made the cosmos, and others as generating the cosmos from within themselves. The former might have been imagined as the kind of thing that could not exist independently of the material from which they made the cosmos. Thanks to neo-Platonist philosophy, as appropriated by some Jews and early Christians and in its original Hellenic form, philosophers were given additional mythological tales about a Creator that need not have created, a being imagined to be before and outside the cosmos. A religious doctrine was nourished: compared to such a mythological being, the cosmos could be a contingent thing. The ultimate reality is not the cosmos, the religious teachers now assumed, as the first cause that needed no cause could be their god instead.

    Slowly did the powerful clergy favoring that answer insinuate itself until the question Heraclitus so clearly answered was forgotten and needed to be re-asked. Their god is, they said. The cosmos and all the things in it need not be, they said. Instead of the cosmos, there might have been nothing other than their god, they said. Hence when the anti-dogmatic, religiously-independent philosopher Leibniz came on this scene, he formed the question anew, "Why is there something rather than nothing?"

    The "nothing" in this question can be taken to mean the negation of all that once was, now is, and will at some future time be. Hence, "nothing" is not something at all. Its grammatical use is to negate that any finite or infinite being matches a predicate. That type of "nothing" is presumed to harbor no possibility in itself, with no hidden potentialities or powers, no laws or propensities. "Nothing" excludes the watery chaos of Christian mythology, the unformed matter of ancient Hellenic cosmology, and is also presumed to exclude the concepts used in contemporary physics.

    To ask the question is to be in the tradition of modern and ancient philosophers worldwide, a distinction often missed by those steeped in religious parochialism. Due to the logical requirements of the question, attempts to answer the question with religious answers necessarily fail as answers to the question. They may very well succeed in answering a different question, but they do not do what their authors would like them to do, namely provide a logically coherent answer to the question.

    If there are no supernatural Creator entities, then one of the commonly proposed "ultimate" things is the cosmos, and the question takes on the perfectly sensible form of asking why cosmos is this type of cosmos rather than an empty cosmos. The "nothing" in the question will be a readily-acknowledged something, otherwise it seems plausible that nothing would have developed from it, and we each know quite certainly that there is something. The "nothing" in the question only makes sense provided we reject the existence of a supernatural Creator entity that is not itself an existing being but grants existence to other beings. Such a god is precisely the type of god affirmed by many Christian philosophers and theologians in every century.

    I am proposing, then, that the question only occurs as a result of a basically naturalist worldview.

    III.

    Even though, to the limited extent surviving historical documents record, no ancient philosopher asked the question in the same form as Leibniz, now that we have it in Leibniz's form it can be explored and appreciated. It would occur to few of us to ask most of the questions we now know the answer to, but that doesn't mean the questions are not ablet o be understood once they occur to us (it doesn’t occur to a child, for instance, to ask how many suns there are, since the answer seems to be obviously one, even though this turns out to be illusory). Psychologically, it seems obvious that there are spiritual intelligences lurking behind everything making them what they are, even though it turns out this is just an illusion in perspective.

    Also, the question itself is a philosophical question which occurs to the philosophizing mind; it does not appear in religious revelation such as the Bible. So, while the question comes by way of a religious heretic's philosophical reasoning process, the answer comes by way of examining the world by scientific experiment.

    But this is not the end of the matter. For the answer is only an acceptable answer to religious persons if it comports with their religion. Thus, strictly speaking, science does not give us the answer to the question by itself; science and philosophy show us there is no god who interacts with the world, no need for a Creator of all things. The logic of philosophy implies the question, why something, and science suggests the answer: the philosophical concept of "nothing" was malformed, and the only rigorously definable nothing is unstable and spontaneously develops into the system of the cosmos. The philosophical question, then, actually enriches our understanding of ourselves after we have the answer, because it teaches us that naive concepts and presumptions about them often require correction by science. Philosophy and science identify different types of "nothing", but philosophy does so based on ignorance and science does so based on understanding. Strictly speaking, then, it is a fact of linguistic ambiguity that we keep the same question in both cases.

    IV.

    At first glance, it might not make sense to ask about the origin of the cosmos, since we have no experience of such cosmoses having origins. So that seems like a question that need never arise. But having confronted the non-intuitive possibility that the universe might indeed have arisen from the closest possible state of affairs to nothingness, we can appreciate the ultimacy of the cosmos. In light of the possibility of such a cosmos, it makes sense to ask about the origin of all things.

    But what about the origin of a god, if we took the religious story seriously? It would only make sense to ask this question if there was an internally consistent description of the god. But consideration of it at any depth shows the silliness of the description. The god is commonly defined to be the origin of the cosmos, yet itself unoriginated. There’s no sense in asking about the origin of something that is defined to have no origin. If it is, it must simply be.

    When we ask about things like rainbows and turtles and even the cosmos itself, there are internally consistent ways to pursue the answers. But when we are dealing with an entity defined from the get-go as existing necessarily, the proposed entity is protected from having to face scientific scrutiny. If we ask, “Who created the God of the Apologists?” we are not really targeting a theory designed to be inquired into, but a defensive creation, something originating in a need to be unfalsifiable.

    Can we answer the question via invoking one of the various gods of theism? Only if we could transcend the apologists' definitions. Something like a physical law makes perfect sense even apart from an actual cosmos, but something like Yahweh does not. Attempts to pose the theistic answer without opening the definition to rigorous examination necessary fail to engage or thus to answer the question.

    Holt’s Existential Detective Story dismisses the theistic answer in one page as obviously incoherent. Hence, the pathos of his book, earnestly seeking a satisfying answer to the question instead of stopping with self-satisfied dogma.

    If one denies it is a legitimate question, one logically avoids having to answer the question, as some philosophers believe is the most justified position. Bertrand Russell for example insisted, “The universe is just there—and that’s all.” The problem is that the question exercises a peculiar hold on our imagination and won’t quite go away. Even philosophers, like Wittgenstein, who deny the question has sense, admit it is a question which grips us. He said he regularly has the following experience:

    “I believe the best way of describing it is to say that when I have it I wonder at the existence of the world. And I am then inclined to use such phrases as ‘how extraordinary that anything should exist” or “how extraordinary that the world should exist.’”

    Why from moment to moment should the universe exist? As part of the long scientific revolution, the discoveries regarding this question are counterintuitive and difficult. It questions what seems to be beyond question. The question, once asked, provokes us, and we must use scientific rigor to clarify what is ultimate: almost nothing, perhaps.

    • Rob Abney

      Sorry, I couldn't read your whole response right now but your rainbow example seems to be saying how something occurred rather than why something occurred.

    • Lazarus

      If Holt's book dismisses the theistic hypothesis in one page then I fail to see why it is to be so seriously considered that we replace the original author's essay with that reference. Or does it just read easier that way, with those pesky God questions disposed of in one page?

  • Dr. Dennis Bonnette

    Here is a link to my own argument along the line of thought Dr. Engelland proposes. Link: http://www.godandscience.org/evolution/creation_implies_god.html

    The difference is that I begin by noting how uneasy the notion of "creation in time" has made atheists and how they attempt to defend the "aseity" of the cosmos. I show that the concept of "creation" is distinct from that of "beginning in time."

    • filthyswit .

      Time is the direction of cause and effect. The past is where the causes are. The future is where the effects are. Creation is a causal phenomenon. Therefore there must be time for there to be creation. And if god is within that time, then he is not omnipotent since he is subject to the qualities time.

  • I'm not sure about your contention this view is from the Bible. Didn't Aristotle provide the arguments for a creator that Aquinas later used? The Hindu theologian Udayana also made some arguments that seem essentially identical. Regardless, the article does not seem to argue specifically for a creator, which is odd.