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When Something Becomes Nothing

Nothing

NOTE: Dr. Feser's contributions at Strange Notions were originally posted on his own blog, and therefore lose some of their context when reprinted here. Dr. Feser explains why that matters.
 


 

A friend recently asked me to comment on this little video from New Scientist, which summarizes some of the claims made in an article from the July 23 issue on the theme “Why is there something rather than nothing?”

The magazine has been sitting on my gargantuan “to read” stack for a few months, and I finally got to it. But when I did, I found it extremely troubling. Many pop science writers, including scientists when they are writing pop science, try to translate traditional philosophical issues into terms they are familiar with. At best the result is, usually, to change the subject while pretending not to. At worst it is nonsensical. And sometimes it is both. Consider the article in question, which informs us that:

"Entropy measures the number of ways you can rearrange a system’s components without changing its overall appearance… [N]othingness is the highest entropy state around -- you can shuffle it around all you want and it still looks like nothing. Given this law, it is hard to see how nothing could ever be turned into something, let alone something as big as the universe."

What kind of “system” is nothing? If nothingness is a “state,” what exactly is it that is in that state? What are the “components” of nothing? What does “shuffling around” those components involve? How exactly does all of this differ from not shuffling around anything at all, or there being nothing in a state at all, or there being nothing with any components at all? What exactly does it mean to turn nothing into something, even something small? Isn’t the very suggestion pretty mystifying even apart from the law of entropy? What exactly is it that the law of entropy is governing when there is nothing around for it to govern?

The confusion continues throughout the article:

"But entropy is only part of the story. The other consideration is symmetry... Nothingness is very symmetrical indeed. “There’s no telling one part from another, so it has total symmetry,” says physicist Frank Wilczek of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology."

So, “nothingness” or “nothing” has “parts.” And how exactly does the claim that nothing has parts differ from the claim that there is nothing with parts? Surely what the article does not mean to say “It is not the case that there is an x such that x has parts,” since that is both false and irrelevant to the subject of the article. So is it saying instead, “There is an x such that x is nothing and x has parts”? But what does that mean? How can there exist something that is “nothing”? Does “being nothing” involve being a kind of eccentric something? Similar questions could be asked, of course, about what it means for this something that is nothing to be “symmetrical.”

The article continues:

"Wilczek’s own specialty is quantum chromodynamics, the theory that describes how quarks behave deep within atomic nuclei. It tells us that nothingness is a precarious state of affairs. “You can form a state that has no quarks and antiquarks in it, and it’s totally unstable,” says Wilczek. “It spontaneously starts producing quark-antiquark pairs.” The perfect symmetry of nothingness is broken."

So we’ve got nothingness, except that it isn’t nothingness, because what we’re really talking about is a “state” that is unstable, and this state starts producing quarks and antiquarks. Indeed:

"“According to quantum theory, there is no state of ‘emptiness’,” agrees Frank Close of the University of Oxford… Instead, a vacuum is actually filled with a roiling broth of particles that pop in and out of existence."

Again, a “roiling broth” governed by the laws of quantum theory is not “nothing.” In which case all the preceding stuff about how “nothingness” has “parts” and can be in “states” and is “symmetrical” wasn’t really ever about “nothingness” in the first place. And a good thing too, because none of those things could intelligibly be said about “nothingness,” since nothingness is, of course, not a kind of thing at all.

Nor are the reasons for this as profound as the article insinuates:

"[T]here is an even more mind-blowing consequence of the idea that something can come from nothing: perhaps nothingness itself cannot exist. Here’s why. Quantum uncertainly allows a trade-off [etc.]"

I struggle to see how it is “mind-blowing” that “nothingness cannot exist,” since this truth seems completely obvious and well-known even to young children just as well as to experts in quantum uncertainty. This is because “nothingness” just is the non-existence of anything.

But perhaps the article is here just badly expressing another thought, to the effect that it is necessary that something must always have existed, that it could not in principle have been the case that there is or ever was absolutely nothing at all. And I would say that the article is right about that. But neither “quantum uncertainty” nor any other theory of physics is or could be the reason, for quantum mechanics and all the other laws of physics presuppose the existence of a concrete physical reality that behaves according to those laws. Therefore such laws cannot coherently be appealed to as an explanation of that reality.

So what’s the point of all this ado about nothing? It seems to me the author and those are involved are trying to show that physics alone can explain the existence of the universe. Hence the key line of the piece: “Perhaps the big bang was just nothingness doing what comes naturally.” But read in a straightforward way, this is just nonsense, for reasons of the sort already given. If this so-called “nothingness” has a “nature” and “does” things, then it isn’t really “nothingness” at all that we’re talking about. And of course, the article and the physicists it quotes don’t really mean “nothingness” in a straightforward way in the first place. They mean a “roiling broth” governed by the laws of quantum theory, entropy, etc. That not only isn’t nothing, but just is part of the universe and therefore just is part of the explanandum and therefore does nothing whatsoever to explain that explanandum.

You might as well say: “Let me explain how this whole house is held up by nothing. Consider the floor, which is what I really mean by ‘nothing.’ Now, the rest of the house is held up by the floor. Thus, I’ve explained how the whole house is held up by nothing!” Well, no you haven’t. You’ve “explained” at most how part of the house is held up by another part, but you’ve left unexplained how the floor itself is held up, and thus (since the floor is itself part of the house) you haven’t really explained at all how the house as a whole is held up, either by “nothing” or by anything else. Furthermore, you’ve made what is really just nonsense sound profound by using “nothing” in an eccentric way.

The scientific "explanations" of the origin of the universe from “nothing” one keeps hearing in recent years are really no less misguided than this “explanation” of the house. They aren’t serious physics, they aren’t serious philosophy, but they are textbook instances of the fallacy of equivocation.
 
 
Originally posted at Edward Feser's blog. Used with author's permission.
(Image credit: Catholic World Report)

Dr. Edward Feser

Written by

Dr. Edward Feser is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Pasadena City College in Pasadena, California. He has been a Visiting Assistant Professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and a Visiting Scholar at the Social Philosophy and Policy Center at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. He holds a doctorate in philosophy from the University of California at Santa Barbara, a master’s degree in religion from the Claremont Graduate School, and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and religious studies from the California State University at Fullerton. He is author of numerous books including The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism (St. Augustines Press, 2010); Aquinas (Oneworld, 2009); and Philosophy of Mind (Oneworld, 2007). Follow Dr. Feser on his blog and his website, EdwardFeser.com.

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  • bbrown

    ".......I struggle to see how it is “mind-blowing” that “nothingness cannot
    exist,” since this truth seems completely obvious and well-known even to
    young children just as well as to experts in quantum uncertainty".

    Bravo, that pretty much sums up my feelings about this psuedoscientific psychobabble. I think this just demonstrates what the materalist/naturalist must resort to when they get to the question of origins.

    • Sqrat

      It seems to me that the theist, on the other hand, refuses to engage the question of origins at all. By that question, I mean, "How did the universe come to be?" Theists are only interested in asserting that God created the universe, not in trying to answer the question of how he created it. They usually seem to be blithely unaware that such a question is even on the table. When it is pointed out to them that the question is there, the response tends to be, not merely that they currently have no answer to the question, but that the question is in practice unanswerable because surely God must have made humans too stupid to be able to understand the answer.

      • Vasco Gama

        «the theist, on the other hand, refuses to engage the question of origins at all»

        Who is that theist that refuses to engage the question of origins? (by now it may be the case that you know that the big bang theory was in fact advanced by a theist and that a large number of scientists are in fact theists)

        «"How did the universe come to be?" Theists are only interested in asserting that God created the universe, not in trying to answer the question of how he created it»

        Theists defend that the God created the universe, but they don’t know (or pretend to have any clue about that) how God created it, and they are as curious as any non-theist to figure it out, which doesn’t mean that they have to accept any irrationally claim about that.

        «They (the theists) usually seem to be blithely unaware that such a question is even on the table.»

        Why do make this unsustainable assertion? Is that just bigotry (or some deep metaphysical atheist assertion).

        «When it is pointed out to them that the question is there, the response tends to be, not merely that they currently have no answer to the question, but that the question is in practice unanswerable because surely God must have made humans too stupid to be able to understand the answer.»

        Theists know very well that the question is out there, not just now, the question has been always there. The theists don’t claim that the question is unanswerable, but they are open to any rational insight about that.

        Theists defend that the universe is intelligible and that humans are rational enough to understand the universe (unlike what is suggested by some atheists, such as eliminativists that claim that human rationality is somewhat a sort of illusion).

        • Sqrat

          Theists know very well that the question is out there, not just now, the question has been always there. The theists don’t claim that the question is unanswerable, but they are open to any rational insight about that.

          If some theists know it, certainly not all know it.

          The ones I have interacted with have generally seemed rather taken aback to be informed, when asked, "How did the universe come to be?" and having replied "God created it," that they haven't answered the question. When (or if) they can be made to understand that they haven't answered it, some variation of "Surely it passeth all human understanding" has been a stock response I've received to the question when I put to them again.

          One thoughtful Catholic told me, when I asked him (again) how God created the universe, "Oh, I imagine that there could have been many different ways...." Actually, of course, he could not imagine even one such way, and thus he was eventually forced to fall back on the "we couldn't possibly understand it" claim.

          But, really, Vasco, is there an Institute of Supernatural Creationism somewhere where the finest theological minds are currently hard at work on solving the vexing problem of how gods create universes?

          • Vasco Gama

            The only relevant fact is that theists and atheists alike don't know how the universe come into existence, even if they claim they do.

            If you want to claim that some theists might be ignorant, well so can atheists (that it is not a matter of religious belief).

          • Sqrat

            There never will be, and never can be, a theological explanation for how the universe came to exist. However, it seems to me not unlikely that one naturalistic model of how the universe came to be will win out over the others and be generally accepted within the scientific community within the lifetimes of at least some of us.

            Should that come to pass, my guess is that the winning model will be rejected vehemently by some theists, the way some theists now reject the theory of evolution. My further guess is that it will receive pseudo-acceptance (but not real acceptance) from other theists -- the way the Catholic Church now accepts "theistic evolution."

          • Vasco Gama

            I agree with you the purpose of theology is not to describe the how the universe is (or how it came to be what it is), and theology can’t answer those type of questions. If we will ever have an explanation I believe that it will come from science.

            I think your notion that theists reject science is not justified (except if you are considering fundamentalists, but … )

          • Mike

            I generally agree with the point you made above. Can you describe what you mean by theistic evolution?

          • Sqrat

            Wikipedia, as it so often does, gives a good overview of the topic. In addition to the article "Theistic evolution," see particularly the article, "Catholic Church and evolution."

          • Mike

            So, what is the problem with theistic evolution?

          • David Nickol

            So, what is the problem with theistic evolution?

            If you define evolution as random mutations causing changes in individual organisms or populations and natural selection as the mechanism which determines which organisms with those traits either come to predominate or are wiped out, then the problem with theistic evolution is that either organisms do not change by random mutations (and perhaps not by mutations at all) and/or natural selection is not the process by which either predominate or are wiped out. If the fundamental mechanism of change in all biology isn't random mutations, then the scientists who have developed the theory of evolution have mistaken for chance events (random mutations) God's interventions in the world to guide the development of the organisms he wants.

            In other words, theistic evolution is just creationism taking place at a very slow pace. What science sees as random is not random at all, but the hand of God fashioning all organisms in tiny, undetectable steps.

          • Mike

            I agree with what you said, but I have a different understanding of theistic evolution.

            Why don't I state what I believe and you can let me know if you have any problems with it? It is tough to defend what others profess because there are so many variations out there.

            I believe that random mutations and natural selection are the best explanation for life on earth as it currently exists. I believe in God (the Catholic understanding). The only thing I add is that the immortal soul cannot be created or explained by natural means. I'm not demanding that others believe it, or that this aspect be taught publicly, its a private belief. So far ok? Would you consider this to be theistic evolution?

            The message I take away from Genesis is that God created the physical world, and that his creation is "good". As such he wouldn't need to constantly "intervene" for his creation to move through space and time.

          • David Nickol

            Why don't I state what I believe and you can let me know if you have any problems with it?

            As I understand it, that is pretty much the Catholic position. I think there are possible ways of reconciling true Darwinian evolution with the Catholic view. For example, if God wanted to "create" human beings, he could have seen to it that enough worlds existed on which evolution occurred so that human beings evolved purely by chance on at least one world. If the odds are a hundred million to one that human beings will evolve out of the 90 naturally occurring elements, fashioning a universe in which there are a hundred billion situations in which evolution takes place would seem to all but guarantee that some human beings would evolve somewhere.

          • Mike

            Hi David. Thank you for the reply. While we both might have issues with the various types of theistic evolutionary theories that can be imagined, do you see any major scientific issues with the specific type of theistic evolution I described above?

          • Susan

            So, what is the problem with theistic evolution?

            No evidence for it. For one.

            The theory of evolution doesn't require it for another.

            If your theistic belief is of an omnibenevolent being that chose evolution as a method of creating one particular species with whom it could have a relationship, the hundreds of millions of years of unfathomable suffering by countless sentient beings who would not benefit from it in any way doesn't make any sense, so it requires dismissing some very fundamental moral questions.

          • Mike

            Hi Susan. Thank you for the response.

            All I am trying to claim is that there is a human soul and that God is solely responsible for it. The theory of evolution doesn't require that the human soul exists, but from where I sit it doesn't prohibit it either. If God exists, God can do whatever he wants, so I don't see how creating a soul is problematic. I like to think whether God or a soul exists is the great science experiment of my life. Either it is true or not, and when I die (along with all of us) I will find out.

            While I'm still skeptical about needing to create hundred of billions of universes for humans to exist, many people speculate that there are an infinite number of universes.

            If God is omnipotent God could anticipate what the end result would be without having to interfere all along the way. Lets have a thought experiment. I know my friend (Matt lets call him) very well. We go out to lunch and from my knowledge of Matt's likes and dislikes I can anticipate what he will order, but didn't make the choice for him, or interfere with his choice. Now if I had infinite knowledge I could predict (know) all of his decisions. I like to think theistic evolution could take place in a similar manner.

            There is some speculation in physics that if one had total knowledge of everything in the universe at any given point one could know everything about the universe at any other given point in time. I'm sure others have said something similar, but Sean Carroll has discussed it on Youtube frequently. Therefore if God exists and is omnipotent he could know how the universe would unfold, without having to poke and prod continuously. I'm not trying to convince anyone that this is the case, but that it is possible.

            I apologize, but I don't understand the remainder of your post, particularly the unfathomable suffering part, and can't respond to it.

          • Susan

            Hi Mike,

            Thank you for YOUR response.

            All I am trying to claim is that there is a human soul.

            What is a human soul?

            If God exists, God can do whatever he wants.

            It depends on what you mean by "God". It always does. This particular discussion involves a creator being who is omnipotent, at least based on the first couple of ideas from your last comment. Omnipotence has logical problems to begin with. And on what basis can we claim the existence of an omnipotent being? How on earth do we measure omnipotence as humans?

            Now let's say for the sake of argument that a creator being exists who is omnipotent, even though there isn't nor COULD there be evidence for it. It has created everything and could have done so any way it wanted to.

            But it chose natural selection. Natural selection involves unfathomable suffering. Since the dawn of sentience. The cycles of famine, floods, drought, disease, earthquakes, ice ages, forest fires, volcanoes, predation, lethal parasites, in-group violence..... the list goes on and ON. It's a terribly cruel planet and has been since long before anything resembling our species existed. Now, there is no evidence of a mind behind it but if there were a mind behind it, it's a very sick and cruel mind.

            If God is omnipotent God could anticipate what the end result would be without having to interfere all along the way.

            If this deity were omniscient (an astonishing assertion for a mere human to make, as we have no way of ever recognizing omniscience), it would be aware of every helpless sentient being perishing in the flames of a forest fire, starving slowly to death, being eaten alive by predators as its helpless parent looked on, perishing in the waterless agony of a desert drought....it would KNOW every inch of the suffering of unimaginable numbers of sentient beings, young and old, and it wouldn't care.

            It would not be omnibenevolent. Not even benevolent.

            There is no evidence for human souls as far as I know, nor even a coherent explanation of what one is. There cannot be evidence for omniscience, nor omnipotence. And even if we granted those first three (the second two of the three creating NEW logic problems), it is evidence against a benevolent being. If there were a being that would torture countless sentient beings to death over hundreds of millions of years because it loved ME, I could not love it back.

            I'm not sure why this isn't a bigger problem for theists. It confounds me. That and the lack of evidence for it.

            Theistic evolution seems to be a way of forcing a story that you want to believe to fit the facts. I am saying none of this to insult your ideas but to explain why I think those ideas have huge problems.

          • Mike

            Hi Susan, I don't take your response as insulting, and I gather it isn't meant that way either. We can both be people of good will.

            I think that suffering is probably the best argument against God's existence. Until now I've only considered human suffering, but hadn't considered other suffering. If I'm not mistaken there is probably another article with many comments that would do better to address your comments better than I could.

            Addressing your last point first. I think that it is important to be aware of one's biases especially for matters such as these, and I try to take that into account. Too often I think many people (both believers and non believers) want a particular outcome and bend the evidence to their views.

            You said something that I've often thought have the is true, but unstated. That we cannot be scientific evidence for God. God can't be probed in the same way the rest of the world can be. Instead God would have to reveal God's self and particular aspects of his nature. As a Catholic the most important question I've had to answer in my life is whether Jesus Christ is who he claims to be. Jesus is either the Lord, the Liar, or the Lunatic. If he is the Lord I owe him my whole life and should convince others likewise, if he is the latter of the two than I should work to undermine him and those who follow him. I sometimes ask myself this question daily, and I venture we would answer differently. In my mind it is ok to do so, and to present our perspectives on a forum such as this. I wouldn't want to silence you or anyone else who answers differently than I would, for I believe both of us are being intellectually honest in the back and forth we are currently having.

          • Susan

            there is probably another article with many comments that would do better to address your comments better than I could.

            I haven't encountered one yet. I'm certainly open to one.

            That we cannot be scientific evidence for God. God can't be probed in the same way the rest of the world can be. Instead God would have to reveal God's self and particular aspects of his nature.

            Why not through scientific evidence? Why hide from scientists? And how would we know that claims of "God"'s revelation are real?

            Jesus is either the Lord, the Liar, or the Lunatic.

            Why would those be the only options? We have stories about Jesus. We have other people claiming that Jesus said things. How do we know that Jesus actually said the things they say he said?

            Also, why not liar or lunatic? The world has always been full of liars and lunatics claiming to be gods. It's not that unusual. It's an extremely ordinary occurrence.

            I wouldn't want to silence you or anyone else who answers differently than I would, for I believe both of us are being intellectually honest in the back and forth we are currently having.

            Thank you Mike. I agree.

          • Mike

            Why not through scientific evidence? Why hide from scientists? And how would we know that claims of "God"'s revelation are real?

            The following analogy isn't ideal, but I think it works on some level. I don't think God hides from science, but that science isn't properly equipped to answer the question. I know my wife loves me, but I can't prove it scientifically. I can learn somethings about her through empirical means, but I can't really know her deepest thoughts/feelings unless she reveals them to me. When we stated our wedding vows I had to take what she said with some faith (that we would love and honor each other all the days of our lives). I think the same is true with God. I have to take what is revealed based on faith (theological virtue). If I'm not mistaken the notion that God can't be aggressively probed like a science experiment is discussed in the recent encyclical "Light of Faith". I don't have enough theological training to do good justice to it (my theological background is more of a hobby) but perhaps someone else on this website can do a better job.

            Why would those be the only options? We have stories about Jesus. We have other people claiming that Jesus said things. How do we know that Jesus actually said the things they say he said?

            I haven't come across another option, but I'm open to one if you have one. Sure, but we don't know what many people have actually said throughout history. I mean can we really be sure of what some Roman general said in 200 BC either. Did Hannibal really cross the Alps with Elephants? We have accounts, but I can't verify it since it was long before video tape of youtube. The question is whether those stories are true, and answering yes or no requires some faith. I use faith in my disbelief of Buddhism in the same way that you might use faith that Catholicism isn't correct, but neither of us can prove that they are correct or incorrect.

            Also, why not liar or lunatic? The world has always been full of liars and lunatics claiming to be gods. It's not that unusual. It's an extremely ordinary occurrence.

            You're correct, and I think it is good to be skeptical. Blind faith isn't what I have, and I don't think God would ask me to have it either. He gave me a brain and an intellect and the means to ask questions and to neglect it would be disingenuous to both myself and God.

            I've enjoyed our comments back and forth, and I hope you do as well.

          • Susan

            Hi Mike,

            You've given me the "spouse's love" explanation. I wasn't asking why this deity's love couldn't be demonstrated. I was asking you why it would hide its existence from empirical inquiry. Your wife doesn't do that. Scientists would be able to say that by all measures on which we ALL generally agree, that your wife exists.

            Just to be clear, I'm talking about existence.

            I haven't come across another option, but I'm open to one if you have one

            .

            You still haven't explained why liar or lunatic are off the table. And i've tried to explain that "legend" is another possibility. Like Robin Hood. Possibly partly true.

            we don't know what many people have actually said throughout history. I mean can we really be sure of what some Roman general said in 200 BC either

            There is something called the Historical Method:

            (pinched from Wikipedia):

            Historical method comprises the techniques and guidelines by which historians use primary sources and other evidence, including the evidence of archaeology, to research and then to write histories in the form of accounts of the past

            Garraghan divides source criticism into six inquiries:

            1. When was the source, written or unwritten, produced (date)?

            2.Where was it produced (localization)?

            3. By whom was it produced (authorship)?

            4. From what pre-existing material was it produced (analysis)?

            5.In what original form was it produced (integrity)?

            6. What is the evidential value of its contents (credibility)?

            Here is a link to the whole article:

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

            Who wrote the gospels? Why are the tricky bits allegorical but the claims about what Jesus said literal? What methodology is used to separate those things and what is its reliability?

            He gave me a brain and an intellect and the means to ask questions and to neglect it would be disingenuous to both myself and God

            If there is a deity who cares about you caring about what's true, she ;-) would agree completely. In that spirit, I hope you get back to me with an answer about why not a liar or a lunatic or a legend? I can't distinguish between garden variety liars, lunatics and legends, and your deity, and I have sincerely tried. What is the difference?

            I've enjoyed our comments back and forth, and I hope you do as well.

            I do. Thank you. I'm glad you are enjoying it too.

          • Mike

            First, I have been known to have pronoun trouble when describing God. Force of habit to refer to God as a he.

            I realize you are talking about existence, and that my spousal love analogy isn't entirely satisfying. I was using it to illustrate what I mean by faith, and that the same notion could apply to God's existence. No proof, but a judgement call. To be honest, I'm only a humble scientist and while I agree you have good questions, I'm not a theologian and might not have the more satisfying answers. That said, I can know my wife exists because she is a thing in the universe, but God could be thought of as being not entirely contained within his (pronoun trouble again) creation. As such I can't measure God, but he instead has to reveal himself. To me this isn't entirely satisfying, and I gather it isn't for you either. That said, God exists whether of not either of us believe in him, and at the end of our lives we will know one way or another.

            I hesitate to present the following because it is personal. At times in my life I've struggled with the lack of empirical evidence. My sister was in a bad car accident when she was little (younger than 4 years old) and she had a near death experience. She said she talked to the "man from Church, the one behind the table". She was too young to really know who God or Jesus is. Now normally I'm skeptical of near death experiences, and I realize that there may be a variety of reasons why she believes she saw what she did. That said, at such a young age I don't think she would be conditioned by society to expect such an event, so I give it some more merit. There were several other "spiritual/supernatural" things that went on around this time and during the course of her healing that I prefer not to go into detail about over the internet if that's ok.

            I have also had my own interactions with the divine, mostly through prayer. I don't mean these to be the rock hard evidence that we both seek, but it is the genuine response to how I made my decision about the 4 options (Lord, liar, lunatic, legend). I like to think that the existence of the Church even from the early times wouldn't be so enthusiastic about their message and beliefs if it were only a legend. Speculation only.

            Again, I don't know enough about scripture study to properly answer the questions about the Gospels. But I like to think that the call to follow Christ, even to the cross is a difficult thing, and might be tricky too. I think your questions are good, and that the Catholic Church has a good answer (I've found that they usually do, at least to my satisfaction) but I don't have it for your specific question. I sincerely hope that at some point you can find someone who is able to give you a better answer. I think many people have sincerely tried to evaluate the Catholic Church and God in general and reach the same conclusion you have.

            I also know that many people will ridicule this response as only the mind talking to itself, and that God should reveal himself outside of the human mind through individual experiences. I offer no good answers, but I firmly believe that if God really exists I will receive a good response when we meet after I expire.

          • Paul Boillot

            With all due respect, and with all possible delicacy in dismissing something you really believe about a (then) very young child you care deeply about, let me say that I think you're mistaken when you say:

            That said, at such a young age I don't think she would be conditioned by society to expect such an event, so I give it some more merit.

            Children pick up on socio-cultural clues much faster than we normally give them credit for.

          • Mike

            You may be correct. I am not presenting it as proof.

            The nice woman asked me a question (at least I interpreted it as her asking why I personally chose to believe that Christ is the Lord, and not the lunatic, the liar or the legend and I responded). This may be blunt but I wasn't asking for you or anyone else to critique it.

          • Paul Boillot

            Fair enough.

          • Susan

            First, I have been known to have pronoun trouble when describing God. Force of habit to refer to God as a he.

            Thank you. Most people don't think twice about the pronoun. I hope you understand that if people kept refererring to an ultimate omnibeing as "she", I would refer to it as "he". It's silly (and a little suspicious) to assign a sex to an ultimate omnibeing.

            I realize you are talking about existence, and that my spousal love analogy isn't entirely satisfying. I was using it to illustrate what I mean by faith, and that the same notion could apply to God's existence

            I'll bet you could produce loads of evidence that your wife loves you. It really is a flawed analogy. We're talking about inductive reasoning here. You're a scientist. (If you don't mind answering, what field are you in? It's an aside. I'm just curious.)

            I appreciate that you've told me why YOU believe the "lord" choice is most likely and that's all you're trying to do. I understand that.

            This IS a site where we're supposed to be "reasoning" though and we're talking about an ultimate claim (or at least belief). I am not "ridiculing" your story about your sister. I am questioning your methodology though. I wonder if you've looked into the subject from a scientific viewpoint. If she was in shock, had a head injury, was on sedatives, under anaesthetic, etc. (Nor am I asking you to tell me if you don't want to. I understand that it's personal.)

            We are also relying on her memory of a memory most likely. This would be covered by neuroscience and child psychology to begin with. Near-death experiences require an awful lot of evidence in an awful lot of fields.

            I remember when I was less than four and absolutely certain that my friend around the corner had a library book that I had borrowed from the library. I remembered clearly giving it to him. My Mom talked to his Mom. He insisted he didn't have it and his mother was pretty sure he was telling the truth. (He wasn't reading yet,) As my mother walked me back home, she said "Maybe it was a dream." and I asked her, "What's a dream" ? I'm sure I had already had many dreams but I hadn't learned the distinction. I didn't even know there was one. If I had dreamed about church (I'd certainly been there and they make a real impression when you're that young as they're not "ordinary" buildings.) it might be less mundane, but would it suddenly be imbued with meaning?

            I think your questions are good

            Thank you. :-)

            and that the Catholic Church has a good answer

            Not so far. I've done a lot of asking but have not been given good answers. I don't think my standards are outrageously high, either. They're simple questions but no answers.

          • Ignorant Amos

            It's silly (and a little suspicious) to assign a sex to an ultimate omnibeing.

            Unless the omnibeing was the invention of an ignorant misogynist male culture at a time when the fairer sex was deemed chattel. In which case it seems perfectly natural to me that my invented god be male...just like it has been to many an invented deity's culture in the past. }80)~

          • Mike

            Hi Susan,

            I have a Ph. D. in Chemistry, more specifically spectroscopy.

            I had thought about my sister's experience from a science perspective. I understand the skepticism other people have about this as evidence. Given how this story was received I won't discuss the other "supernatural" events that happened around this time. As a scientist I give more credence to patterns, one is a fluke, two is a trend, three is a pattern kind of thing. Also, while I'm happy to discuss things here, and take the ridicule from certain members for my statements, I'm not really comfortable sharing her story, its more hers to share than mine.

            To be more clear the part about my wife's love isn't to state that there is no proof, but I believe it, therefore God. More that she had to participate in the relationship. She had to reveal something about herself, and I had to make a judgement call on its authenticity. I think the same about God's revelation, be it through scripture, or personal prayer.

            I've also hesitated to present this evidence for a human soul because it seems too much like a gap in understanding for my liking, but that being said I think miracles should be at least considered and evaluated as evidence. For example Pope JPII, by all accounts (that I'm aware of) he was a holy devout man. Since he died several purported miracles have been attributed to his intercession. While in the past the methodology for evaluating miracles may have less than robust, the current process is robust. The process for sainthood in the catholic church is regimented, and I find it unexpected than when discussing the supernatural the church uses established methods to evaluate reports of the supernatural. Thoughts?

            I can respect that you aren't satisfied with the answers the church has, and I wonder can you understand and respect why others may be satisfied with them?

          • Andre Boillot

            "While in the past the methodology for evaluating miracles may have less than robust, the current process is robust."

            Sorry to butt-in, Mike. If you get a chance, would you mind explaining this claim, especially in light of JPII doing away with the office of Promoter of the Faith (aka Devil's Advocate), and the subsequent spike in beatifications and canonizations?

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canonization#Roman_Catholic_procedure_since_1983

          • Susan

            While in the past the methodology for evaluating miracles may have less than robust, the current process is robust.

            Define a miracle, its criteria, the methodology that would distinguish a miracle from a rare, happy, church-correlated event. It's important. Or it's cherrypicking and not robust.

            While in the past the methodology for evaluating miracles may have less than robust, the current process is robust. The process for sainthood in the catholic church is regimented, and I find it unexpected than when discussing the supernatural the church uses established methods to evaluate reports of the supernatural. Thoughts?

            Miracles and saints. What are the criteria? What is the method?

            I can respect that you aren't satisfied with the answers the church has, and I wonder can you understand and respect why others may be satisfied with them

            I can understand why others may be satisfied. And I can respect others who hold those beliefs.

            But I truly cannot respect the beliefs themselves. Any more than I can respect belief in ghosts, homeopathy, astrology or conspiracy theories. I don't trust the epistemology behind any of it.

            I only say that because you asked.

          • Ignorant Amos

            For example Pope JPII, by all accounts (that I'm aware of) he was a holy devout man.

            It depends where one is sitting. I'm not just talking about those outside the Church, he was denounced by traditionalist for a variety of concerns. His record in dealing with the abuse scandal was less than favourable too, including his dealings with Father Marcial Maciel Degollado. There are other complaints about his papacy also. Did he sell Zyklon 'B' made by the Solvay Chemical Firm for IG Farben for use by the Nazi's? Perhaps. So it depends from where you are viewing this Pope. From where I'm sitting, not so much so, but then again, I'm bound to be biased...but as I said, all criticism was not from without the church, and not solely by non believers.

            Since he died several purported miracles have been attributed to his intercession.

            Like the cure of Parkinsons that appears may not have been Parkinsons after all and was not diagnosed irrefutably as Parkinsons, it takes a post mortem examination to confirm, so I'm told.

            "A physician will diagnose Parkinson's disease from the medical history and a neurological examination. There is no lab test that will clearly identify the disease, but brain scans are sometimes used to rule out disorders that could give rise to similar symptoms. People may be given levodopa and resulting relief of motor impairment tends to confirm diagnosis. The finding of Lewy bodies in the midbrain on autopsy is usually considered proof that the person had Parkinson's disease. The progress of the illness over time may reveal it is not Parkinson's disease, and some authorities recommend that the diagnosis be periodically reviewed."

            http://jnnp.bmj.com/content/79/4/368.full

            "A study evaluating 800 patients from the DATATOP trial suggested that movement disorder specialists are skilful at diagnosing PD.132 In this study, patients were followed-up from early pretreatment stages for a mean of 7.6 years. Based on autopsy data, imaging studies, response to levodopa and atypical clinical features, only 8.1% of patients did not meet the diagnostic criteria at the final diagnosis. Although this represents an improvement in diagnostic accuracy over earlier studies, it must be noted that not all diagnoses were confirmed on pathological examination.

            Now 8.1% isn't too bad for clinical trials diagnosis, but for claims of the miraculous, it blows the assertion out of the water in my book, and it should in yours.

            I'm left wondering why anyone would pray to a pope for intercession in the first place. Surely one should start from the top down?

            While in the past the methodology for evaluating miracles may have less than robust, the current process is robust.

            Ah, you might assert that to be the case, but not in the case of JPII. The beatification process before the miracles...in fact, Benedict circumvented the 5 year rule in the case of JPII. The second "miracle", a 9 year old Polish boys cure from cancer, appears to have occurred 4 years after the popes demise.

            The methodology for evaluating the miracles attributed to JPII has been anything but robust. An alleged relapse by Sister Marie Simon-Pierre would have thrown a spanner in the works.

            "Sister Marie Simon-Pierre also suffered a relapse though the Episcopal Conference of France disputed that the relapse (which would have thrown the purportedly miraculous nature of the cure into doubt) was anything more than a rumor."

            It's not like the RCC would cover up such a fiasco, heaven forbid.

            The process for sainthood in the catholic church is regimented,...

            Ah, but it isn't regimented at all...the fact that Benedict broke the rules at least once on this occassion is evidence of such.

            ...and I find it unexpected than when discussing the supernatural the church uses established methods to evaluate reports of the supernatural.

            Ah, but it doesn't. And quite frankly I'm pretty appalled that a self proclaimed man of science would state such a thing.

            "A church-certified miracle — typically defined as a "scientifically inexplicable" recovery from a physical ailment following prayers to a deceased Catholic"

            So no evidence can be put forward other than anecdote? Not very scientific..

            Thoughts?

            The obvious elephant in the room is how some one trained and qualified in the rigours of the scientific method would find such flim-flam even slightly convincing. That's compartmentalization for ya I guess.

            I can respect that you aren't satisfied with the answers the church has, and I wonder can you understand and respect why others may be satisfied with them?

            NO!!!!...but don't let my answer be just a case of atheist sour grapes...here are some Catholic sour grapes.

            A Statement of Reservations Concerning the Impending Beatification of Pope John Paul II

            http://www.remnantnewspaper.com/2011-0331-statement-of-reservations-beatification.htm

            The impending beatification of Pope John Paul II on May 1, 2011 has aroused serious concern among not a few Catholics around the world, who are concerned about the condition of the Church and the scandals that have afflicted her in recent years—scandals that prompted the future Benedict XVI to exclaim on Good Friday 2005: “How much filth there is in the Church, even among those who, in the priesthood, should belong entirely to Him.” We give voice to our own concern in this public way in keeping with the law of the Church, which provides:

            In accord with the knowledge, competence and preeminence which they possess, the Christian faithful have the right and even at times a duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church, and they have a right to make their opinion known to the other Christian faithful, with due regard for the integrity of faith and morals and reverence towards their pastors, and with consideration for the common good and the dignity of persons. [CIC (1983), Can. 212, § 3.]

            Perhaps you are just ignorant of the details Mike, in which case, I'm happy to have informed.

          • Mike

            Hi Amos,

            You are right to correct me that JPII is considered holy by all accounts. I'm fighting off a cold, and writing when I'm home from work. I should have used a better qualifier, such as many or most.

            I think both of us can agree that we don't have full information on the medical data concerning the alleged Parkinson's cure. That said, I defer to the judgement of those who are able to properly evaluate it, just as I defer to the particle physicists for their field of study. I was unaware that Parkinson's is unable to be verified until an autopsy. I knew Alzheimer's was, but not PD. I however, do remember that there was concern and some delay in the Church's pronouncement that her recovery was miraculous, and was under the impression it was better known at the time the announcement was made. As an aside I'm always hopeful that the topic of miracles will be treated as its own topic at this or another website. I don't know enough about the topic, and I'm interested to hear what an expert on the matter has to say.

            You are also correct that an exception was made for JPII. Whether it was justified or not is a good question.

            My understanding is that for a miracle to be declared a disease must be clearly diagnosed, with the proper medical tests, and evidence, followed by a full, complete, and immediate recovery following prayer to a single person. My understanding is that the evidence for a reported miracle is evaluated by a variety of experts, some of whom are hopefully non-Catholics, and all of which are objective. While many are reported, it is my understanding that very few stand up the scrutiny required for the Church to sign off. I don't think someone can claim that they were diseases, and healed and have it declared a miracle, so anecdotes alone aren't sufficient. Once again I'd love to see a full article here devoted to the topic.

            Given your reservations with the miracle discussed, and some of our back and forth I'd gather that your objection to miracles isn't limited to this case, but that most or all of them are due to a lack of current medical understanding, or outliers. This may be true, but I think that they could be considered evidence, though not proof. Once again we have to make a judgement call, and different people will disagree.

            I like to think that I am open to a variety of possibilities, including divine intervention. You would be correct to question my scientific credentials if the process for a miracle to be declared by the church is just someone's story, but my understanding is that the process is very vigorous. My opinion on the matter is not set in stone, and I'm always open to changing my mind when presented with good reason to do so presents itself.

            All said, I can't make judgement on particular miracles because I don't have full information, but currently the man who signs off on them (Pope Francis) is a trained chemist, who should be able to evaluate properly. Until demonstrated otherwise I would hesitantly trust his judgement.

          • Ignorant Amos

            I like to think that the existence of the Church even from the early times wouldn't be so enthusiastic about their message and beliefs if it were only a legend.

            Are you just as generous with this line of thought when considering all other religions, past and present? Just asking.

          • Mike

            I would grant it as one piece of evidence. Especially if the followers are willing to be martyred.

          • Ignorant Amos

            Especially if the followers are willing to be martyred.

            Like Islam, or Judaism, or Hinduism, or the Bahá'í Faith, or Sikhism,...

            ..or more recently Mormons...or all those eejits that were cult members such as those at Jonestown that drank the Kool Aid

            ...or the Aztecs and Mayans....or those pesky Pagans?

            Martyrdom is not evidence for the veracity of a belief, just that the martyr believes...and that is not in question.

          • Ben Posin

            It's sort of a pet peeve of mine: the love of a spouse is often presented by theists as an example of something we believe in without evidence. But that's crazypants. To quote Tim Minchin, "love without evidence is stalking." We may never be able to prove ANYTHING 100%, but I'm willing to bet you could provide a lot of evidence that your spouse loves you. I'd bet she'd be hurt if you couldn't think of ways in which she has demonstrated her love. The reason people are so willing to take people at their word when they talk about the love of one spouse for another, or a parent for a child, is that there is so much evidence of such love that it's an uncontroversial claim.

          • Mike

            I never said there was no evidence. I said I can't prove it. I also said that I have to wait for my spouse to reveal her love. I can't demand it. I can't measure it. But I trust it is there. Once again, this is explaining what I mean by faith. You could choose the bum on the street for all I care, but we would all have to wait for them to reveal some important aspect of them self and then we would have to evaluate whether we believe them or not. In the same way God needs to initiate and we would have to judge its validity.

            A pet peeve of mine is when non-believers ask for evidence without specifying what they are looking for. What kind of evidence were you expecting? It seems like you are biased for a particular outcome.

          • Ben Posin

            Mike,

            I just entered this conversation with you. I'm not sure what you're referring to when you talk about me being biased for a particular outcome--outcome in what? And what kind of evidence was I expecting for what?

            My one point talking to you is pretty simple: it's wrong to compare belief in the love of one's family to faith in God. People don't have the same sort of faith in the love of their families --a faith beyond evidence--that they do in God. We NEVER have proof of anything, we're always operating on the best evidence we have at the moment, whether the question concerns a law of physics, sensible economic policy, or the mental state of the people around us. Like anything else, you had to be exposed to evidence (have it "revealed to you") before drawing a conclusion about how your wife feels about you. But being exposed to the evidence, such as your wife's statements, actions, facial expressions, body language, etc. you have (probably reasonably) come to the conclusion that your wife loves you. That's how evidence based conclusions work. You probably don't assume the "bum on the street" loves you in the same way your wife does, lacking this kind of evidence.

            Frankly, it's actually a really scary idea that a Christian might think there isn't available evidence about how one person feels about another. That sounds like a recipe for, well, stalking, and other bad things.

            But really, this is just a digression and distraction from the main conversations going on here. I'm just a bit obsessive in my one man campaign to get theists to stop claiming that people's belief in love justifies faith in things with much less evidence than love.

          • Mike

            I'm sorry Ben I'm confused.

            What kind of evidence for God would you desire?

            Susan and I were discussing that sometimes people's bias' cloud the conversation. If one party is a strong believer, and another is a strong unbeliever they may be biased to believing that some evidence supports their point of view.

            To be clear I'm not stating that there is no evidence for emotions between two people, but it is far from scientific evidence. There is no equation for what criteria need to be present for love to be probable.

            Why can't I use the same analogy for faith in God? I'm no claiming that because my wife loves me therefore God. I am claiming that belief in God or lack of belief requires faith.

            Why can't I be exposed to God through scripture, prayer, tradition and respond in faith (either accepting or rejecting)? I'd bet some atheists have rejected belief in God based on the same kind of faith.

            To be clear I think people could examine the same evidence for God and reach different conclusions, and both act in good faith.

            I mean to be honest in my everyday life I'm not bothered by whether or not God is real, or my belief is reasonable, etc. There is much more to by beliefs than to whether or not scientific evidence for God should be present.

          • Ben Posin

            "Why can't I be exposed to God through scripture, prayer, tradition and respond in faith (either accepting or rejecting)? I'd bet some atheists have rejected belief in God based on the same kind of faith."

            It's hard for me to tell, but I think you're agreeing with me now that love is something people believe due to evidence. I'm not really interested in debating with you about whether some evidence is less "scientific" than others. If you agree with me that the faith you have in God (after your exposure to scripture, prayer and tradition) is different than the more ordinary sort of belief in evidenced love, we're on the same page. And you CAN have such faith, many, many, many people do! It's just not, by definition, a reasonable belief. That's what faith means--having a belief that goes beyond, that's stronger than, the evidence.

            As much time as I waste on this site, I'm not going to have a debate with you about whether it takes the same sort of faith to be an atheist as a theist. Hint: it does not, silly.

          • Susan

            Hi again Mike, :-)

            A pet peeve of mine is when non-believers ask for evidence without specifying what they are looking for

            I originally barged into your discussion with David about what might be the problem with theistic evolution.

            I am looking for evidence that at some point, our species was imbued with a "soul".

            When and where did that happen and how would it show itself?

          • Vasco Gama

            Susan,

            There is no such thing as theistic evolution.

            Evolution is a scientific theory that accounts biological transformation. Evolution is not a matter of theological doctrine, and theists are free to consider evolution as they see fit.

          • Ignorant Amos

            Evolution is not a matter of theological doctrine, and theists are free to consider evolution as they see fit.

            You might want to take that up with the RCC.

            "Theistic evolution is the accepted official position of the Roman Catholic Church; however, there is little formal discussion of what God did and did not do, or of the distinction between human evolution and the evolution of other animals."

            You may wish to peruse...

            MESSAGE TO THE PONTIFICAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES:
            ON EVOLUTION Pope John Paul II

            http://www.ewtn.com/library/papaldoc/jp961022.htm

            Other Christian theists are not as free to consider evolution as they see fit.

            "Creationists are very critical of theistic evolution, which they say is a non-Christian doctrine and gives support to naturalism."

            Many Christian denominations are bible literalist's, which means they must adhere to creationism.

            "Biblical literalism is the theological view that the contents of the Bible should be seen as literally true, as opposed to being interpreted as allegory, literature, or mythology. Literalism is the basis of several different pseudoscientific positions, such as Young Earth Creationism, Deluge Theory and the Flat Earth Theory."

          • Vasco Gama

            Ignorant,

            As I said before "theistic evolution" means nothing. Or if you prefer it means the same thing as atheistic evolution.

            If you pretend to quote anything, it is better if you include what (as in who and from where) you are quoting, or it is meaningless, and doesn't add anything to whatever statment you might do yourself.

          • Ignorant Amos

            My apologies. I was under the impression that if you needed to know the source, you knew how to use Google, especially as the link to JPII address to " THE PONTIFICAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES: ON EVOLUTION" supports the quote with the evidence...silly me.

            http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Theistic_evolution

            A general Google of "theistic evolution facts" gives 317,000 hits.

            You are entitled to your own conjecture, not your own facts.

            Your statement, "There is no such thing as theistic evolution", is erroneous and the Catholic Church seems to have an opinion on the subject.

            "McCarrick [that's Archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick] said this concept of "theistic evolution" – agreeing with Darwin's evolutionary theory, given that one accepts God’s guidance in the process -- was the view of the late Pope John Paul II."

            "Said McCarrick: "As long as in every understanding of evolution, the hand of God is recognized as being present, we can accept that."

            So RC's don't get to "see evolution as they see fit" at all.

            Furthermore, science has forced the church to fudge the issue in the past 60 years..

            As for the assertion that there is such a thing as "atheistic evolution", let alone is equivalent to "theistic evolution", well that is just ludicrous and unworthy of someone capable of posting on the internet.

          • Vasco Gama

            I repeat myself there is no such thing as "theist evolution", in spite of you might speak of the view of Pope John Paul II (or of McCarrick, or mine, or anybody else), as you can say that Pope John Paul II, said that the theory of evolution is not incompatible with the Church's teachings, however theist (or Catholics) are not compelled by the Church doctrine to agree with the theory of evolution.

            Of course that most of informed Catholics support and agree with the theory of evolution, in the exact same extent of most of the informed atheists (it is no different). As I said before the theory of evolution is a scientific theory. It is quite unusual (and slightly absurd) to consider that the Church has to validate every single scientific theory, and in fact it doesn’t happen, but sometimes the Church may find useful to say make a pronunciation about a particular issue, such as in the case of evolution (I presume that it was done in view of the controversies with creationists and intelligent design that apparently don’t correspond to the understanding of the Church, and the Church choose to make it clear to the Catholics (as a clarification).

            If Cardinal McCarrick referred to the concept of "theistic evolution", I think that it is abuse of language (or a casual mistake), it is not meaningful.

            The Church has no disagreement with science (in spite of the impression of atheists that it is the case, and if that is your notion, please keep it to yourself or keep for another occasion as I have no intention of discussing this issue), this would be quite strange considering the large number of Catholics that are scientists, and in general they don’t have any problem with the theory of evolution or with any other subject of science. They may disagree with scientists that are atheists, but that is somehow confined to philosophical and theological problems, such as the existence of God.

            If you consider arguing about the purpose of evolution (that Catholics acknowledge to exist) or that science doesn’t see purpose in evolution (which it is true), the fact is that science is unable to consider teleology (purposes and meaning), but then matters of teleology are metaphysic and are beyond the considerations of science. In other words the peculiarity of the Church views in relation to the view of atheists concern metaphysics and not science.

          • Ignorant Amos

            I repeat myself there is no such thing as "theist evolution", in spite of you might speak of the view of Pope John Paul II (or of McCarrick, or mine, or anybody else), as you can say that Pope John Paul II, said that the theory of evolution is not incompatible with the Church's teachings,...

            Keep repeating the mantra if it makes you feel better. You do realise that there are other theists than Catholics, right?

            ...however theist (or Catholics) are not compelled by the Church doctrine to agree with the theory of evolution.

            I never said they were compelled. My point is, that the wiser of the theists that do hold to evolution, have to adhere to the "theistic" version. That is, whatever they believed, they must not leave God out of the theory...hence, "theistic evolution"...it's in the name and it ain't rocket science.

            Of course that most of informed Catholics support and agree with the theory of evolution, in the exact same extent of most of the informed atheists (it is no different).

            But they don't, because they are not permitted to...to leave out the God bit is heresy. It is preposterous to infer that ANY informed atheist contemplates the god bit...that's what makes it "theistic evolution".

            As I said before the theory of evolution is a scientific theory. It is quite unusual (and slightly absurd) to consider that the Church has to validate every single scientific theory,...

            Really? And yet here we are, with the church feeling the need to validate a scientific theory. Is it because the science has left the church no option on this occassion.

            ...and in fact it doesn’t happen, but sometimes the Church may find useful to say make a pronunciation about a particular issue, such as in the case of evolution (I presume that it was done in view of the controversies with creationists and intelligent design that apparently don’t correspond to the understanding of the Church, and the Church choose to make it clear to the Catholics (as a clarification).

            Yeah, because you really don't want to be grouped with that bunch of lunatics do ya? Wait a minute...what was the Catholic Churches position on evolution 100 years ago? What would have been the ordeal met out to someone suggesting such a theory 500 years ago? And what is the RCC's position on it now?

            Of course we could talk about heliocentric solar system theory of 500 years ago too, but there is no point.

            Science has been supported by the Church unless it disputes scripture, then the Church makes things clear, sort of, when not to do so makes the churches position and scripture, untenable...then it's time for the apologetics to begin.

            If Cardinal McCarrick referred to the concept of "theistic evolution", I think that it is abuse of language (or a casual mistake), it is not meaningful.

            Says you...

            "Having learnt a lesson from the Galileo Affair, the Church leaves the evaluation and endorsement of specific scientific theories to scientists. The Church has always agreed with scientists on matters such as the age of the earth and the authenticity of the fossil record. Papal pronouncements, along with commentaries by cardinals, have accepted the findings of scientists on the gradual appearance of life. In fact, the International Theological Commission in a July 2004 statement endorsed by Cardinal Ratzinger, then president of the Commission and head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, now Pope Benedict XVI, includes this paragraph:

            "According to the widely accepted scientific account, the universe erupted 15 billion years ago in an explosion called the 'Big Bang' and has been expanding and cooling ever since. Later there gradually emerged the conditions necessary for the formation of atoms, still later the condensation of galaxies and stars, and about 10 billion years later the formation of planets. In our own solar system and on earth (formed about 4.5 billion years ago), the conditions have been favorable to the emergence of life. While there is little consensus among scientists about how the origin of this first microscopic life is to be explained, there is general agreement among them that the first organism dwelt on this planet about 3.5 - 4 billion years ago. Since it has been demonstrated that all living organisms on earth are genetically related, it is virtually certain that all living organisms have descended from this first organism. Converging evidence from many studies in the physical and biological sciences furnishes mounting support for some theory of evolution to account for the development and diversification of life on earth, while controversy continues over the pace and mechanisms of evolution. While the story of human origins is complex and subject to revision, physical anthropology and molecular biology combine to make a convincing case for the origin of the human species in Africa about 150,000 years ago in a humanoid population of common genetic lineage. However it is to be explained, the decisive factor in human origins was a continually increasing brain size, culminating in that of homo sapiens. With the development of the human brain, the nature and rate of evolution were permanently altered: with the introduction of the uniquely human factors of consciousness, intentionality, freedom and creativity, biological evolution was recast as social and cultural evolution." (paragraph 63, from "Communion and Stewardship: Human Persons Created in the Image of God," plenary sessions held in Rome 2000-2002, published July 2004)"

            Yet, Pope Pius IX said ....

            " Hence all faithful Christians are forbidden to defend as the legitimate conclusions of science those opinions which are known to be contrary to the doctrine of faith, particularly if they have been condemned by the Church; and furthermore they are absolutely bound to hold them to be errors which wear the deceptive appearance of truth." (Vatican Council I)

            Pius IX papacy coincided with the publishing of Darwin's "Origin of Species", Pius IX also decreed papal infallibility.

            The Church has no disagreement with science (in spite of the impression of atheists that it is the case, and if that is your notion, please keep it to yourself or keep for another occasion as I have no intention of discussing this issue),...

            You are having a bit of difficulty with the basic concepts. The church has no issue with science unless it conflicts with the Church. The RCC has been forced to acknowledge evolution because it had no option....adding the caveat that however life got going, it was God that started it. That is what is known as "theistic evolution".

            If you consider arguing about the purpose of evolution (that Catholics acknowledge to exist)...

            But not all Catholics.

            ...or that science doesn’t see purpose in evolution (which it is true),...

            Oh science does see purpose in evolution, whatever gave you that idea? The purpose of all living things is to survive and reproduce. It happens using the theory.

            ...the fact is that science is unable to consider teleology (purposes and meaning), but then matters of teleology are metaphysic and are beyond the considerations of science

            Meaning is a bit different, it happens at a local level. Living things give meaning by their existence...sometimes at a very simple level...others at a more complicated level, such as humans.

            In other words the peculiarity of the Church views in relation to the view of atheists concern metaphysics and not science.

            Not much to offer then.

          • Vasco Gama

            «Keep repeating the mantra if it makes you feel better. You do realise that there are other theists than Catholics, right?»

            It doesn’t make feel better, but it is possible that in the process of reading it a few times you might come to agree with me. I not suggesting that there aren’t other theists, however to the best of my knowledge there is no theistic evolution (as it makes no sense), as much as there is no Catholic evolution, or Christian evolution, or reformed evolution, or evangelical evolution, or Islamic evolution, or Jewish evolution, or atheistic evolution, but just one evolution, which is the scientific theory of evolution. This doesn’t prevent the existence of any personal philosophical conception about evolution, which is the conception that a person or a variety of persons can find reasonable to hold about evolution.

            In conclusion, there is no such thing as “theistic evolution”.

            However if you mean that there are philosophical considerations about the theory of evolution, I have to say of course there are, any person as the right to hold philosophical views and implications about theory of evolution (even if it makes little or no sense), as much as it makes sense to the person that holds those views. If you mean that there is a Catholic view of the theory of evolution (which is philosophical) I would say that it is the case, or if you say that there is an atheistic philosophical view of the theory of evolution, I would say that probably there is. If you say that there is a theistic philosophical view of the theory of evolution, I would have to say that it is possible (in spite of it is not so clear of what you mean with that), given the fact that, as you say, there are other theists besides Catholics (in spite of I don’t realize that there is so much in common between them).

            I think that in fact you realize very well what I am saying, in spite of pretending to be confused, as much as you mention that in the Catholic view one might be somehow forced to introduce «the God bit» (which is slightly misleading, but I can live with that). The thing is when you introduce «the God bit» it is not science any more, it can be theology, metaphysics or even philosophy, surely it is not science. One theist knows that and one atheist is also supposed to know that (science really has no way to include or consider God, as such), it is plain and simple (or better it should be, in spite of you apparently fail to acknowledge that).

            It would be interesting that you should read and pay some attention to the quotations you introduced; I call your attention to the following (I would suggest that you should try to understand what is said):

            Do you see that is clearly stated that « the Church leaves the evaluation and endorsement of specific scientific theories to scientists », does it looks confusing?

            You might say, well apparently it does when you add this

            But I can explain it you, in fact what is referred in «faithful Christians are forbidden to defend as the legitimate conclusions of science those opinions which are known to be contrary to the doctrine of faith», this refers to philosophical considerations (which can be atheistic, Jewish, Islamic, protestant, evangelical, astrological, Buddhist, gnotiscist, mystical…).

            In fact the basic metaphysical presumptions about reality, that the world is regular and intelligible, and that we humans are capable of understanding its intelligibility is a basic metaphysical presumption both from Catholicism and science. And the fact that « the Church leaves the evaluation and endorsement of specific scientific theories to scientists » doesn’t exclude that the Church has its own philosophical views about those subjects, and occasionally does find philosophical disagreements with whoever proposes those theories or tries to develop other philosophical interpretations. Again the issue is philosophical (theological or metaphysical, not scientific).

            I don’t pretend that you might abandon your idea that the Church is ultimately offended by science, and hates science, and that there is some secret society (formed by secret warrior monks) that pretend to persecute scientists, if it is the case that you consider this to be reasonable, please keep faithful to your thoughts (in fact I can’t guarantee that you are wrong, it just doesn’t look reasonable and that is what I have to say about that).

            In the same way as when you say that

            « The purpose of all living things is to survive and reproduce »

            This is your philosophical interpretation, which you are entitled to have, as you could say also other equally meaningful statements, such as the purpose meaning of living things is to die, or to live, or whatever. Again this not science, science can describe things it might observe, however science doesn’t recognize, what is the purpose of living things, although you and I (and other people) might be interested in discussing it (but it is not science).

            So I might say in conclusion that there is no such thing as “theistic evolution”

          • Ignorant Amos

            I was going to waste a lot of time giving an in depth reply to your post, but it is such a load of nonsense I thought twice and decided against it...mostly to preserve my own sanity.

            Given the support for the concept defined as "theistic evolution", which incidentally is not a philosophical interpretation, but a theological construct, I'll still with consensus that there exists a concept called "theistic evolution" as defined by theists and non theists alike...except you of course, because you know better.

            https://www.google.es/search?q=theistic+evolution+&rlz=1C1GTPM_enES524ES524&oq=theistic+evolution+&aqs=chrome..69i57j69i60j69i65j69i59l2j69i60.18696j0j7&sourceid=chrome&espv=210&es_sm=122&ie=UTF-8#es_sm=122&espv=210&q=theistic+evolution+definition&revid=1929405555

            How so many, including eminent Catholics, get it so wrong in light of you expertise on the matter, heaven only knows.

            Thank-you all the same.

          • Vasco Gama

            So, in your mind, in order to confirm about the existence of something, your criteria is to google it and see if something turns out to appear.

            Well it can make little sense, but at least it is objective.

          • Ignorant Amos

            So, in your mind, in order to confirm about the existence of something, your criteria is to google it and see if something turns out to appear.

            No, when the weight of evidence far outweighs the opinion of the one...the rational critical thinker in me gravitates to the obvious conclusion. It comes as no surprise though, you can't grasp the "nothing" that Krauss refers to in his book, so I guess you will fail to recognise the veracity of the term "theistic evolution"...mind you, reading the subject matter often helps.

            Well it can make little sense,....

            To you perhaps...but then as someone who appears to be able to make sense out of religion, and one religion in particular, I shall not be too worried about your opinion.

            Unless you can point to sources that support your position, in which case I'm prepared to revise my stance.

          • Vasco Gama

            «...but then as someone who appears to be able to make sense out of religion, and one religion in particular, I shall not be too worried about your opinion»

            We all try to make sense out of our believes, could we do it any other way?

          • josh

            Vasco, there are many 'theories' of evolution. Lamarckian vs. Darwinian for example. Theistic evolution is a story in which God plays some role, usually either intervening to achieve some outcome or planning the whole thing from the beginning to effect said outcome. This is not scientific, but that is not because it involves God, it is because it has no evidence. 'Atheistic' evolution is just scientific evolution: God plays no role, nor do alien intelligences or magicians. Just the facts for which we have evidence and the interpretations supported by that evidence.

            Now, theistic evolution, by construction, looks superficially similar to scientific evolution, but it is a very different view. On theistic evolution, the successes of the scientific view are either 1) false, as in the claim that God must intervene to supply a human soul to Adam and Eve or some such intermediate ancestor; or 2) an illusion, in that what was explained by chance and necessity has a 'real' explanation in some elaborate set-up. It's the difference between winning a card game because you understand the odds and winning because you cheated.

          • Vasco Gama

            Josh,

            You have been absent, welcome back (I wish you a happy new year).

            I was addressing the Darwinian account, which the one generally accepted, it may well be the case that there are a few others, it is not relevant.

            If by “theistic evolution” you mean the philosophical conception of the Church regarding theory of evolution (the Darwinian), although its content is not doctrinal (and its acceptance is not required for Catholics) I guess this corresponds to the way the Church considers evolution. But it is not a scientific theory it a philosophical (and theological) interpretation of a scientific theory. But I already explained this to Ignorant Amos, please see the other comments.

            Science doesn’t consider God, so it is out of the question that it may say something about God of consider any reference to God, in spite of the theological belief of the person that proposed the scientific theory (or if it is a Muslim, a Christian, an atheist, or whatever you might consider).

          • A pet peeve of mine is when non-believers ask for evidence without specifying what they are looking for.

            And a pet peeve of mine is when believers ask what kind of evidence would be acceptable. The fact is, I can't imagine what kind of evidence would establish this most extraordinary of claims. However, I recognize this may just be due to a failure of my own imagination, so instead I ask, "What evidence have you got? What's the evidence you find sufficient?" And then I'll give a reasoned explanation of whether and why I find it convincing.

          • Mike

            To be honest, I ask because I'm not expecting to find the type of smoking gun proof most people desire.

            I'm not expecting God to be a thing in the universe that can be probed. I can't think of a way to poke or prod an entity that is not entirely contained within the universe. Instead I am expecting that God would reveal himself/herself and people would have to evaluate what had been revealed.

            Can I ask an honest question? Can you imagine someone being satisfied with what the Church presents/teaches, without that belief being superstitious?

          • Jeffrey Cash

            Wrong. In fact, God is the only possible answer

          • "...is there an Institute of Supernatural Creationism somewhere where the finest theological minds are currently hard at work on solving the vexing problem of how gods create universes?"

            I doubt that, but from a scientific perspective I don't think the Catholic church would be opposed to learning more about the scientific explanation for the beginning of the universe. Stephen Hawking is a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, and considering some of his work such as "The Grand Design," I wouldn't think the council would be opposed to hearing different ideas on the beginning of the universe. I would think the members of the council who are theists probably wouldn't say something like, "we couldn't possibly understand it."

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

          • Sqrat

            Couldn't understand what, the naturalistic cause or causes of the origins of the universe, or the supernatural means by which gods create universes? It was the latter to which I was referring.

            It's the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, not the Pontifical Academy of the Supernatural.

          • Geoffrey Miller

            To me, God's creation of the universe just means that God is the ordering principle that sustains existence and gives it form. So basically, the God I worship is the Tao or Logos but with personal attributes.

            As for the question of why there is anything at all, well, there was never a time when there was nothing. Something can't come from nothing. So there has always been something: God, at the very least. But I suspect that the material universe has always been around as well in some form or another. An ordering principle needs something to order, after all.

          • Sqrat

            I don't understand what you mean by God being an "ordering principle."

            Suppose someone hands me a deck of thoroughly shuffled cards and tells me to put them in order, by suit, and from low card to high card within each suit. "By suit, from low card to high card within each suit" is the ordering principle here. I'm the one who puts them in order according to that principle, but I'm not the ordering principle itself. It seems to me that there is a distinction between an ordering principle and the implementation of that ordering principle by someone (or something, such as a computer program).

            My objection to the conception of God as "orderer" is similar to my objection to the conception of God as "creator": It's utterly devoid of any theoretical explanation of how the orderer goes about creating order. That seems to be conceived of as some kind of magical process which, precisely because it is magical, does not demand an explanation, but it does.

            In addition, I object to the idea of God as someone, or something, that "sustains existence," as that idea is utterly lacking any theoretical explanation of why "existence" is something that needs to be "sustained."

          • Geoffrey Miller

            I get what you're saying, Sqrat. Perhaps calling God an Orderer is not the best analogy. I'm certainly not thinking of some cosmic card shuffler. What I mean to get across is that God is the Order itself--and by Order, I mean something much broader than a mathematical formulation.

            Here's a better analogy. Looking around, the universe is ordered by a coherent set of immutable laws. We use these laws to explain the phenomena we see in the world. These laws are discovered to varying degrees of accuracy through empirical science, personal experience, etc.

            Now, because separation is really just an abstraction of the human mind, what we conceive of as many laws are in fact one single Law. This Law, the Way of things, is what I mean by the word "God." In God, there is no distinction between what God is and what God does. Thus, following God entails finding out the Way of things and learning to move naturally through life.

            Therefore, in my philosophy, God is not an explanatory device used to prop up the universe. God is the Law that we discover and live, the Law that governs our hearts and the universe as a whole. "In God we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28).

            God's depiction as a personal being creating and sustaining the universe is merely the best analogy we can make to hint at the actual Truth of what's going on in the world. We know that there are personal beings (humans), we know that they are under the same Law as the rest of the universe, and so we know that this Law must have an aspect analogous to, but much higher than, the individual personalities it directs. Thus, God is in some sense personal.

            I hope this clarifies my definition of "God."

          • Sqrat

            If, by "God," you mean "Order" or "the Way of things," why call it "God"? You are clearly not using the word to refer to the same thing that Jesus referred to as "Abba", ordinarily rendered according to contemporary English-language usage as "God [the Father]" -- you mean something else entirely. Your use of God-talk in this context simply results in the potential for needless confusion. And why "Order" instead of "order," why "the Way of things" instead of "the way of things"?

            One of the most fundamental aspects of the way of things in our universe is the Second Law of Thermodynamics. That law entails that the entropy (disorder) of the universe, if it is a closed system, must be constantly increasing. To put that in the God-talk language you are using here, that means that there's less and less "God" in the universe all the time, with some cosmological theories holding that eventually there may be essentially no "God" in it at all.

          • Geoffrey Miller

            Again, you are confusing what I mean by "the Way of things." The Way is not ordered stuff. It's the Law that governs the stuff. When the universe goes cold, the equation for gravity won't change. Indeed, if our universe is in fact a closed system (I seriously doubt this), heat death would be a working out of the Way of things, just as the Big Bang was also a working out of the Way of things.

            As for why I call the Way of things God, it is immutable, it is eternal, it governs all things, it is everywhere present, and it must have something analogous to personality since it also governs and in fact determines the actions of what we call personal beings. We are interacting with the Way of things whether we are talking to Grandma or falling from a building. Ultimately, you could say there is only the Way. Thus, God seems to me to be a very suitable name.

            If you don't like that name, it doesn't matter. The name that can be named is not the Name. The way that can be seen is not the Way. What is observed is just water from the spring of the unobserved. That's why all my analogies refer to something Nameless. They hint at it. I use the vocabulary from my Christian tradition because it is familiar, there is nothing wrong with it when rightly understood, and I accept Christianity's claim to divine revelation. If I had been born in ancient China, on the other hand, I would be telling you the same thing with different words like Tao, Mandate of Heaven, Valley Spirit, etc.

          • Sqrat

            Again, you are confusing what I mean by "the Way of things." The Way is not ordered stuff. It's the Law that governs the stuff.

            You had earlier referred to it as either "Order" or the "Way of things." Since the way of things, as far as we know it, is ever-increasing disorder, you can perhaps understand why it was confusing that you referred to it as "Order."

            As for why I call the Way of things "God," it is immutable, it is eternal, it governs all things, it is everywhere present, and it must have something analogous to personality since it also governs and in
            fact determines the actions of what we call personal beings.

            There's a new book out by the physicist Lee Smolin. While I have not read it, I have glanced at it. One of the arguments that Smolin makes in the book is that the "way of things" may not be immutable at all -- the laws of nature may change over time. I think there has also been some discussion among physicists about whether the laws of nature that we observe are in fact "everywhere present" or are only present in the part of the universe we can observe (being perhaps somewhat different in parts of the universe we can't observe). Some, maybe even most, cosmologists think that the laws of nature that hold in our universe do not necessarily hold in other universes, where they may be slightly different, or even radically different (for example, in some universes it may be possible to travel freely in time, but not in space). While clearly all that is somewhat speculative, the speculations do call to our attention the fact that any assumptions about the way of things being immutable, eternal, and everywhere present are just that -- assumptions.

            I accept Christianity's claim to divine revelation.

            But what is it that's "divine revelation" and what is "divine" about it? While you may accept Christianity's claim to divine revelation, what you mean by "divine revelation" seems to me to bear little or no relation to what most Christians mean by the term.

          • Geoffrey Miller

            Since I'm still telling you what I believe about God before you add Christianity's contribution of divine revelation, I don't see how you can judge whether or not what I mean by "divine revelation" matches up with my co-religionists. I haven't even defined it yet, nor do I want to at the moment, because it's irrelevant to our current topic.

            You're getting nearer to what I mean by the Way of things, but you're still not quite there.

            For the sake of argument, let's suppose there are other universes governed by physical laws different from those governing our own universe. In order for us to observe these other universes, to know that they are really out there, they must interact with our own in some fashion. Are there laws governing such an interaction? There must be in order for empirical science to even be able to comment on it. And because there is an interaction that can be studied by science, the laws are part of a greater structure of coherent laws. They share an inner unity. They are local out-workings or manifestations of the Law, the Way of things.

            Certainly there are more physical laws waiting to be discovered. And we don't know everything about the laws we have already found. But if, on a fundamental level, existence is governed by logic--and this is a basic assumption of all science--then we already know there is an eternal, immutable framework in place. Change occurs according to principles that are changeless, or else we cannot study change scientifically; but we do study change.

            You seem to be suggesting that we should abandon the scientific project altogether and submit to the ancient pagan idea that everything is ultimately the out-workings of incomprehensible, indescribable chaos. Or as Eugenio Scalfari put it:

            Being is a fabric of energy. Chaotic but indestructible energy and eternal chaos. Forms emerge from that energy when it reaches the point of exploding. The forms have their own laws, their magnetic fields, their chemical elements, which combine randomly, evolve, and are eventually extinguished but their energy is not destroyed. Man is probably the only animal endowed with thought, at least in our planet and solar system. I said that he is driven by instincts and desires but I would add that he also contains within himself a resonance, an echo, a vocation of chaos.

            I don't see how this view of the universe is any less mystical than my own. Moreover, my own mysticism at the very least explains the success of modern science and paints the universe as understandable by the human mind. Your mysticism, on the other hand, seems to be a very real threat to your science.

            If there are universes where cause-and-effect breakdown, or where the law of identity does not hold (A can be A and not A in the same respect simultaneously), then experimentation is worthless. If natural laws can change at the whim of colorless horrible animates beyond the membranes that have wills but don't think, breathe but don't live, and die to be born in silence...why should anyone have confidence in science at all? Why should it be working as good as it is?

            Creationists may be silly to suggest that Satan put dinosaur bones in the ground, but you are essentially arguing that Cthulu may have put them there instead. For a champion of reason, your worldview makes no sense and seems to imply that sense itself is an illusion.

          • Sqrat

            Since I'm still telling you what I believe about God before you add Christianity's contribution of divine revelation, I don't see how you can judge whether or not what I mean by "divine revelation" matches up with my co-religionists.

            Since your use of the word "God" doesn't correspond to the use of that same term as generally used by Christians, what is your reason for referring to Christians as your co-religionists? It does not seem to me, as I have suggested earlier, that "Christ" himself (insofar as we can infer his beliefs from what little is recorded of him in the historical record) would have recognized, as the meaning of the word for "God" in his language, what you mean by it. I don't think, for example, that when he prayed to "Father", and bade his listeners to do likewise, Jesus thought he was praying to "the way of things."

            The Catholic Encyclopedia says that "Revelation may be defined as the communication of some truth by God to a rational creature through means which are beyond the ordinary course of nature." Taking that to be an accurate summation of the meaning of the term according to Christianity's largest individual sect, it's clear that "divine revelation" cannot mean the same thing to you as it does to a Catholic, if "God" doesn't mean the same thing to you as it does to a Catholic. I don't think that the case is likely to be much different if we were to consider the use of the term "divine revelation" by and within other major Christian sects.

            But if, on a fundamental level, existence is governed by logic--and this is a basic assumption of all science--then we already know there is an eternal, immutable framework in place.

            Is it a basic assumption of science? You are using the word "logic" here in as eccentric a fashion as you use the terms "God" and "divine revelation". "Logic" is about reasoning -- about reaching valid conclusions from a given set of premises, according to certain rules. While logic governs reasoning in the sciences as much as it governs reasoning in, say, the legal profession, it is rather strange to say that it governs "existence."

            If there are universes where cause-and-effect breakdown, or where the law of identity does not hold (A can be A and not A at the same time and
            in the same respect simultaneously), then experimentation is worthless.

            It's not at all clear that cause-and-effect, in the usual sense, always holds even in our own universe. For example, an "effect" is something that is a consequence of a given "cause" (or set of causes), This is ordinarily understood to mean -- and indeed, in our everyday world, does mean -- that causes chronologically precede effects (or, at the very least, do not follow the effects they caused). And yet the physicists think that, under certain circumstances, an effect may indeed precede its cause. The concept is called "retrocausality," and experimental confirmation is, I believe, currently being sought.

            If natural laws can change at the whim of colorless horrible animates beyond the membranes that have wills but don't think, breathe but don't live, and die to be born in silence...why should anyone have confidence
            in science at all?

            Could you restate that in English?

          • Geoffrey Miller

            (1) Again, I'm telling you what I believe about God apart from Christian revelation first. That hasn't even entered the picture yet.

            (2) Jesus identified himself with the Logos. All the way back to Heraclitus, this word has meant a principle of order and knowledge. Jesus literally claimed to be the Way of things made flesh. He meant exactly what I mean by the term. Look up Logos on Wikipedia. It's been taught by everyone from Philo to Aquinas.

            (3) You clearly have no appreciation for H.P. Lovecraft.

    • Steven Dillon

      I think you'd be hard pressed to get a naturalist to concede that there was any ultimate origin for us to ask questions about.

      After all, naturalism just says that nature is all that exists, so to ask the naturalist about the origins of nature is to ask about the origins of existence, a question they'll find meaningless.

      • Geena Safire

        Steven, you might want to ask a naturalist what naturalists think or find meaningless rather than presume what they must think. What they believe about the nature of nature does not constrain what they think about origins. So different naturalists might have differing ideas about origins.

        • Steven Dillon

          The notion of Naturalism I'm using is widespread, and the deduction about origins I made from it is valid, even if surprising for some. It's no more presumptuous to expect a naturalist to believe Naturalism and its consequences than it is to expect anyone of any position to believe their position and its consequences.

          • Geena Safire

            I see nothing in naturalism that consequently and necessarily renders questions about the origins of existence meaningless for naturalists. Please enlighten me.

          • Steven Dillon

            We must be equivocating on the word 'origin' Geena, because as I'm using it, it's inherently meaningless to ask from what existence arose, regardless of whether you're a naturalist or not. If you go back to bbrown's initial comment, s/he's using 'question of origins' as Feser does, namely questions about what 'the' universe came from. I took my cue from them.

          • Geena Safire

            The universe may have, in some very different form, always existed. The universe may also have emerged from nothing.

            I really don't see why either of these origins are "meaningless" or why questions about them are "meaningless," much less "inherently meaningless."

          • Steven Dillon

            The thing is Geena, these guys are using the 'universe' to mean all of natural/material reality, instead of its more usual restricted meaning.

            From a theistic perspective, it makes sense to ask what brought the universe into existence, since on theism, the universe is not all that exists.

            But, for the naturalist, these origin questions amount to saying 'what brought existence into existence', and to that, the naturalist owes only one reply: nonsense! :P

          • Geena Safire

            Ah, I think I understand your meaning. It's like such claims as "God is Being itself" and "God sustains the universe by his will."

            I might be more polite than to actually say, 'nonsense.' I would likely say something along the lines of 'That is a metaphysical claim and not an empirical claim and thus is not a question that lends itself to be studied by science.'

            [T]hese guys are using the 'universe' to mean all of natural/material reality, instead of its more usual restricted meaning.

            OTOH, maybe I don't understand your meaning. I don't get how "all of nature/material reality" is a less restricted meaning than the definition of "universe" used by "these guys."

  • David Nickol

    I am not sure what all the fuss is about. The "nothing" of physicists (the quantum vacuum) is not the same as the "nothing" of philosophers. No one is pretending it is. It seems that "theists" are upset by this, since they like to think of the big bang as the moment of creation ex nihilo, but contemporary physics explains it as a fluctuation in the quantum vacuum. So the big bang is the beginning of our universe, but our universe did came from the physicists' nothing, not the philosophers' nothing. But the quantum void did not precede our universe, since time itself came into existence as a property of our universe.

    Philosophers give ordinary words precise and special meanings all the time that, when used outside of philosophy in ordinary conversation, do not mean what philosophers use them to mean in a philosophical context. Why it should be such an outrage that physicists do the same thing with a word like nothing is somewhat of a mystery to me.

    • Sqrat

      I would add, David, that there are several competing physical models of the origins of the universe. One says that time itself came into existence with the Big Bang. However, another, the Steinhardt-Turok model, says that time preceded the Big Bang, that the Big Bang was an event that occurred IN time, and that the antecedent of the Big Bang was not "nothing", but two "branes" that collided (the collision being the Big Bang). A third model, the Baum-Frampton model, asserts that the predecessor of our universe was also not "nothing", but an earlier universe.

      • David Nickol

        Thanks. And while we're discussing other theories, it should be pointed out that the Bible does not describe God creating the universe from nothing, but bringing order out of chaos. The New American Bible translates the opening lines of Genesis as follows:

        1 In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth—
        2 and the earth was without form or shape, with darkness over the abyss and a mighty wind sweeping over the waters—
        3 Then God said: Let there be light, and there was light.

        Here is the footnote to verse 2:

        This verse is parenthetical, describing in three phases the pre-creation state symbolized by the chaos out of which God brings order: “earth,” hidden beneath the encompassing cosmic waters, could not be seen, and thus had no “form”; there was only darkness; turbulent wind swept over the waters. Commencing with the last-named elements (darkness and water), vv. 3–10 describe the rearrangement of this chaos: light is made (first day) andthe water is divided into water above and water below the earth so thatthe earth appears and is no longer “without outline.” The abyss: the primordial ocean according to the ancient Semitic cosmogony. After God’s creative activity, part of this vast body forms the salt-water seas (vv. 9–10); part of it is the fresh water under the earth (Ps 33:7; Ez 31:4), which wells forth on the earth as springs and fountains (Gn 7:11; 8:2; Prv 3:20). Part of it, “the upper water” (Ps 148:4; Dn 3:60), is held up by the dome of the sky (vv. 6–7), from which rain descends on the earth (Gn 7:11; 2 Kgs 7:2, 19; Ps 104:13). A mighty wind: literally, “spirit or breath [ruah] of God”; cf. Gn 8:1.

        • Sqrat

          Also, in the second Genesis account of creation (the one in chapter 2), God does not create Adam and Eve out of nothing. Adam (along with "every beast of the field and every bird of the sky") was created "out of the ground," while Eve, of course, was created out of Adam's rib-bone.

          • Geena Safire

            ...while Eve, of course, was created out of Adam's rib-bone.

            The term for that bone was a term that refers to a functional category, a structural bone, of which ribs are a common example. Note, however, that both men and women have the same number of ribs, so one is not missing.

            Another structural bone is the baculum or os penis (penis bone) which humans lack and almost all other mammals have. Among primates, only humans and two species of New World monkeys lack it. This distinction of something 'removed from men' would not be missed by a pastoral culture.

        • Mike

          Modern science, as we currently know it, came into existence several hundred years ago. In contrast, the Bible was compiled more than 1500 years ago. I think it is a mistake for both believers and non-believers to treat the Bible like a science book.

          • David Nickol

            I think it is a mistake for both believers and non-believers to treat the Bible like a science book.

            I couldn't agree more, but it is nevertheless true that some religious people claim the creation account in Genesis 1 is remarkably similar to the scientific account of the big bang. They maintain that Genesis describes creation ex nihilo, when in fact it does not. Of course, a very clever person could say that the primordial chaos that preexists God's creative work is the quantum vacuum, and the creation account really is very much like the big bang theory. But the idea of creation ex nihilo is apparently very difficult to abandon, even though Thomas Aquinas maintained it was possible for the universe to have existed from all eternity.

          • Vasco Gama

            In the Bible it is stated that God created the universe out of nothing. There is no description of how God did it (clearly the Bible is no science book, to take it as such is wishful thinking, and an erratic view of the bible).

            Before the big bang was proposed science indicated as best scenario the steady state, which was not unconfortable for theists, in the same way that the big bang by itself doesn't add anything to the credibility of the scriptures (in spite of the atheists impressions about that subject).

          • In the Bible it is stated that God created the universe out of nothing.

            Does it? In what chapter and verse?

          • Vasco Gama

            I have to look for it

          • Vasco Gama

            Rob and David,

            You are right, it is not stated in the Bible that God created the universe out of nothing (this idea comes out of the interpretation of the Bible).

          • Geoffrey Miller

            @vasco_gama:disqus: You are wrong. 2 Maccabees 7:28 mentions creation ex nihilo.

            "So I urge you, my child, to look at the sky and the earth. Consider everything you see there, and realize that God made it all from nothing, just as he made the human race."

          • Vasco Gama

            Thank you Geoffrey (I just checked and you are right)

          • David Nickol

            Interesting!

            The New American Bible says:

            I beg you, child, to look at the heavens and the earth and see all that is in them; then you will know that God did not make them out of existing things.* In the same way humankind came into existence.

            And it footnotes the passage as follows:

            God did not make them out of existing things: that is, all things were made solely by God’s omnipotent will and creative word; cf. Heb 11:3. This statement has often been taken as a basis for “creation out of nothing” (Latin creatio ex nihilo).

            There are a couple of problems.

            First, neither Protestants nor Jews include Maccabees as scripture.

            Second, 2 Maccabees 7:28 contradicts Genesis 2, including on the very important point of how humans came into existence (at least in the second creation account in Genesis)—that is, the first man was made from "the dust of the ground" and the first woman from his rib. This seems to me quite significant, since Genesis 3:19 says, "By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread, until you return to the ground, from which you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

            I suppose it could be argued that if God made dust from nothing, and made mankind from dust, then God made mankind from nothing, except then why wouldn't the dead return to nothing instead of to dust?

            In any case, I will now be careful to say that Genesis does not depict God creating the world from nothing, although 2 Maccabees 7:28 could be interpreted to support creation ex nihilo, and for those who accept it as canonical, the Bible may be said to support both creation as bringing order out of chaos (Genesis) and creation ex nihilo (2 Maccabees). So the Catholic Bible has some support for both.

            I personally would argue that the creation accounts in Genesis greatly outweigh a solitary statement in 2 Maccabees about God's creation of the world, but then again, I don't take Hebrew Scripture, the Protestant Bible, or the Catholic Bible as saying any more than that the world (or universe) in some way owes its existence to God in some way that, ultimately, is inexplicable. Even if I accepted the Bible as authoritative on the existence of the universe, I would accept it as saying that God created the universe, with the question of how being quite secondary.

            If it is maintained as a religious truth that God created the universe ex nihilo, and science is able to determine that something (say, in the form of the quantum vacuum) always existed, or exists outside of time in somewhat the manner as God is said to do, then that would undermine creation ex nihilo.

          • Geoffrey Miller

            2 Maccabees 7:28 is also notable for a different reason; it does not interpret the Creation account as a literal description of how things came about. This is likely because the Genesis accounts were recited in the context of temple liturgies, in which they would be properly interpreted (especially the first account) as comparing the structure of the created world to that of the temple.

          • Hey Rob - Happy New Year! Just a thought if I can jump in.

            The notion of creation ex nihilo is not in the Bible in its full naked explication, but neither is the Trinity, the hypostatic union, or countless moral doctrines on questions both old and new. This doesn't mean the Bible has nothing to say on these subjects. The inchoate presentation of creation ex nihilo is there, in Genesis (Gn. 1:1) the Psalms (Ps. 33:6), John (Jn 1:3), Hebrews (11:3), and in the tradition of the Church in reading these texts and living out its mission. The Catholic Church flowers outward in its knowledge of God, and we don't expect - as some Christians do - to always find explicit "answers in Genesis."

          • David Nickol

            As I said elsewhere, what is interesting is that what Genesis says (God's creative act is the bringing order out of chaos) is much more harmonizable with the big bang being a fluctuation in the quantum vacuum than with creation ex nihilo. And yet Genesis is frequently touted by Christians as describing the universe being created ex nihilo by arguing that everything began with the big bang. It is necessary to distort what Genesis actually says to use it for evidence of creation ex nihilo, and yet if it is accepted as meaning what it says, it is more compatible with the reigning scientific theories.

          • Thanks Matthew. I don't think most of those verses do point to creation out of nothing, but 2 Maccabees 7:28 goes far in that direction, though technically it can be argued that it only applies to things that can be seen by the people of that time. Jn 1:3 can be argued either either way (it's phrased strangely).

          • Geoffrey Miller

            2 Macc. 7:28. Though some would argue this verse just means that God orders the dance of being and nonbeing and brings about the present (what is) from the past (when it was not).

          • David Nickol

            In the Bible it is stated that God created the universe out of nothing.

            This is simply wrong. I see you answered Rob that you are looking for chapter and verse, but you will not find them.

          • Geoffrey Miller

            @davidnickol:disqus: 2 Macc. 7:28.

          • David Nickol

            Well done! I wrote a lengthy response elsewhere, but briefly, I will henceforth not say "the Bible" doesn't say God created the universe from nothing. I will say the book of Genesis doesn't say God created the universe from nothing.

            I ought to be careful about claims of other or of my own about what "the Bible says," since I don't accept the idea that the Bible—as a single entity—"says" anything.

          • Mike

            I tend to think people get too caught up with the "mechanistic" details of Genesis. I would be comfortable accepting that the important aspect of Genesis is that God, created the physical universe, and that his creation is "good" with human beings being "very good".

            I would also think that is science contradicts some aspect of Genesis it doesn't (by itself) argue that God doesn't exist, or isn't necessary, etc.

            I would think that believing or rejecting that creation happened ex nihilo requires a leap of faith, not scientific certainty.

          • Geena Safire

            I would think that believing or rejecting that creation happened ex nihilo requires a leap of faith, not scientific certainty.

            There is a vast, vast distance between a leap of faith and scientific certainty.

            First, there is no scientific certainty. Science only ever reaches "the best current explanation of the available evidence with experimental results closely matching predictions based on the theory."

            Second, being very confident based on objective facts is short of your non-existent "scientific certainty" but quite distant from your leap of faith.

            Third, being more persuaded by one proposed theory based on certain facts and evidence than another proposed theory based on certain facts and evidence is not a "leap of faith."

          • Mike

            I think that I should define my terms better.

            You are correct to state that science is the best explanation given the current experimental and theoretical understanding. Science approaches certainty but it never reaches absolute certainty.

            When I discuss faith, I don't mean superstition, or blind faith. For example, I have faith that my wife loves me. I have evidence for it, she shows me affection, does the little things to show that she cares (e.g. breakfast in bed), but I can't measure her love in a quantifiable way. I have to take her word that she loves me, and make a judgement call based upon all of the evidence I have. I think the same about our discussion above.

            We are unlikely to be able to replicate the "big bang" and even so neither of us were there, so we can't verify which explanation is correct. I will look at the evidence and use "faith" (described above) and make one judgement call, and you make look at the same evidence and reach a different conclusion, but I would assert that both are faith, in the genuine sense of the word.

          • Geena Safire

            There are actually two distinct definitions of the word "faith" and they do not overlap.

            Faith:

            1. complete trust or confidence in someone or something.

            2. strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.

            To equate the two is to make an Equivocation Fallacy: "the misleading use of a term with more than one meaning or sense (by glossing over which meaning is intended at a particular time)."

            For example:

            (1) All feathers are light.

            (2) Nothing dark is light

            (3) Therefore, no feathers are dark.

            You have faith in your wife based on objective evidence. You have faith in God based on something else.

            I don't use the word 'faith' in the context of science because of the problem of equivocation on the part of some people. Especially theists.

            I don't "have faith" in evolution. I accept the fact of evolution and am confident that the theory of evolution -- "adaptive selection is the process by which evolution happens" -- is the best current explanation of the available evidence with experimental results closely matching predictions based on the theory.

          • picklefactory

            I am going to stick this in a file somewhere and quote you next time it comes up. Perfect.

          • bbrown

            1. Re. definition 2:
            ".......2. strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof."

            But why is 'spiritual apprehension' not allowed to be taken as a certain type of evidence. I wonder if, by defining our terms in this way, we are not adding further confusion to the discussion.

            2. "......You have faith in your wife based on objective evidence. You have faith in God based on something else."

            I have to disagree with this statement. Faith in both can follow similar evidence.

            3. "... I accept the fact of evolution". If it's macro-evolution your talking about, then why do you call it fact. What's the evidence? That seems more like a pure assent based on need or desire, not faith-based on evidence. And I say "faith based on evidence" because evidence is crucial to faith.

          • Geena Safire

            If you don't like the definition of the word from the dictionary which reflects the common usage of the word, then take it up with the dictionary editor, not me. You can use the word 'faith' to mean what I call the planet Mars -- free speech and all that -- but I will not engage further with you regarding the subject, because I prefer talking in English.

            Macro-evolution is just micro-evolution plus time. Does every member of a jury need to have seen a crime committed in order to find a defendant guilty? No. They can base their decision on the evidence: crime scene, autopsy, means, motive, opportunity, etc. What is the evidence for evolution? Massive and consistent evidence from the fields of genetics, morphology, embryology, paleontology, biochemistry, molecular biology, biogeography, radiometric dating, etc. But, as Francis Collins says, genetics is enough all on its own.

          • bbrown

            Again, I ask why is 'spiritual apprehension' not allowed to be taken as a certain type of evidence?

            Micro and macro-evolution are separate phenomena. Your explanation does not follow the known science when you assert that "Macro-evolution is just micro-evolution plus time". Of course there is abundant proof of the evolution of traits and minor morphological variations (such as dog breeding, moths changing colours, etc.), but little evidence of the evolution of new species from common ancestors (macro-evolution). You list a number of fields of study, but I am not aware of this "massive and consistent" evidence. I guess it's a topic for another blog post, but I'd like to hear about this because I've found just the opposite - the theory of Darwinian evolution is falling apart the more we know, especially in the field of genetics and molecular biology.

            Just as an unrelated aside: Your legal courtroom scenario is a useful analogy for how many come to assent to theism, and to the particular claims of Jesus Christ.

          • Susan

            Again, I ask why is 'spiritual apprehension' not allowed to be taken as a certain type of evidence?

            What type of evidence should it be taken for and why?

            the theory of Darwinian evolution is falling apart the more we know, especially in the field of genetics and molecular biology

            Examples please.

          • Geena Safire

            Your explanation does not follow the known science when you assert that "Macro-evolution is just micro-evolution plus time."

            Yes, actually, it does. For the most part, two species are more similar the more recently they diverged, in all the areas I mentioned, and more different the longer ago they diverged. Environment is also a factor. If you have any material to support your contention to the contrary, I'd be interested in seeing it.

            The theory of Darwinian evolution is falling apart the more we know, especially in the field of genetics and molecular biology

            You may have a different meaning for the phrase "falling apart" than I do. If the theory were "falling apart," there would be others in the field disputing it in addition to creationists. As in any field, there are some differences of opinion regarding some aspects of the theory, but not about the theory itself. The fields of molecular biology and genetics have provided enormous additional support for the theory of evolution.

            Would you be so kind as to provide some examples of information regarding this "falling apart." There may be some misunderstanding regarding the data and its significance.

          • Andre Boillot

            "Your explanation does not follow the known science when you assert that "Macro-evolution is just micro-evolution plus time"."

            Could you direct us to the known science that disagrees with this assertion?

          • Paul Boillot

            I too am curious: what genetics and molecular biology cutting-edge research is undermining Evolution?

            This is the first I'm hearing of it.

          • Mike

            I respectfully disagree. I am using faith as the theological virtue. You can watch Fr. Barron's commentaries for more context. To the best of my knowledge the theological virtue "faith" is as I've described it. The "faith" you describe is superstition, the "faith" I describe is not sub-rational or superstition.

            If there are any theologians that can chime in one way of another it would be appreciated.

            My "faith" in my wife is not based on objective evidence, it is entirely subjective. Others could interpret the evidence in a variety of other ways. The same with my "faith" in God. It is based upon my encounter with the divine.

            You are confident in the theory of evolution the same way that I am confident that my wife loves me. Both are the best explanations given the evidence, but I can't prove either in the truest sense of the word.

          • Ignorant Amos

            Indeed, "St. Augustine in particular held the view that God had spent six days planning the world's creation, but had burped it all into existence in an instant."....

            "[In his tome,] "The Literal Meaning of Genesis", which was written between 401 and 415 AD. Augustine discerns the following themes in his reading of Scripture and weaves them together into his account of creation. God brought everything into existence in a single moment of creation."

    • I am not sure what all the fuss is about. The "nothing" of physicists (the quantum vacuum) is not the same as the "nothing" of philosophers. No one is pretending it is.

      Happy New Year David! But let me begin 2014 at SN with some hearty disagreement.

      I don't think what you've said is true at all. Look at Lawrence Krauss. His book is titled "A Universe From Nothing: Why There is Something Rather Than Nothing." Any philosopher (or historian) worth his or her salt will recognize that this is philosophical parlance - about perhaps the quintessential philosophical concept - uttered by some of the greatest philosophers of the past four hundred years. The problem is, Krauss shrinks and repurposes the same term in a scientific context and poses as if he's addressing the original question. He's not, and it's dishonest to present the argument as if he is.

      As physicist David Deutsch says: "The quantum vacuum is a highly structured thing that obeys deep and complex laws of physics. It's not 'nothingness' in the philosophical sense at all." Or, as Allan Sandage, the father of modern astronomy, put it: "As soon as you ask why there is something instead of nothing, you have gone beyond science."

      • Geena Safire

        If a person asks "Why is the sky blue?", they are not generally asking (unless in church or a philosophy class) "What was the purpose of the creator or the significance of the world having a blue sky?" The person is usually asking, using a term a philosopher prefers, "How is the sky blue?," which has to do with the nature of photons in the context of an atmosphere. As proof that this is what most people mean by "why," just Google "why is the sky blue." Zero philosophical or religious answers, at least on the first several pages of results.

        This is what I believe David means when he says the two categories of "nothing" -- and what I mean in my comment below.

        Krauss did get in some hot water, but not so much for the use of the word "Why" in his title its quotidian and scientific context as for his disparaging philosophers and philosophy in general, for which his pal and famed philosopher Daniel Dennett convinced him to write a published apology.

        I don't consider the non-philosophical use to be a "shrinking" of the word "why," since I consider how any aspect of the world really works to be greater than how people want to believe regarding some ancient folk or vision-induced purported significance of that aspect.

        In particular, though it is completely factually false to say that Krauss' use was a "repurposing" when the word "why" is clearly more widely used today -- particularly in science, about which Krauss was writing -- for real reasons or explanations.

        • And Daniel Dennett is worth his salt! But I wasn't thinking about the word "why" so much as "nothing." The problem with his book (and with the article Feser is discussing) is that Krauss' nothing is not the nothing of the philosophers (or for that matter, not the nothing of ordinary language, i.e., no thing.) He presented the book as if it were, introducing a new nothing (i.e. something) into the philosophical question to explode the whole philosophical framework and its import. If it wasn't a deliberate distortion meant to overinflate science's credentials, it was at least careless and consequently misleading.

          • Geena Safire

            I think we sort of agree on what Krauss was doing, Matthew, but not about our attitude regarding what he did.

            Krauss was saying that, as with several other fields of study that have emerged from and parted with philosophy and theology, "nothing" has also done so. Since the field of physics define what "something" is, at the fundamental level, then it is also the field that should define "nothing," which is intimately related with what "something" is.

            But he did not "introduce a new nothing (i.e. something)". He proposed three plausible definitions of "nothing" that could have been the conditions from which our actual universe could have emerged. What do you consider as the "something" in Krauss' "nothing"s?

          • I haven't read the book, I confess - and taking your three "varieties" of "nothing," it appears the third is closest to the philosophical definition. That being said, this doesn't appear to me to be the upshot of Krauss' argument at all. A blurb from deGrasse Tyson states: "Nothing is not nothing. Nothing is something." I'm not a physicist, but Tyson's comment seems to tell us a lot about where the book lands. The minute we start talking about nothing having "parts," or particles popping in and out, or vacuum states, or whatever, we've stopped talking about nothing - and started talking about something. But something is not nothing - nothing is nothing.

          • Geena Safire

            [T]his doesn't appear to me to be the upshot of Krauss' argument at all.

            And yet, it is.

            [Neil] deGrasse Tyson states...

            First, I don't consider that a single phrase from a single blurb of many on a book cover tells me "a lot about where [a] book lands." Do you really judge your books by (such a tiny part of) their cover?

            Second, you misunderstand what Neil deGrasse Tyson was intending to convey. He meant that the "nothing" of philosophers is not likely the scientific "nothing" that may have been relevant to the origin of our universe. Our universe may have emerged from the scientific "nothing," while the philosophers just surmised (i.e., made up) that "nothing" must be that from which nothing can come.

          • He meant that the "nothing" of philosophers is not likely the scientific "nothing" that may have been relevant to the origin of our universe. Our universe may have emerged from the scientific "nothing," while the philosophers just surmised (i.e., made up) that "nothing" must be that from which nothing can come.

            But the entire issue here isn't that there is a distinction between what's signified in each case - Feser's whole aim is to underscore the distinction - it's that the one state definitionally can't absorb the other, and that posturing as if it does is an equivocation at best. Nothingness is precisely what anything is not - and to act as if we can subsume nothingness (philosophical nothing) into somethingness (scientific "nothing") is folly.

            Did philosophers also "make up" the law of non-contradiction?

          • Geena Safire

            No, the scientific meaning doesn't absorb the philosophical one. It completely supplants it.

            Did philosophers also "make up" the law of non-contradiction?

            Yes, they did.

            It is one of the laws of thought that guide our thinking and discourse.

            They are not, however, laws that bind the universe. The universe doesn't particularly care what you think it should do. Light, for example, is both a wave and a particle, even though our definitions of those two terms contradict each other.

            From Wikipedia on Laws of Thought: "The laws of thought are fundamental axiomatic rules upon which rational discourse itself is often considered to be based. The formulation and clarification of such rules have a long tradition in the history of philosophy and logic. Generally they are taken as laws that guide and underlie everyone's thinking, thoughts, expressions, discussions, etc."

          • Does this mean you may conceivably be both an atheist and a theist? (Hey, it was worth a shot!)

            I guess I can only say that if you believe science has supplanted the philosophical & ordinary usage of nothing with the scientific usage of "nothing," that's fine - but you should at the very least qualify very carefully what you mean by "nothing" (so most people will instantly realize it's not nothing), and certainly not shove it into philosophical traditions and questions, i.e., "why is there something rather than nothing," where its new life as a misnomer, derived in a new context, nullifies the significance of the original question.

          • Geena Safire

            Does this mean you may conceivably be both an atheist and a theist?

            I have two (of course) answers to that. One is the study noted by neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran wherein a patient, after a hemispherectomy, had one side of the brain that is a theist, and the other side is an atheist. Also, I have no problem believing in gods that are proven to exist, such as mountains that are gods, so that could conceivably make me an atheist wrt some god claims.

            However, I can say with certainty that you are both an atheist and a theist. There are likely at least 3,000 god claims in which you do not believe. I just go one god further.

            [Y]ou should at the very least qualify very carefully what you mean by
            "nothing" (so most people will instantly realize it's not nothing)

            Exactly what part of "nothing" do you not understand? :-) jk

            Seriously, I repeat the question I asked above with respect to Krauss' three definitions of "nothing" that may have actually been relevant for our universe:
                What less do you want?

          • Ignorant Amos

            Does this mean you may conceivably be both an atheist and a theist?

            There is a third option...which many theists hold regularly...compartmentalisation.

            "Compartmentalization is an unconscious psychological defense mechanism used to avoid cognitive dissonance, or the mental discomfort and anxiety caused by a person's having conflicting values, cognitions, emotions, beliefs, etc. within themselves."

          • Paul Boillot

            Example 1:
            I heard a noise in the kitchen last night, but while I was expecting to see a mouse or a bat in the process of B&E when I walked in, there was nothing there.

            Example 2:
            Person A: "Hey friend, long time no see!"
            Person B: "Bleh."
            Person A: "What's wrong?"
            Person B: "Nothing."

            Example 3:
            You're heading out the door as your wife stops you, she wants to know where you're going and why you stopped mowing the lawn: "There's nothing in the tank."

            Point being; 'ordinary usage of nothing' is a tricky thing to assume you have a comprehensive and static knowledge of.

          • Ignorant Amos

            You might wish to read the book before wading into the conversation about Krauss' hypothesis within said book and his definition of nothing within the hypothesis.

            Par for the course with theists I usually encounter mind you.

            And yes, Daniel Dennett is very much worth his salt! More so than some of the Mickey Mouse Philosophers being peddled out on this site. e.g. that liar WLC

          • Paul Boillot

            I agree that it's imprecise to interchange them.

            It's probably not 'equivocation,' but to my mind, more likely intentional confusion to produce controversy and book sales.

            It could also be an end-around on the meaning of the term, just ignoring that for which we have no evidence.

            "Nothingness is precisely what anything is not"
            That is a horribly imprecise and vague statement, albeit written with the self-confidence to sound good.

            "I'm thinking of a number which is not in any set with any number."
            Hey, there's another seemingly strong statement, and yet it has no logical meaning.

          • It's probably not 'equivocation,' but to my mind, more likely intentional confusion to produce controversy and book sales.

            You're probably right!

            As for defining nothing: it's vague and imprecise to insist that something can't be nothing? On the contrary, "nothing is something" sounds a lot more to me like "I'm thinking of a number which is not any number" than "nothing is nothing."

          • Paul Boillot

            I have no control over what things sound like to you. Also, when you paraphrase me, please try to replicate my thoughts with maximum precision.

            "I'm thinking of a number which is not any number." =/= "I'm thinking of a number which is not in any set with any number."

            I'm not sure why you went for paraphrasing in the first place, since I helpfully put that putative thought in quotes already, but again: I have no control over your choices.

            But let us get to the meat of the res: ""Nothingness is precisely what anything is not"

            P. Anything.
            Q. Nothing

            If you define Q, nothingness, to be ~P, that's fine. So now we have your statement boiled down to the tautology:

            If P = anything,
            and Q = nothing,
            and nothing is the absence of anything,
            then Q == not P.

            Fair enough. The form of your argument is valid, if uninformative, and yet validity does not impute truth.

            I'll grant you that my analogy was hastily chosen and a poor one in that a setless number is by definition logically invalid, while 'philosophical nothingness' is too vague and shallow a term to be held to logical standards.

            No one to my knowledge, not even Krauss with his poorly chosen book title, is arguing that philosophical nothing is something, and you should stop fighting that straw man.

            You, however, are arguing for the logical validity of "philosophical nothing," when it is an abstract and unimaginable concept, a cohesive definition of which I have never heard.

            What would nothingness mean? The bible talks about voids and formlessness, and yet a 'void' is an empty volume which presumes the existence of at least 3 or 2 dimensions.

            Your God would still presumably exist "before" creation(minus time), in fact would be the only thing extant, so in the absence of anything (nothing) wouldn't the only thing, and therefore everything, be God? Isn't God the only thing separating us from nothingness right now?

            What does that mean?

            No, you throw around the word "nothing" like it has meaning just because we've been talking about it as a species for millenia, but it it's very imprecise, and it might well be meaningless just like a set-less number as well.

          • MichaelNewsham

            Ah, glad to see the standards of commentary at Strange Notions includes baseless slander and accusations of dishonesty for which no evidence is given.

            The same comment imputing unethical behavior to a Catholic thinker would, I'm guessing, result in a stern warning from the mods.

          • Paul Boillot

            Before God created the universe out of nothing there was nothing.

            But God is something.

            Something is not nothing - nothing is nothing.

            So before God created the universe out of nothing there was not nothing.

          • I would challenge both your first premise (God isn't "before" or "after" anything, and is not in time) and your second premise (God is not some thing, and is not in space).

          • Paul Boillot

            Wait, god isn't something?
            But you just said that the absence of something is nothing.

            So....god is nothing?

          • Isn't this the fallacy of the undistributed middle? I.e., A is B, C is B, therefore, C is A? (Dogs are mortal; Socrates is mortal; therefore, Socrates is a dog.) Just because both God and nothingness by definition exclude existent things, it's a non-sequitur that God is therefore nothingness.

          • Paul Boillot

            Drat. You caught me.

            Okay, so:

            God is not nothing.
            God is also not something.
            So while God existed (but not really in the past tense) there was also nothing before he created something.

            That doesn't make much sense to me.

            Feser's article is a long complaint about physicist "equivocating" about the meaning of 'philosophical nothing,' a term whose precision and strictness you've been championing in these comments, into the role of "nothing material that we would recognize today."

            That seems to be exactly what you're doing with God now.

            He's non-material, so he's not a "thing." But being a "thing" is not the only thing disqualifying you from being nothing. If it were, then Feser just wasted a bunch of words and a bunch of my time crying about...nothing...since virtual particles in a quantum flux are not real physical entities.

            Feser made it very clear that a state, being in something with volume would be contradictory of 'nothing,' so it's not just having mass, it's BEING any sort of concept at all.

            And yet God is a concept that is marketed as existing co-incident with nothingness.

            So far: Zero senses made.

      • David Nickol

        The problem is, Krauss shrinks and repurposes the same term in a scientific context and poses as if he's addressing the original question. He's not, and it's dishonest to present the argument as if he is.

        As best I recall from reading the book (which was some time ago), Krauss is quite straightforward that what he means by "nothing" is not precisely what people who talk of creation ex nihilo mean by nothing. He does say, however, that philosophers and theologians in the pre-scientific world probably thought of nothing and of totally empty space as basically the same thing. I don't think the charge of dishonesty is fair or accurate.

        It also seems to me that in the OP, Feser scoffs at physicists for using the physicists' concept of nothing instead of the philosophers' concept, and implies he can't believe they are so misguided.

        • The title to me says it all. "Why is there something rather than nothing" is a question originally coined by Leibniz. It's since been used by William James, Martin Heidegger, and countless other major philosophers in that same sense. To title his book "Why There is Something Rather Than Nothing" is to put a veneer of that philosophical tradition over what is finally the physicist's "nothing" (which you admitted is a distinct matter). No matter what he might say about the distinction afterward, that strikes me as dishonest out of the gate. Krauss doesn't enter into the world conjured by that phrase and doesn't intend to.

          Dawkins declares triumphantly in his blurb the the question "‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’ shrivels up before your eyes as you read these pages." What he really means is that nothing is redefined, the question is redirected, and the philosophical tradition conjured by the phrase is ignored.

          • David Nickol

            a question originally coined by Leibniz . . .

            Of course, he's the guy who said we live in the "best of all possible worlds." To be fair, had he lived to see George W. Bush's two terms, Miley Cyrus on the Video Music Awards, what agribusiness did to the tomato and the Red Delicious apple, or CBS's sitcom The Millers, he probably would have thought differently.

          • You'll get no quarrel from me there. I'm a bit of an Augustinian pessimist in temperament!

      • David Nickol

        "The quantum vacuum is a highly structured thing that obeys deep and complex laws of physics. It's not 'nothingness' in the philosophical sense at all."

        It does occur to me, though, that if all that existed were the quantum vacuum, there would be no one to ask the question, "Why is there something rather than nothing?" The only reason there are physical beings capable of asking "why questions" about something and nothing is that something quite different in nature from the quantum vacuum arose from the quantum vacuum.

        "As soon as you ask why there is something instead of nothing, you have gone beyond science."

        In a sense, sure. But it was only in the 20th century that the questions, "Why does our universe exist?" and "Why is there something rather than nothing?" could be seen to be two different questions.

        It seems to me this has always been the relationship between religion/philosophy on the one hand, and science, on the other. Religion and philosophy ask big questions, which science sometimes knocks down in size and actually answers, at which point they become scientific questions with scientific answers, and philosophers don't discuss them any more.

        Before the invention of modern science, practically all questions of physics, chemistry, and psychology were philosophical questions. That heavier weights fell faster than lighter ones was a "truth" of philosophy. To this day, many people believe that men have fewer ribs than women because God used one of Adam's ribs to make Eve. I recently ran across a reference to how long the myth of men having fewer ribs than women persisted in educated circles, and I can't find it now, but it was astonishingly late in Western history. And all that was necessary was for people to count!

        My point is that the history of science has many, many examples of science answering what had been philosophical questions or religious questions by "repurposing" or jettisoning older concepts. I certainly do not want to belittle philosophy, but it seems to me that by its very nature, philosophy deals with questions to which there are no conclusive answers. And yet people like Dr. Feser want to lecture scientists as if they don't know what they are talking about, and he is the master of factual matters.

        • Mike

          I'm glad that someone is able to articulate what I have been thinking for sometime. That certain questions are able to move from metaphysical disciplines (philosophy) to physical disciplines (science). But I wonder if science is able to answer the mechanistic details of the creation and evolution of the universe, does it prohibit one from arguing for God's existence?

          • Geena Safire

            [I]f science is able to answer the mechanistic details of the creation and evolution of the universe, does it prohibit one from arguing for God's existence?

            Only if one's deity is a "God of the gaps."

      • David Nickol

        Oh, by the way, Happy New Year to you, too, and to everyone on Strange Notions!

    • Geena Safire

      The "nothing" of physicists (the quantum vacuum) is not the same as the "nothing" of philosophers. No one is pretending it is.

      I agree with you that physicists and philosophers differ in their concept of "nothing."

      Actually, physicists are not all of one mind regarding the quantum vacuum as being the only likely "nothing," although since the quantum vacuum is known and other concepts are not known, it is the current leading contender. Theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss, for example, proposes three different varieties of "nothing" which could plausibly lead to our universe. (These are in addition to the possibilities of an eternal cyclical universe and varieties of an eternal multiverse or, philosophically, of an eternal 'material cause' rather than an eternal 'efficient cause' such as a deity).

      His three varieties are: (a) No matter or radiation. (b) No space, time, matter, or radiation. (c) No laws of physics, space, time, matter, or radiation.

      Physicists generally define "nothing" as the absence of various categories of "something" -- and they are the folks that define what "something" is at the most fundamental level.

      If Krauss' categories of "nothing" are not sufficiently "nothing," then the question arises: What less do you want?

      Philosophers (and theists) replies tend to boil down to some variant of "We mean a 'nothing' from which nothing can arise."

      To that, I answer, that's tautological. If you define "nothing" as that from which nothing can arise, then it means nothing when you say, "From nothing, nothing comes."

      Further, that definition of "nothing" may be fine for armchair philosophizing. But it is not relevant to the actual universe that actually exists and its actual nature, which is the only relevant source of defining what "nothing" could mean in reality.

      • Vasco Gama

        «If Krauss' categories of "nothing" are not sufficiently "nothing," then the question arises: What less do you want?»

        That is not the question, the only admissible "nothing" is one that is really "nothing", not one that is “approximately nothing”.

        If someone wants to propose that the universe can come out of “approximately nothing” he can do that and be honest and state exactly that, but to propose that “approximately nothing” is the same as “nothing” is dishonest and really doesn't do the trick.

        • Geena Safire

          Vasco, that may not be your question. But it is my question. So please put your comments somewhere else if you don't propose to answer the actual question that I asked.

          Given Krauss' three definitions, "What less do you want?" What else would you remove to be acceptable to you as "nothing"?

          • Vasco Gama

            I can unswer to your question, it is really not complicated at all

            «If Krauss' categories of "nothing" are not sufficiently "nothing," then the question arises: What less do you want?»

            The less that I want is what makes Krauss definition of “approximately nothing” distinguishable from "nothing". If Krauss could remove that much I would be happy, and it would be enough.

          • Geena Safire

            And what would that be, exactly, with reference to Krauss' three definitions?

          • Vasco Gama

            I am not aware of the particulars of each of his definitions (I have read it some time ago, but I don't remember the exact definitions), but it doesn't really matter as something that is different form "nothing" (say “approximately nothing”) is not the same as "nothing" (or in any version of "approximately nothing", such as "naked approximately nothing” or “skinless approximately nothing”, as long it is different from "nothing" it is not appropriate).

          • Geena Safire

            I repeat, since you seem to have not read my post:

            His three varieties [of nothing] are: (a) No matter or radiation. (b) No space, time, matter, or radiation. (c) No laws of physics, space, time, matter, or radiation.

            What less do you want?

          • Vasco Gama

            (c) looks OK

          • Geena Safire

            Thank you very much, Vasco. Thank you.

          • Vasco Gama

            sorry I was so obtuse

          • Geena Safire

            Apology graciously accepted. It is so very difficult for people with very different worldviews to even discuss such fundamental issues, even when they agree that they disagree. Especially for you working in a second (or third or fourth) language! Commendable!

            That is why this SN site is of value and why I participate here. I'm glad you're here, Vasco, even when we disagree and even when we misunderstand or are misunderstood.

          • Vasco Gama

            It is always nice talking to you Geena (thanks for your patience).

      • Mike

        Hi Geena. I think we had some back and forths a couple of weeks ago, and the topic of this article seems similar to other articles on this site.

        I'll concede that at some point, "God" may be superfluous to explaining the physical world that we percieve, but even so it doesn't disprove God.

        I think this whole topic requires a "leap of faith" and that people of good will can disagree. To the best of our knowledge events appear to be contingent on previous events (at least on the macroscopic level, lets ignore quantum wave function collapse for now). One can argue that God was one who initiated the series of contingent events. Others can argue that things aren't really contingent, but they only appear to be that way. One can also argue that the universe really is eternal and that what we perceive as our current universe was a result of the natural course of a previous universe. But there is no hard physical evidence for these as of yet (the "big bang" is a one time event as far as we know to date). Even if the theoretical explanation is accepted science will demand experimental proof. For example the Higg's boson and the rest of the standard model had been accepted for several decades, but until the Higg's boson was discovered at CERN last year, Peter Higgs was never going to receive the Nobel prize.

        Lastly, while I believe Prof. Krauss to be an excellent physicist, I don't know why I should take his opinion on theological matters. At least no more than I would take the Pope's opinion on particle physics.

        • Geena Safire

          Even if the theoretical explanation is accepted science will demand experimental proof.

          No scientist, least of all Krauss, would consider that a theoretical explanation should or could be as "accepted."

          I don't know why I should take his opinion on theological matters.

          I don't think you should and I'm pretty sure Krauss wouldn't think you should either. In addition, I'm pretty sure Krauss doesn't think he's expressing an opinion on theological matters.

          • Mike

            Perhaps we are seeing different things in what Prof. Krauss says. I've seen quite a bit of his videos online, and would agree when he is trying to disparage the "God of the gaps".
            However, why would he do so many debates with people as to why God doesn't exist, and people shouldn't believe in God? Now I find Prof. Krauss to be pretty good about this, but others (and perhaps its unfair to expand the people we are discussing, I hope it is ok with you) e.g. Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Sean Carroll do ask me to take their opinions on theological matters, for example the video you pointed out to me where Sean Carroll asserts that "God is not a good theory". If memory serves (and forgive me if I'm incorrect), the first half of the video he does a good job of restricting himself to the "God of the gaps" but the remainder of the video he takes on more theological matters.

          • Geena Safire

            As Carroll said at the beginning of that talk, he was considering the idea of God from the point of view of a scientist, and he states that is not the only point of view from which the God idea can be considered. He also said that when claims about God are empirical claims, then they can be scientifically evaluated, for which he provided a few examples.

            [W]hy would he do so many debates with people as to why God doesn't exist, and people shouldn't believe in God?

            Because so many people with God beliefs do so much stupid stuff, such as trying to teach "creationism" instead of science in science classes and trying to pass secular laws based on anachronistic ideas about human nature.

          • Mike

            From where I sit, we agree that ignorance should be eliminated, and that many people (both religious and not) are ignorant of science. But I would think that the goal should be to properly educate people, not eliminate God.

            For example, I am a good scientist, but am also a devout Catholic. My faith doesn't prohibit me from being an objective scientist. In fact it promotes it. Paragraph 159 in the Catechism is my personal favorite. From my perspective you should want others to have the proper understanding of creation, not eliminate God.

            What laws are you referencing? It is difficult to respond so a vague statement. Which anachronistic ideas? Even so, you should want to pass better more just laws, not remove God.

  • Ben Posin

    I'm not sure exactly when it happened in history, but I feel pretty comfortable at this point with the idea that we've crossed a tipping point. It's the physicists who I'll turn to now for questions concerning physical reality, while philosophers can play all the word games they want in the corner. Perhaps once there wasn't such a division between the two, but at this point...

    • cminca

      Thank you Ben!

    • You are confused. Dr Feser is saying that the physicists are simply using different definitions and end up making statements that sound like philosophy but are not. So why feel a need to choose at all? Make sure you understand all the distinctions and you can make sense of both.

      To me, if the entire universe can come from a thing then that thing is quite something. Why one would call it nothing makes little sense to be. If certain properties net to zero that is interesting. It does not mean the whole thing can be accurately described as nothing.

      • Ben Posin

        "You are confused."

        I'm confused a lot. I feel ok about this one though.

        "Dr Feser is saying that the physicists are simply using different definitions and end up making statements that sound like philosophy but are not"

        This sentence circles around what I'm saying: when it comes to descriptions of physical reality, including the origins of the universe and the idea of "nothing", I'm not interested in philosophy. I'm not even sure how to parse what you're saying, I guess you feel like it's a bad thing that a physicists definitions and statements aren't the same as a philosopher's? If so, we disagree.

        At bottom, physicists base their definitions and theories on observed reality. Philosopher's sure don't seem to, and it may be that the "philosophic" definition of nothing (to the extent that it's not circular as discussed by Geena in this thread) simply has no basis in reality; it may never have existed, and may not ever possibly exist.

        • "I guess you feel like it's a bad thing that a physicists definitions and statements aren't the same as a philosopher's? If so, we disagree."

          I would not say it the difference itself is bad. I would say it is bad when they are different and not obviously different so there ends up being confusion. Confusion meaning people think science has shown some philosophical thing to be true or false when it has not even addressed the question.

          My point is that the fact that there is a difference means we don't have to choose who's approach to take. To even frame it as a choice shows confusion.

          "it may be that the "philosophic" definition of nothing simply has no basis in reality"

          OK. Why not? Why is there something rather than nothing, going by the philosophic definition of nothing? You see, the question does not go away. You can say you are not interested in philosophy. But can you really ignore the deep questions of why we are here and what are the highest principles by which we should order our lives?

          Man naturally asks philosophical questions. Why? That is a philosophical question!

          • Paul Boillot

            Person A: "It may be the case that there have never been any extant unicorns."
            Person B: "OK. Why not?"

            Does that strike you as an odd exchange? Because it does me.

            He's saying that there may be no real basis for a proposition given life by human conjecture.

            We have a very vague understanding of 'philosophical nothing', and no logical or scientific reasons, as far as I understand the arguments, to believe that the cobbled-together concept of 'nothing' has ever 'been.'

          • There is an idea that no thing has to be or if something has to be then we want to understand why it has to be. In fact, St Thomas Aquinas thought was a good definition of God. The thing that has to be or the essence of being itself. Is there a quantum field that has to be? Does all other being become contingent on that quantum field? Physics can tell us whether it exists but not whether it has to exist.

            St Thomas does go on to argue that the essence of being must have intelligence. That it can't just be a thing like a quantum field. I would not want to claim to understand his arguments fully but I think he starts with the notion that we have intelligence. Modern thinkers might question that. They might say our intellect is an illusion and our brains are purely chemical with no separate thing called intelligence.

            I would tend to agree with St Thomas that we have some capabilities that could not have come from an unintelligent object. Yet I can see how that is more plausible now than it was in his day.

          • Paul Boillot

            "Does all other being become contingent on that quantum field? Physics can tell us whether it exists but not whether it has to exist."

            I would tentatively agree with this.

            But here's the thing. We, as a species, have been discussing why reality exists at all for hundreds and thousands and probably hundreds of thousands of years.

            ONE of the ideas that was spitballed early on was, "maybe it didn't use to." That though is easy to frame when everything at human-sized scales of time and space comes from something, is something, and eventually ceases to be something.

            Our brains are not well adapted to infinity. "Nothingness" might be a fabrication based on our inability to conceptualize non-death and eternity, and our failure to realize that matter/energy are not created or destroyed. Ever.

            If "nothingness" doesn't, can't exist, then asking "why not" can be an interesting question, one I would never discourage anyone from asking, but it might be an information-void.

            "Why is 'one' 'one'?" "Why are there integers?"

            Those are interesting questions, and if you find them compelling...by all means, ponder away. But to accuse people of trying to "ignore the deep questions of why we are here" simply because they acknowledge that there might be fundamental problems with the grammar of the question seems odd to me.

          • I am having trouble grasping how anyone can fabricate the concept of nothingness. It seems to be intuitive to everyone. We always ask why this or that thing exists. Where did it comes from? We have found some interesting answers. Why can't we ask that about the totality of everything? That means all matter and all energy and all manner of fields and particles known and unknown. Why can't we put it all together and ask why? There is nothing wrong with the question. In fact, not asking the question seems almost inhuman. For scientists to say the question is out of bounds seems quite ironic. Science is the discipline that demands to be able to ask any question. Then Scientists, based on some quasi-religious thinking, say you can't ask this question? The biggest why question one could ever ask? Whatever.

          • Andre Boillot

            "For scientists to say the question is out of bounds seems quite ironic. Science is the discipline that demands to be able to ask any question. Then Scientists, based on some quasi-religious thinking, say you can't ask this question?"

            On a site where "Science" and "Scientists" are frequently berated for attempting to apply their principles to what is the traditional realm of metaphysics, this is a strange accusation to make.

            Who exactly is saying you can't ask what?

          • Paul talked about "fundamental problems with the grammar of the question." That is what I was referring to.

          • Andre Boillot

            ...aaaand, immediately prior to saying that, he reiterated that they're interesting questions that people should examine if compelled to. So, how did we get to 'science says this is out of bounds / you can't ask this question'?

          • Actually he compared it to asking "Why is 'one' 'one'?" and "Why are there integers?" I am not sure how sarcastic his "interesting" adjective was but he seemed to be putting them in a "questions smart people ignore" category.

            My point is the question is more of a central question. To say what does one thing mean in terms of another thing is interesting but very limited if whole of existence is meaningless or has a meaning that is unknowable.

            Ultimately this is just an exercise by a few scientists to re-define nothing to mean something that has the potential to create the universe. An interesting use of language but it is a word game and not an answer to a deep question.

          • Andre Boillot

            "I am not sure how sarcastic his "interesting" adjective was but he seemed to be putting them in a "questions smart people ignore" category."

            I'll let him explain himself, but it seemed to me that, to the extent he may have been downplaying anything, it was how interesting it is to argue about the meaning of "nothing", vs. actually trying to figure out the realities of this world we live in, and to push back against the idea that scientists duck the "big questions" by not engaging in arguments over the philosophical meaning of "nothing".

            Again, given the number of times we've been subjected to the assertion from theists that science can't answer metaphysics, who exactly is saying you can't ask what?

          • Science can't answer these questions. That does not mean scientists won't try. But when they try they are engaging in philosophy. Trying to respond to a classic philosophical question like "Why is there something rather than nothing?" and doing so by changing the definition of the word "nothing" is something philosophers are not going to be impressed by. Implying that their definition of "nothing" is the only useful one does not help either. The question remains as powerfully as ever. What is the purpose of the entirety of existence?

          • Andre Boillot

            "Science can't answer these questions."

            And the answer to my question of who is saying you can't ask what is: Randy. Thanks for clearing things up for us.

          • Paul Boillot

            Look, if you think I'm being sarcastic you can just ask.

            I seem to have a fairly good working relationship with some of the other Catholic posters here, and they can and do notice my sarcasm and silliness from time-to-time. Heck, I made a gaffee using a combat allusion a few days ago: I can make mistakes like anyone else, but I'll own up: promise.

            I was not being sarcastic.

            I also do not think that "philosophical nothing" is in the category "questions smart people ignore."

            I do think it's in the category "hypothetical construct which has no known computational usefulness."

            I think it's also misused by philosophers and theistic proponents as a cudgel to wield against materialism. "Where did the universe come from then? Something can't come from nothing!"

            It's an unevidenced-construct, I have no need to argue using it is a premise.

          • Paul Boillot

            "I am having trouble grasping how anyone can fabricate the concept of nothingness."

            Let me respond with a semantics question: "What color is an invisible pink unicorn?"

            Our brains are capable of concatenating strings which are placeholders for concepts which are intelligible individually, but incoherent as a whole.

            We can, and regularly do, manufacture inconceivable forests out of concrete and realistic trees.

            So just to answer that particular question, I think that "philosophical nothing" is very probably an unintelligible fabrication.

            "Why can't we ask that about the totality of everything?"

            We can, and we should, and to varying degrees it should always be in the back of our minds. My first philosophical love was Socrates, and his constant questions! The fact that we can ask "what does an invisible pink coca-cola flavored unicorn taste like," doesn't mean that it's a logical question....but I still think it's incredibly important to ask.

            Absurdity is one of my favorite things: Monty Python, Blackadder, Douglas Adams, Catch 22, Orwell, Louis CK, Bill Hicks...(I'm not very cultured, I'm sure I'm missing a lot of prominent names)

            Absurdity is, I believe, what happens when our brains reach a logical break-point, when we arrive at the edge of knowledge and reason....sometimes you're forced into an emotional response of either laughter or tears...but it's always interesting.

            I value absurdity, I value asking "why?", but I don't confuse the fact that I enjoy (and seem to need) to ask "why," that I have an intense and perhaps instinctive drive to find out an intelligible pattern....and that pattern's existence.

            There may or may not be answers to the questions "why is one one? Why is it singular? Why is it self-divisible with itself as the answer? Why is a little more or a little less than "one" not "one." No one is telling you or anyone else not to study them.

            Let's not confuse ourselves, as difficult to avoid as that is, the NEED for an answer we can understand does not necessitate it's EXISTENCE.

            Of course, one's one-ness is a much more concrete question than reality's beginning -- our original topic. We seem to have evidence of the former all over the place, but the latter is mere speculation.

          • I guess I don't see anything absurd about the question. If science shows that nothingness never happens it does not make the question any more absurd. Why should anything exist?

          • Paul Boillot

            I guess my point is that we are conditioned by our middle-world scale to assume intelligibility, patterns, and contingency. IF the universe never started and IF nothingness is impossible, asking "why isn't there nothingness" is as absurd as asking "why is cold not hot?"

            Absurdity is in the eye of the beholder!

            I think it's a great question either way.

            Also:

            Why shouldn't anything exist?

          • picklefactory

            And you know, time flies like an arrow, but fruit flies like a banana.

          • David Nickol

            I am having trouble grasping how anyone can fabricate the concept of nothingness. It seems to be intuitive to everyone.

            What is your intuitive notion of nothingness as it existed (?) before the creation of the universe? Did nothingness exist before the creation of the universe? Is the notion of nothing meaningful without the notion of something? I think about the best intuitive notion we can come up with for nothingness is totally empty space.

            It seems to me that "creation from nothing" is a very misleading phrase, since it is almost impossible not to imagine God grabbing a handful of "nothingness" and turning it into something. The universe displaced nothingness. But of course nothingness in the absence of things is a purely abstract concept if it is a concept at all. It seems to me that the theistic view should be that God created nothingness when he created the universe.

            We, or at least I, can't conceive of "nothing" unless I have a context for it. What is in my wallet? Nothing. What is in the refrigerator? Nothing. What did Geraldo Rivera find in Al Capone's Vault? Nothing. But there is no context or location for nothingness before the existence of something.

          • It seems to me that "creation from nothing" is a very misleading phrase, since it is almost impossible not to imagine God grabbing a handful of "nothingness" and turning it into something.

            That is not misleading at all. God did something that is impossible for us to imagine. In fact, no creation myth had it. It always talked about the gods making the world from existing material. It was the Jews and later the Christians that had the radical idea that God might have made the world starting with nothing. Later people speculated even space and time did not exist before creation. No physical reality at all until God spoke it into existence.

          • Paul Boillot

            It seems that you took inspiration from one of the latest articles and posted it here.

            I'm sorry to inform you that you appear to be wrong about ex-nihilo creation ideas originating in the Judeo/Christian tradition.

            'Your' "radical idea" came from those pesky, pagan, Hellenists.

            https://strangenotions.com/coming-to-our-senses-the-anagogical-sense-of-scripture/#comment-1185588303

          • David Nickol

            The question I am raising is (assuming for the sake of argument that the universe was created "from nothing"), "Does it actually make sense to say there was nothing before the universe existed?" I don't think it would make much sense to say there was darkness before light existed, because darkness would have no meaning if a universe without light had been created. Darkness is the absence of light, but if there were no such thing as light—if the concept of light had never existed—would everything really be dark? I think the concept of darkness would simply be meaningless.

            I think the idea of nothing (or "no thing") is dependent on the idea of something. Bending the rules a bit and speaking of a God within time, I don't think it would make sense to say that before God created the universe, he looked around and saw nothing, or if you had asked him what existed, he would have said "nothing." If God created the physical world as we know it (the universe), it seems to me he created "nothing" at the same time.

            It was not necessary for God to create the physical universe, and for all we know, God could have created (or did create) thousands of alternatives to the physical universe that we can't even conceive of, since we find it next to impossible to conceive of anything other that physical things. We claim to think of physical things and spiritual things, but in actuality, God, and angels, and souls, and heaven are concepts of physical things that we then call spiritual. For example, when a person dies, her soul leaves her body, goes to purgatory, then to heaven, and she enjoys the beatific vision. Try to think of that in nonphysical terms. You can't.

            Also, assuming God created time along with the physical universe, the concepts of before and after cannot be meaningfully invoked to talk about anything other than the physical universe. They are concepts that don't make sense without the physical universe, so it makes no sense to ask what was happening before God created time.

    • Paul Boillot

      It seems to me that science is just precise, well-rehearsed philosophy.

      Or perhaps philosophy is imprecise science.

      When there were no books, or very few, and every thinker/generation of thinkers had to rely on oral traditions to hand down the previously-extant body of knowledge...when mathematics and grammars and vocabularies were not codified...when rivers were seasonally insurmountable obstacles philosophy was the best knowledge we had.

      What we call 'philosophy' is reserved for the branches of knowledge which are still shrouded in mystery and imprecision, that doesn't make philosophers lazy people playing 'word games,' to my mind, it makes them intellectual spelunkers without tackle or flashlights.

      I think that you're right about the encroaching light of science, physics in this particular case, but 'science' is a term I use for philosophy's younger, more specialized brother.

      Philosophy has always been at the bleeding edge of truth-seeking, and modern science is walking the trail blazed by the philosophers. Must they eventually cede primacy to the specialists? Yes. Ought we to pay respect to the giants on whose shoulders we stand?

      We still call those who make the highest academic achievement doctors of philosophy.

    • Ian Wardell

      Physics can only ever in principle describe reality, it cannot tell you its nature.

  • Slocum Moe

    Even if you choose to believe that God created the heavens and earth from nothing, God is not nothing. The question then becomes, what is the origin and true nature of God? We have no evidence as to that, only the primitive myth and folktales from which religion evolved.

    I try to keep an open mind but realize that it is and probably will remain beyond my humble intellect. Those that think they have an answer almost certainly are either fools or snake oil salesmen.

    • SJH

      Religion has evolved significantly throughout history. Is this because it is an ever-changing philosophy or because as the human race matures, it is more capable of understanding God and our relationship with him and with each other? The same can be true with parents and children. As a child matures he has a better understanding of the relationship with his parents as well as the rest of humanity. The ever-evolving understanding however, does not imply that his parents did not exist.

  • Renard Wolfe

    I will start this by saying "I do not understand quantum physics"
    I have NO idea how the universe got here.
    "I don't know" as an answer is infinitely better than "I don't know, therefore god did it". Not only is the latter incredibly arbitrary, it has a horrible track record as well.

    With that said, science seems to be reaching the point where this is NOT a philosophical question, at all. Its a science question. That takes it completely out of philosophies rarified atmosphere, which hasn't seemed to manage to kill religious thinking, and thrusts it into the cold, hard, god defenestrating reality of scientific expertise.

  • Moussa Taouk

    Many comments here rightly point out the varying ways in which the word "nothing" can be used. "What do you have in the boot of your car?" "Nothing". Fine.

    The problem I can see though are two:
    1. The difference between using the word colloquially or in slang and using the word to address a more philosophical question around the fact that stuff (laws, gravity, quarks, light whatever) exists, that stuff can't explain its own existence, and the possible explanation(s) for stuff to come into existence is that one is not aiming at explaining or answering the philospophical question while the other is (flasely in this case) claiming to.

    2. The existence of an uncaused cause (God) is one answer used to explain the existence of "stuff". And so now the theory of stuff coming into existence out of "nothing" is used as a basis for disproving God. So the colloquial word has been used in a philosophical manner. This is at least (hopefully not consciously) misleading.

    (I saw Richard Dawkins use this theory when debating against Cardinal Pell in Sydney).

    • Sqrat

      The existence of an uncaused cause (God) is one answer used to explain the existence of "stuff".

      Except that God isn't actually presumed to be a cause. The cause is presumed to be something God did to cause the existence of stuff. However, no one is able to offer any coherent hypothesis as to what it was that God did to cause stuff, other than "that thing God does whenever he wants to cause stuff."

      And so now the theory of stuff coming into existence out of "nothing" is used as a basis for disproving God.

      Not, I think, as a basis for disproving God, but as a basis for arguing that "that thing that God does whenever he wants to cause stuff" is not necessary for explaining the origin of stuff. Not only is it not necessary, it's not sufficient.

      • Moussa Taouk

        I don't know how to "quote" stuff :(. Help a novice out, would you?!

        "Except that God isn't actually presumed to be a cause". I'm no grand philosopher (actually I'm no grand anything... standing at about 1.6m tall) so I can't really tell whether you're right or not. But I have heard of this thing called the "First Cause Argument" for God's existence. I presumed therefore that God is the agent or entity or being or mind or what-not that ultimately gave rise to "stuff". Whether He created the known universe via some other secondary cause (quantum soup or whatever) is I think of secondary relevance.

        "Not, I think, as a basis for disproving God...". But Sqrat, I've heard it used in a number of debates as an argument against God's existence. And to my mind it's erroneous because it misses the distinction between "nothing" and "NOTHING". I assure you. It (the theory) is used.

        • Susan

          Hi Moussa,

          I don't know how to "quote" stuff :(

          Type this: (

          ) directly before the quote you paste

          and this: directly before the quote you paste and (

          ) directly after it. Without the round brackets.

          But Sqrat, I've heard it used in a number of debates as an argument against God's existence.

          I'm not sure we've seen the same debates. Apologists in my experience (both christian and muslim), try to equivocate the term "nothing" to point to cosmology as supporting the existence of their deity. When Vilenkin says "nothing", he is not talking about the philosopher's nothing but that doesn't stop the quote mining from theist debaters. (Read Craig and Spitzer, for instance.)

          The response from their opponents of course is that the argument doesn't work. Cosmology doesn't support a deity creating ex nihilo. They are not arguing against the existence of deities. They are showing that the arguments are flawed and rely on manipulating our intuitive understanding of "nothing", "beginning", "universe", etc.

          Vilenkin's "nothing" is fine to argue FOR a deity but when Krauss and others address those "nothings" and more.. suddenly, it's not good enough. It's not "nothing" enough.

          I haven't seen ALL the debates so you might be able to direct me to one where the theist is using crystal clear definitions of "nothing" that never budge and where his/her opponent is doing all the equivocating.

          The goalposts (in my experience) get moved a LOT by apologists on this topic. I admit that my experience is limited and would be glad to see an exception if someone wants to point it out to me.

          • Moussa Taouk

            Thanks Susan.

            If I've understood you correctly then I say, whenever a person engaging about a debate or a teaching regarding God's existence or non-existence in relation to his creative power and they misuse the word "nothing" to mean something other than NOTHING then that person ought to be spanked. I agree with you. Consistency is necessar for dilogue or communication to be meaningful.

            I think you're asking for an example of when the word or concept of "nothing" got misused in a debate? The example that comes to mind first up is this one:
            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tD1QHO_AVZA

            21.50 is when the question arises, and 23.30 is when the conept (as related to the above article) gets used (or I would propose misused).

          • Susan

            Hi again Moussa, :-)

            The concept of "nothing" meant one thing when the person with the question referred to The Big Bang ("if I open the palm of my hand") and what Dawkins referred to was the "nothing" that physicists face.

            It was clearly misused in the original question. Richard Dawkins responded easily to the questioner's "nothing".

            We are talking about two distinct ideas that should never be blurred (but that seem to be blurred by apologists as a matter of scoring points).

            The Big Bang is one thing and does not support a universe from the philosopher's "nothing" but is used along with Inflation and String Theory and other models of cosmology to suggest that it DOES support the philosophers' "nothing" and when people in the field respond on that basis, the goalposts shift.

            "Why is there something rather than nothing?" is the only "philosophical" question that seems to require the philosophers' "nothing".

            This requires the assumption that the philosophers' "nothing" is an idea that exists outside of our own conceptual forms. An interesting question or a malformed question but who is qualified to answer it? It certainly has nothing to do with the Big Bang or with Inflation or with any other model of cosmology.

            There's a great blog post on the philosophers' "nothing" here:

            http://quinesqueue.blogspot.ca/2012/02/physical-nothing-v-metaphysical-nothing.html

          • Moussa Taouk

            Susan, I concede that the questioner used the word "nothing" in the wrong way when he spoke about opening his hand.

            I suppose though that he was using an example that is observable to us to extrapolate to a condition that is not observable to us. Is such an extrapolation valid?

            I was thinking the other day: The less complexity involved in a system, the less stuff happens in that system. A bird might fly away. A flower might blossom. But a rock just sits there. If left on the moon for a million years... it just remains sitting there. Basically changeless I guess. Empty space... well... I guess there's the quantum thing possibly going on everywhere, but as far as one might observe... not much happens there at all. And so using that extrapolation one might conlude, "nothing" (which is what you get to if the causal regression is followed to the end) is the simplest possible scenario. And from that state of affairs, if stuff happens, then it begs for an explanation.

            Anyway, so I'm saying is it fair to make such an extrapolation? Because I think that's what the whole thing is. I think. Maybe some smart philosopher can corret me.

            "Why is there something rather than nothing?" is the only "philosophical" question that seems to require the philosophers' "nothing".

            Yes, I'd have to agree. But then again that situation is unique and... pretty boring I guess. I mean, what other questions can arise relating to "nothing". Ummm... "so... what do you think the time might be right now if there was nothing?" --- "ummm... you're an idiot. Let's go do something fun".

            You know? I mean... what possible questions is anyone going to discuss relating to this unique state of utter absence of material existence? One can try and conceptualise the spiritual world. But other than that it'd generate some pretty boring conversations!

          • Susan

            I suppose though that he was using an example that is observable to us to extrapolate to a condition that is not observable to us. Is such an extrapolation valid?

            It is the example upon which the original philosophical questions were based. It turns out that the extrapolation is naive and not "valid". The precise probing of nothing by science has shown that the empty hand, the empty box, the empty pocket, the empty jar, empty space etc. are not "no thing". As Geena asked on this thread, how much can we remove before we call it "nothing"?

            Lawrence Krauss's book was an attempt to explain what physics has discovered about the "nothing" that philosophers (and most of the rest of us still take) took for granted. He describes in each case his specific definition of "nothing" and explains how it's plausible based on models in physics for a universe to emerge from each version of "nothing".

            Physicists have made great progress on the subject. I'm not sure what progress philosophy has made to be honest, nor how we would know it made progress without an external referent, something that probes our assumptions about "nothing".

            Yes, I'd have to agree. But then again that situation is unique and... pretty boring I guess.

            That made me laugh out loud. I'm inclined to agree with you most of the time. As Paul Boillot said, nothing wrong with asking. But when I really, really think about it, I don't even know what we're asking. In the mean time, science has been very, very busy studying "nothing" and discovered some astonishing things.

            On a side note, I said that I would respond to you on some other subjects last night. I actually PROMISED. But I can't even find the thread any more (THAT's disqus....) and you're right. It's probably off-topic. Strange that definiitions of terms about "God" are off-topic as are calls for evidence. They should be on topic in every discussion. That is fundamental in philosophy. I DO hope that what you submitted to the moderators is accepted. It's hard to reason without more rigorous approaches to "God". I promise I will address your responses given the chance.

            Also, a friend of mine sent me this disqus tutorial. I think you'll find it more helpful than my floundering attempts from yesterday:

            http://help.disqus.com/customer/portal/articles/466253-what-html-tags-are-allowed-within-comments

          • Vasco Gama

            The problem with the Krauss's "definitions of nothing" are not "nothing" in a way that it is possible to consider that "something" can come out of "nothing".

            And in spite of the popularity among enthusistic and credulous new atheists the refutation to Lawrence Krauss proposals came from everywhere, scientists and philosphers (theists and atheists), including Sam Harris, Dennet, Sean Carrol, Massimo Pigliucci, among others.

          • Ignorant Amos

            When did Jerry Coyne, Dan Dennett and Massimo Pigliucci become theoretical cosmologists?

            Krauss' book is an hypothesis he has posited based on observations and mathematical models. There are a number of hypotheses out there. So for other theoretical cosmologists to contend Krauss' book is hardly controversial.

            The most important book to the Christian, the NT, in spite of the popularity among enthusiastic and credulous Christians, is no less refuted from everywhere, scientists and philosophers, (theists and atheists). Very much more as a matter of fact.

            So your point is what exactly?

          • Vasco Gama

            Maybe it would be wise avoiding being too emotional (plus it is quite unnecessary).

            No one said that Jerry Coyne (biologist), Dan Dennett (philosopher) and Massimo Pigliucci (philosopher and biologist).are cosmologists, as you can observe if you read my comment one other time.

            The cosmologist Sean Carroll did disagree with Krauss, I would say that he is not alone (but that is just my guess).

            My point is clear and plain, unlike what Susan pretends the disagreemnet concerning Krauss's conceptions of nothing can't be reduced simply to a dispute between theists and atheists, or any imaginary suspicion about the validity of physics, cosmology or science, And even some people somehow strongly committed to the new atheist cause (such as Dennett or Coyne) disagree with Krauss.

          • Ignorant Amos

            Why do theists have to inject the emotion canard into every question being asked of them?

            No one said that Jerry Coyne (biologist), Dan Dennett (philosopher) and Massimo Pigliucci (philosopher and biologist).are cosmologists, as you can observe if you read my comment one other time.

            So the point of listing those people is to show that some unqualified atheists disagree with the Krauss' hypothesis...cool. I'm sure they present their reasoning somewhere. I might go look later, time permitting.

            The cosmologist Sean Carroll did disagree with Krauss,...

            Well not entirely, Carroll said this among other things...

            "So if your definition of “nothing” is “emptiness” or “lack of space itself,” the laws of quantum mechanics provide a nice way to understand how that nothing can evolve into the marvelous something we find ourselves inside. This is interesting, and important, and worth writing a book about, and it’s one of the possibilities Lawrence discusses."

            ...there is more to Carroll's position than he just disagrees with Krauss. He certainly seems the hypothesis worthy of consideration, even if not agreeing with it.

            ... I would say that he is not alone (but that is just my guess).

            Undoubtedly. A better example than Carroll would be David Albert, philosopher of physics and a theoretical physicist to boot.

            My point is clear and plain, unlike what Susan pretends the disagreemnet concerning Krauss's conceptions of nothing can't be reduced simply to a dispute between theists and atheists, or any imaginary suspicion about the validity of physics, cosmology or science, And even some people somehow strongly committed to the new atheist cause (such as Dennett or Coyne) disagree with Krauss.

            Whether Krauss set out to make his book an us and them issue is one thing, that it has become an us and them issue is in no doubt. This thread is evidence of such. I'd like to see Susan's clarification, not that it matters terribly.

            But anyway, surely you must be aware that atheists hold diverse and varied opinions on just about everything. By showing that some atheists disagree with Krauss on some, or most of his book is superfluous to its content.

            That certain Christians disagree with the Catholic version of the NT is not in dispute, is it because they know better, are better informed, or simply don't understand the Catholic version because of ignorance?

            "That it's possible to create particles from no particles is remarkable---that you can do that with impunity, without violating the conservation of energy and all that, is a remarkable thing. The fact that "nothing," namely empty space, is unstable is amazing. But I'll be the first to say that empty space as I'm describing it isn't necessarily nothing, although I will add that it was plenty good enough for Augustine and the people who wrote the Bible. For them an eternal empty void was the definition of nothing, and certainly I show that that kind of nothing ain't nothing anymore." Lawrence Krauss,

            Has Physics Made Philosophy and Religion Obsolete? @ the Atlantic

            Krauss explains himself and the purpose of his book in a Q & A which might help some folk here understand his concepts and why.

            http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/04/has-physics-made-philosophy-and-religion-obsolete/256203/

          • Vasco Gama

            I wasn’t trying to inject you anything, I was attributing an emotional character to your comment, but I admit that it can be only due to some peculiar lack of understanding of whatever I said. But then my skills in English language are far from perfect (sorry about that).

            Sometimes is better to go slowly and it may well be the case that you finally understand what I said.

            Is it not clear to you that I didn’t said or suggested that Jerry Coyne, Dan Dennett and Massimo Pigliucci were cosmologists?

            The presumption that those people are unqualified is entirely yours, the case is that their disagreement with Krauss is philosophical (much in the same way as mine). Well you might say that you don’t care about philosophy and I will not try to persuade that it silly (you have the right to be silly, if it is important to you). The point is that their disagreement with Krauss is philosophical and apparently they are better qualified in philosophy than Krauss (and in this case your impression concerning philosophy is irrelevant).

            But I fail to see your point, besides you seem trying to suggest that as Lawrence Krauss is a respected cosmologist he has to be right about everything, regardless of his claims being about science, physics, cosmology, cooking, music, art, literature, philosophy, theology, or metaphysics. Like if it didn’t matter he would be right regardless of whatever absurd claim he choose to make. This makes no sense (well, apparently to you it does).

            Also no one pretended that any of those persons (Carroll included) were in total disagreement with Krauss or that any one suggested that his work was worthless, this was not said or even suggested. The common thing is that neither of them agreed with Krauss’s definition of nothing (and that is the only important fact), they are friends with Krauss (and in the same manner as Krauss they criticize religion and Christianity in particular) and share many of his philosophical conceptions, they just disagree with Krauss on that issue and choose to show publicly their disagreement.

            « But anyway, surely you must be aware that atheists hold diverse and varied opinions on just about everything. By showing that some atheists disagree with Krauss on some, or most of his book is superfluous to its content.»

            I am not saying that it is superfluous or not (and I surely don’t care about your impression on that), as I said before the fact that various atheists choose to disagree with Krauss’s definition of nothing clearly shows that this disagreement can’t be reduced to the disagreement between theists and atheists, or any imaginary suspicion about the validity of physics, cosmology or science.

          • Ignorant Amos

            But then my skills in English language are far from perfect (sorry about that).

            No need to apologise. Your English is exceptional for it to be a second language.

            Is it not clear to you that I didn’t said or suggested that Jerry Coyne, Dan Dennett and Massimo Pigliucci were cosmologists?

            I understood your comment, it was quite clear. My point was that I failed to understand the relevance of these folk on a list condemning theoretical physics, regardless of their atheism.

            The presumption that those people are unqualified is entirely yours, the case is that their disagreement with Krauss is philosophical (much in the same way as mine).

            That is the crux of the debate. Krauss is discussing a "nothing" in scientific terms, while those in disagreement are conflating it with a "nothing" in philosophical terms.

            Well you might say that you don’t care about philosophy and I will not try to persuade that it silly (you have the right to be silly, if it is important to you).

            Easy Tiger...atheists have been memory holed on these pages for less. You might not agree with me, but it is not allowed to call someone silly, or infer it, otherwise the "silly" accusation would be flying about right, left and centre. Incidentally, that seems a bit emotional too.

            The point is that their disagreement with Krauss is philosophical and apparently they are better qualified in philosophy than Krauss (and in this case your impression concerning philosophy is irrelevant).

            Except Krauss is not making a philosophical argument, but a scientific one, in particular, a cosmological argument. Which means he is better qualified to know what he is talking about...which is NOT a philosophical proposition however misconstrued others take him.

            But I fail to see your point, besides you seem trying to suggest that as Lawrence Krauss is a respected cosmologist he has to be right about everything, regardless of his claims being about science, physics, cosmology, cooking, music, art, literature, philosophy, theology, or metaphysics.

            No I don't. I don't even suggest he has to be right about his theoretical physics, that's the thing about theoretical physics...the theoretical bit. But a science hypothesis has the right to be heard, especially when it has supporting data and maths. What I don't like is his position being misrepresented, especially by those ignorant of his position, and even more so by those that haven't bothered to read the book they are decrying.

            Like if it didn’t matter he would be right regardless of whatever absurd claim he choose to make. This makes no sense (well, apparently to you it does)

            It appears to be an absurd claim because you don't seem to understand it, if at all read it. But I should be careful about the use of the term "absurd claim" lest you wish me to go to town on some of the "absurd claims" made by theists..

            Also no one pretended that any of those persons (Carroll included) were in total disagreement with Krauss

            Au contraire, what you said initially was worse than disagree ...

            And in spite of the popularity among enthusistic and credulous new atheists the refutation to Lawrence Krauss proposals came from everywhere, scientists and philosphers (theists and atheists), including Sam Harris, Dennet, Sean Carrol, Massimo Pigliucci, among others.

            Refutation: overthrow by argument, evidence, or proof.

            Of which you offered no reference or source.

            ...or that any one suggested that his work was worthless, this was not said or even suggested.

            And at no point I stated you, or anyone else, say such. Straw man much?

            The common thing is that neither of them agreed with Krauss’s definition of nothing (and that is the only important fact),...

            Important to who? Certainly not Krauss. Did you bother to read the answers Krauss gave in the Q&A at "The Atlantic" link I gave previously? It might clear many misconceptions.

            ...they are friends with Krauss (and in the same manner as Krauss they criticize religion and Christianity in particular) and share many of his philosophical conceptions, they just disagree with Krauss on that issue and choose to show publicly their disagreement.

            I still don't understand your point. You are debating apples and oranges. For the umpteenth time, Krauss is NOT discussing a "philosophical conception" no matter how many times you insist he is.

            I am not saying that it is superfluous or not (and I surely don’t care about your impression on that), as I said before the fact that various atheists choose to disagree with Krauss’s definition of nothing clearly shows that this disagreement can’t be reduced to the disagreement between theists and atheists, or any imaginary suspicion about the validity of physics, cosmology or science.

            You are still missing my point, and have yet to prove, that those you listed are disagreeing with Krauss' scientific definition of nothing. Certainly, not Carroll if my quote from his blog is anything to judge by...here it is again...

            "So if your definition of “nothing” is “emptiness” or “lack of space itself,” the laws of quantum mechanics provide a nice way to understand how that nothing can evolve into the marvelous something we find ourselves inside. This is interesting, and important, and worth writing a book about, and it’s one of the possibilities Lawrence discusses."

            Even if you can't be bothered to read the whole Atlantic interview, at least acknowledge this one question and Krauss' response.

            It sounds like you're arguing that 'nothing' is really a quantum vacuum, and that a quantum vacuum is unstable in such a way as to make the production of matter and space inevitable. But a quantum vacuum has properties. For one, it is subject to the equations of quantum field theory. Why should we think of it as nothing?

            Krauss:" That would be a legitimate argument if that were all I was arguing. By the way it's a nebulous term to say that something is a quantum vacuum in this way. That's another term that these theologians and philosophers have started using because they don't know what the hell it is, but it makes them sound like they know what they're talking about. When I talk about empty space, I am talking about a quantum vacuum, but when I'm talking about no space whatsoever, I don't see how you can call it a quantum vacuum. It's true that I'm applying the laws of quantum mechanics to it, but I'm applying it to nothing, to literally nothing. No space, no time, nothing. There may have been meta-laws that created it, but how you can call that universe that didn't exist "something" is beyond me. When you go to the level of creating space, you have to argue that if there was no space and no time, there wasn't any pre-existing quantum vacuum. That's a later stage.

            Even if you accept this argument that nothing is not nothing, you have to acknowledge that nothing is being used in a philosophical sense. But I don't really give a damn about what "nothing" means to philosophers; I care about the "nothing" of reality. And if the "nothing" of reality is full of stuff, then I'll go with that.

            But I don't have to accept that argument, because space didn't exist in the state I'm talking about, and of course then you'll say that the laws of quantum mechanics existed, and that those are something. But I don't know what laws existed then. In fact, most of the laws of nature didn't exist before the universe was created; they were created along with the universe, at least in the multiverse picture. The forces of nature, the definition of particles---all these things come into existence with the universe, and in a different universe, different forces and different particles might exist. We don't yet have the mathematics to describe a multiverse, and so I don't know what laws are fixed. I also don't have a quantum theory of gravity, so I can't tell you for certain how space comes into existence, but to make the argument that a quantum vacuum that has particles is the same as one that doesn't have particles is to not understand field theory.

            Back to you.

          • Vasco Gama

            At this point it might be advantageous to reframe this discussion that came to the public with the publication of Lawrence Krauss book, “A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing”. The title alone is helpful to the discussion, as much as it tries to address an old and important philosophical problem, which was formulated in the same manner by Leibnitz (scientist and philosopher, in the beginning of the XVIII century), “Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing”. This is a question that philosophy and theology traditionally tried to address (as long as philosophy and theology exist). In a way this question is not a modern question, and the question was always well understood, as well as the concepts of nothing (that where always considered in the framework of the philosophical knowledge and understanding of nothing). Although today we can have a better understanding about what nothing is, and eventually in the future our concept can be perfected and become more precise, in the past, just as now “nothing” means exactly “not anything” or the “absence of anything” and not the “absence of something” (that is the way that Krauss pretends to reformulate it). The point being that this question is a philosophical question, although it doesn’t prevent that science tries to address it (however it should be expected that it should be framed by philosophical constrains).

            We can also consider who is Krauss and in what sense we may consider and evaluate his opinions. We know that is a physicist (cosmologist) and an active atheist apologist, that in that sense choose to write a book entitled “A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing”, which was criticized by a variety of people form theists to atheists, philosophers, scientists, physicists, cosmologists, …, on grounds of his definition of “nothing” (as the vacuum state), which is a philosophical disagreement.

            I am not a cosmologist (just in the same manner as most of the theist or atheist apologists) and I have no expertise to criticise or validate Krauss scientific work on cosmology. I think Krauss is respected cosmologist and as far as I have realized he is intelligent and sensible in his work, and I have no objective reason to have any suspicion about his work, as it is surely scrutinized by his peers and I have to be confident about it. However, in spite of not being a philosopher, I have no disadvantage in terms of philosophical expertise in relation to Krauss, and I (and I am not alone in this, and it is not only theists) can recognize that his notion of nothing (as the vacuum state that Krauss assumes to be nothing in his book) is not “nothing”, instead it is full of stuff. Also in the case of Krauss work, one must be able to distinguish between his work as a scientist and his activity as an atheist apologist, and, in his public statements, it is not always clear what he is doing, and one has to be careful in analysing his considerations, at least I am, but as much in the same sense as I am careful in considering the views of anyone that is doing apologetics, either a theist or an atheist, and I appreciate to read and consider the thoughts and the arguments of a few people that are somehow involved both in theist apologetics (such as Feser), or atheist (such as , Pigliuci, and Carrol) and I am really displeased by a few of them (both theist and atheist, but being a Catholic I don’t pretend to be fair in my personal evaluation).

            Apparently you question the authority and knowledge of those that choose to disagree with Krauss and choose to do so in public, as much as they realized that their disagreement was relevant and consubstantiated enough, and supported by the arguments they considered as reasonable, to do it publically, and in no sense as minor peculiarity, but as a relevant disagreement.

            On this matter you seem to take the opinion of Carrol more seriously than the other people that object, it is your prerogative, I also agree with Carrol, and found his analysis quite interesting (although I recognize that he is somehow conciliatory between Krauss’s and David Albert’s arguments that harshly criticized Krauss’s book:

            http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/25/books/review/a-universe-from-nothing-by-lawrence-m-krauss.html

            If I can give credit in his statements considering propose of universe might emerge from the vacuum state (which is his prime definition of nothing), as something objective and testable. I am quite suspicious about his other proposed definitions of nothing, considering what can be done form those presumptions of nothing is just metaphysics (while you take fields, particles, radiation, time, space and laws), or magic, surely not science. And in general I can make Carrol’s words my own,

            « What, then, do we have to complain about? Well, a bit of contemplation should reveal that this kind of reasoning might, if we grant you a certain definition of “nothing,” explain how the universe could arise from nothing. But it doesn’t, and doesn’t even really try to, explain why there is something rather than nothing — why this particular evolution of the wave function, or why even the apparatus of “wave functions” and “Hamiltonians” is the right way to think about the universe at all. And maybe you don’t care about those questions, and nobody would question your right not to care; but if the subtitle of your book is “Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing,” you pretty much forfeit the right to claim you don’t care. »

          • Ignorant Amos

            The philosophers "nothing" is different from the physicists "nothing"...rather like the creationists "theory" is different from the evolutionists "theory".

            In the words of the song..."Lets call the whole thing off"

            With regards to the the book title confusion...I'm thinking "Selfish Gene" and the controversy that peoples ignorance pervaded when that book was released.

        • Ben Posin

          Moussa,

          Certainly, some theists argue that there must be a "first cause" and then they often like to say "and we call that first cause God." This is problematic for reasons not worth getting into here. The point Sqrat is getting into is that positing that God existed "first" doesn't actually tell us anything about how the world came into being. If all that existed was God and."nothing," that still leaves open the entire question as to how God created the world out of "nothing." Saying that God is the first cause leaves us with no additional understanding or information as to how the world was created ex nihilo. Was God even a necessary part of the process? If so, in what way?

          • Moussa Taouk

            I mean... this might be going off the original point a bit. But I would have thought that if "stuff" was "made from" nothing then it's by some supernatural miraculous event that can't be measured or analysed in the way one might measure or analyse stuff that is already in existence. As soon as there is SOME thing, then that thing is available to the realm of scientific enquiry. But priort to that... I would think "nothing" and "God" and the means by which the two interact is simply not available for the scientific field to be able to measure and replicate and tangibly understand.

            I suppose, given that stuff doesn't explain itself, that God is a necessary part of the process. The "way" is not open to our grasping. It's a miracle. Supernatural. Beyond nature.

            Also, I would go further and say that (even if it were possible) it's entirely unnecessary for us to know the way by which God created "ex nihilo". Except to satisfy a curious mind that ever restless in the seeking of truth!

          • Sqrat

            I suppose, given that stuff doesn't explain itself, that God is a necessary part of the process. The "way" is not open to our grasping. It's a miracle. Supernatural. Beyond nature.

            Way back near the beginning of this discussion I wrote,

            When it is pointed out to [theists] that the question [of how the universe came into existence through some act of divine creation] is there, the response tends to be, not merely that they currently have no answer to the question, but that the question is in practice unanswerable because surely God must have made humans too stupid to be able to understand the answer.

            My assertion that theists would likely respond that "God must have made humans too stupid to understand" was then challenged by Vasco, who said that that was NOT how theists would typically respond. Let the record show that you, Moussa, are responding in that very way when you say that "The 'way' is not open to our grasping."

          • Moussa Taouk

            Let the record show that you, Moussa, are responding in that very way when you say that "The 'way' is not open to our grasping.

            Ok Sqrat... let that be etched into a big granite slab where future civilisations will inspect it. Haha.

            When I first read that thing you wrote originally in the discussion I basically agreed with it. I'm not talking about better understanding the cause of the big bang from some other secondary cause. I'm talking about the initial instigation of all subsequent causes. for example "multiverse" would fall under "secondary cause".

            The other thing, if I may add it, is that it's conceivable that some individual might be enlightened with a private revelation so that they get a keen insight about the creation of stuff. Maybe something like the "how". I doubt it very much, but at least add that to my tablet just so future civilisations don't think I'm a total dudd! Haha.

            As to scientifically grasping the "how" of the miracle... yes, that's my position.

          • Sqrat

            When I first read that thing you wrote originally in the discussion I basically agreed with it. I'm not talking about better understanding the cause of the big bang from some other secondary cause. I'm talking
            about the initial instigation of all subsequent causes. for example "multiverse" would fall under "secondary cause".

            To speak of the initial instigation of all subsequent causes, it is necessary to assume that there was such an instigation, that all subsequent causes are themselves the effects of earlier causes that can ultimately be traced back to an initial cause. I think it is premature to make that assumption. If the multiverse exists, we do not know that it had a beginning, or whether it has always existed. If the multiverse does not exist, and only our own universe exists, while we are quite sure that it had a beginning, we do not know that its beginning was not preceded by a infinite series of preceding universes, extending back into an infinite past.

            The other thing, if I may add it, is that it's conceivable that some individual might be enlightened with a private revelation so that they get a keen insight about the creation of stuff.

            It's conceivable, but it's not actually possible unless there is someone or something capable of issuing such a private revelation. To put it more bluntly, if private revelations are presumed to come from a god, and only from a god, and there are no gods, then there are no private revelations. And, to this point, it seems to me that the individuals who have offered plausible (if admittedly conflicting) insights about the possible origins of stuff seem to have derived those insights, not from private revelations, but from years of study and plain hard work in the physical sciences.

          • Moussa Taouk

            I think it is premature to make that assumption.

            It is an assumption based on causality. In the meantime we have to assume SOMETHING or else we'll lie down and die of starvation. The choice of the assumptions at the moment are:
            1. Causality of "stuff" is always true, and therefore there is an entity outside the principle of causality that is the primary cause that gave rise to what is now the universe.

            2. There are infinite number of universes or infinite age of the universe or some other infinite thing that doesn't need explaining because infinite regress of causality is possible in an infinite state of affairs.

            3. We don't know. But one day we will know.

            So out of the 3 we choose one option. And then we get on with life (and probably go and investigate further to see whether we chose the best of the 3 assumptions). But a choice must ultimately be made, and the choice ultimately rests on an assumption.

            It's conceivable, but it's not actually possible unless there is someone or something capable of issuing such a private revelation. To put it more

            I guess this again comes down to the assumption of the choice: 1. God exists 2. All that exists is material stuff. Certainly I was assuming that if someone has some "private revelation" then it's because God exists. So, here again we make our assumptions and get on with life after having chosen one way or the other.

            Thanks for the brain exercise so early in the morning Sqrat!

    • Paul Boillot

      What basis do you have for the claim that "[matter] can't explain its own existence"?

      • Moussa Taouk

        Hi Paul. The basis I'm using is the same basis as we might use to justify our scientific assumptions. That is: we observe patterns that always seem to follow some kind of rule. The pattern holds in every single instant that we've enquired. After so many investigations, and after having shown time and time again that the behaviour is consistent under every tested circumstance, we go on to believe in a "principle" or a "law". That principle can then be assumed to work every time (unless proven otherwise). Thus we come to believe in the law of gravity, the law of thermodynamics, the law of entropy etc.

        In a similar way, when I look around me, I see that every "thing" comes from something else. It didn't arise by its own powers. The rock came from a volcano. The rain came from the clouds. The car came from the factory. The sun came from a bunch of gasses (although... I can't say I observed that one. I just trust that are more knowledgeable in the field of astronomy than I am!).

        Therefore, seeing as I have found this result under every single circumstance that I have investigated, I can only agree with the principle that every'thing' has a cause. Thus under this principle, matter (I'd even suggest initially that this applies to "animatter" if such a 'thing' of anti-'thing' exists) has a cause. Therefore matter can't explain its own existence.

        That'd be my logic. Thanks for the question.

        • Paul Boillot

          The flaw in your basis is using middle-world scales, times, distances and phenomena to make unwarranted assumptions.

          Even if *everything* we observed followed your patterns, you would still be making the fallacy of composition. Just because all of the trees in a forest have roots doesn't mean that the forest has roots.

          But it's worse than that.

          We observe things at non-human-scales which don't seem to fit with our daily experience. Everything you've listed is a very large phenomena. It's information state as a "rock" or a "car" seems to be transitory, true, but the building blocks never go away.

          You're made up of atoms that were in Julius Caesar and in the last Stegosaurus and in an exploding star.

          Our brains are not assembled with the hard/software to be intuitively aware and appreciative of the fact that matter/energy are not created or destroyed in this universe.

          The fact that my first pet dog Rudy died is not a valid deductive step in arriving at the conclusion that the universe must end.

          • Moussa Taouk

            :) I like your analogy of the trees and the forest (as well as the boy and the atoms in your link).

            I'll make a little comment about the roots example before getting to what I think is the key point.

            Roots are properties of trees. And I can agree that in such cases it could be incorrect to apply the property of a part to the whole. I can easily think of many examples of this. But existence (I think) is different in that it's not a property OF the part. Rather the part (and the whole) is the property OF existence. That sounds more mystical than I intended. But I don't think the comparison is hitting at (or applicable to) the point of existence, although I do think what you're saying of in both points is valid. i.e. you can't always just extrapolate features to everything. (Just to affirm that I agree and by way of example) just because speed = distance / time doesn't mean that's always true. It's true for "middle-world scales" but it does't work as you approach speed of light. But I think existence is a different kettle of fish. "Why do you make that assumption?" you ask. Well, that leads to my next point.

            Ok, so maybe you're right. Maybe my limitted human brain is incorrectly assuming that what I see around me is the way everything is. Maybe this even applies to existence itself. i.e. things might be able to come to exist randomly, by the power of nothing at all, out of absolute nothingness. Well, ok... MAYBE that's the case. And Maybe it's not. At the moment all I have to go off is what I have always observed. I'm not going to spend time arguing with someone that time can't possibly slow down as you approach the speed of light, because it's been demonstrated (I think?... I'm just trusting what I've read/heard from others). But before that got demonstrated, it wouldn't be fair to tell everyone, "you people are fools for believing that time flows at a constant rate in all instances". We make assumptions until those assumptions are shown to be wrong. Until then, it's only reasonable to hold to those assumptions.

            Basically, I think you're asking for skepticism until the normal assumptions can be demonstrated to be true. I'm saying that assumptions should (really... HAVE to be) made until they are shown to be NOT true. Isn't that how the scientific theory works? A hypothesis is true until it is shown to be false?

            As a final supplement, I just think this hypothesis is un-testable. Unless mathematics can show it somehow. Because we can't replicate the state of nothingness. You'd have to not only suck out all particles to create an absolute vacuum of matter, but you'd even have to get rid of the laws of physics in that little vacuum. So I THINK this question is therefore not really a question for science... as far as I can imagine.

  • SmilingAssassin27

    Superb. This really NEEDS to be written, explicated, and UNDERSTOOD by atheists who usually go off the rails in discussions with this kind of stuff. Feser=The Man.

    • Vasco Gama

      as well as by theists (in order to keep their coherence and not take acritically any non-sense that is asserted to them)

    • Andre Boillot

      We can assume that you make this statement after having read, analyzed, and understood the article mentioned in the OP. Right?

    • Renard Wolfe

      Philosopher vs scientist on the nature of reality is like a boxing match between Mike Tyson and Pippy Long-stocking.

      • Vasco Gama

        The problem arises when the scientist try to do philosophy (or metaphysics), and he is quite incompetent at it (regardless of is scientific skills).

        • Renard Wolfe

          The metaphysics has become physics. As such the semantic posturing yields to the cold hard reality of experiment and math.

          Is there such a thing as good philosophy?

          If the philosophers don't have to be good at it, why should the scientists?

          • Vasco Gama

            «The metaphysics has become physics.»

            what? (please try to make sense)

            «Is there such a thing as good philosophy?»

            of course there is (as long as it fulfils its purpose, much in the same way as there is good music and bad music, or good food and bad food, ...)

            «If the philosophers don't have to be good at it, why should the scientists?»

            Philosophers have to be good at it (philosophy), in the same way as scientists have to be good at it (science), otherwise the will be out of their jobs.

          • Renard Wolfe

            what? (please try to make sense)

            If you can't make sense of such a simple statement at least don't delete the very next sentence where I explain it.

            The metaphysics: the baseless philosbabbling based on absolutely nothing to explain how the universe got here is over.. done, and dead. It has, like every other branch of knowledge, been replaced with science (physics in this case) as our knowledge has advanced, the same way endless debate about how species existed died when we figured out evolution.

            «If the philosophers don't have to be good at it, why should the scientists?»

            Philosophers have to be good at it (philosophy), in the same way as scientists have to be good at it (science), otherwise the will be out of their jobs.

            A scientist has to conform to reality. What does a philosopher have to conform to?

            The chair of the physics department goes to the provost for the annual budget review. "I've got some good news and some bad news. The good news is we have a lot of exciting things going on in the department - some potential
            Noble-prize winning stuff. The bad news is we need a newparticle accelerator which will cost $10M."

            The Provost is shocked. "That is a lot of money. It is incredible to me how different departments need different things. Why can't you be more like the math department? They only want Paper, Pencils and wastebaskets. And
            the philosophy department doesn't even want the wastebaskets..."

          • Vasco Gama

            Physics and the natural sciences in general deal with the material reality.

            Science doesn't deal with a variety of things that are real and objective, such as aesthetics, philosophy, metaphysics (even those that ground science), religion, ethics and moral. Science is useful for those areas of knowledge as in the information it provides in describing the material reality.

            «A scientist has to conform to reality. What does a philosopher have to conform to?»

            Both adress reality, but they devote to distinct aspects of reality (even if a philosopher of science does philosophy about the reality of scientific activity).

          • David Nickol

            It seems to me that, for the most part, science deals with questions that can be answered, and philosophy deals with questions that can't be. When a question dealt with by philosophy is answered (a rarer and rarer event as the scientific revolution has progressed) it becomes a matter of science, and philosophers don't discuss it any more.

            It does seem to me to be the case, however, that every scientist has positions on many issues that would be categorized within the philosophy of science whether he or she studies the philosophy of science or scoffs at it as a waste of time. One of the major questions in the philosophy of science is what distinguishes a science from a pseudoscience from pursuits that are simply not science. So, for example, a person who argues that astrology or intelligent design aren't fields of science is dealing with a philosophical question—What is science?

            Both address reality. . . .

            Of course, it seem obvious to me that if scientists can make conjectures about, and do experiments on, things that don't actually exist (e.g., the luminiferous aether), there is no guarantee at all that philosophy won't have elaborate theories about some subjects that have no basis in reality.

          • Vasco Gama

            Humans have the need to understand reality, in order to have a description of what exists, not only as by the need of knowledge in itself as much as to have some sense of control (as in understanding what is, which otherwise would be arbitrary and potentially menacing) and to take advantage of that knowledge.

            Science deals with the decodification of the regularity in material reality (matter and energy), that is accessible to observation and experimentation. However not even the grounds of science are accessible to science, those grounds exist in the knowledge that exists in a another level that is not science, but metaphysics (a discipline of philosophy) prior to science, that assumes the existence of a regular universe (and change by efficient causality) that is intelligible by human rationality (which is distinct from say a mysterious and magic universe that humans are unable to comprehend) and those grounds are the basis for science (and they are not granted by science).

            All areas of human knowledge exist to assist humans to deal with reality, the assumption that only science deals with questions that can be answered is incorrect, we know plenty of other stuff that can be and are answered, by other areas of knowledge distinct from science, such as music, economy, art, literature, theology, ethics, philosophy... all these areas of knowledge help us to cope with reality and provide answers to our questions and perplexities about reality. In fact some can provide better answers or more accurate or more relevant but in general they are all meaningful, in spite of we all don't value them, and we may choose to ignore one or another (but that is personal choice).

            When scientists try to do philosophy, what they do it is philosophy (it doesn’t matter much if they are scientists trying to do philosophy, or if they are very proficient at it it doesn’t change that it is still philosophy). Scientists can also play music, and gaze upon art, or while debating about theology, the fact that they are scientists doesn’t change what they are doing, it doesn’t become science).

          • Renard Wolfe

            Scientists do not seem to be confused on the matter, only the philosophers.

            And when the scientists do get around to answering something it turns out that the philosophers were doing no better than a monkey with a dart board.

          • David Nickol

            Scientists do not seem to be confused on the matter, only the philosophers.

            You can "do" science without studying the philosophy of science, but how can you be sure what is a scientific theory, what is a correct scientific theory, and what isn't a scientific theory at all? There are two important, relatively recent books on string theory: The Trouble With Physics: The Rise of String Theory, The Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next, by Lee Smolin, and Not Even Wrong: The Failure of String Theory and the Search for Unity in Physical Law by Peter Woit.

            The PW review on Amazon says:

            . . . Woit, a Ph.D. in theoretical physics and a lecturer in mathematics at Columbia, points out—again and again—that string theory, despite its two decades of dominance, is just a hunch aspiring to be a theory. It hasn't predicted anything, as theories are required to do, and its practitioners have become so desperate, says Woit, that they're willing to redefine what doing science means in order to justify their labors.

            When a scientist says, "That is not a scientific theory," he or she is (implicitly or explicitly) using a definition of what a scientific theory is. And that's not doing science, it's doing philosophy.

            It becomes of real, practical importance when people demand that things like "creation science" be taught in the schools. Then the courts have to decide what is science and what is pseudo-science, and that's a philosophical question.

          • Renard Wolfe

            You can "do" science without studying the philosophy of science, but how can you be sure what is a scientific theory, what is a correct scientific theory, and what isn't a scientific theory at all?

            String "theory" is still a hypothesis. There's nothing wrong with working on a hypothesis: every idea was one at some point. A theory explains and predicts. A good hypothesis does at least one of those well. (as my foggy understanding of string theory is that it explains a lot of things , but we'd need a galaxy sized particle accelerator to get it to predict anything atm)

          • David Nickol

            String "theory" is still a hypothesis. There's nothing wrong with working on a hypothesis: every idea was one at some point.

            To work on a hypothesis is not necessarily to "do science." Intelligent design has perfectly reasonable hypotheses—e.g., some organs are so complex that they cannot be explained by Darwinian evolution. If that could be proven, it would be a major scientific achievement. And of course the belief that the positions of the starts in the heavens exert a profound influence on a person the moment he or she is born is a testable hypothesis.

            I am surely no expert on string theory, but it does appear to me quite possible that it has been unproductive for so long, and allows for so many possibilities that it is a dead end.

            . . . . but we'd need a galaxy sized particle accelerator to get it to predict anything atm

            It seems to me that that is the kind of thing that may rule it out as a scientific theory. If it is untestable, it's a rather worthless theory.

          • Renard Wolfe

            ___To work on a hypothesis is not necessarily to "do science."
            Intelligent design has perfectly reasonable hypotheses some organs are so complex that they cannot be explained by Darwinian evolution. ---

            My knowledge of quantum physics is less than fuzzy, but what makes string hypothesis better than intelligent design is that the math keeps working for string theory, when the odds of that happening are insanely small if string theory isn't partially true, * The problem with intelligent design is that the constant cries of "that can't possibly happen" are not only arguments from incredulity but have also been shown to be patently false. The best example I know of*** is an immune response in sharks that allegedly needed all of the component parts to work... but there was a sting ray who was missing some of the parts and, oddly, didn't keel over dead.

          • Renard Wolfe

            We have laws against pornography without a definition.

          • Tim Dacey

            "...science deals with questions that can be answered, and philosophy deals with questions that can't be."

            So why study philosophy?

          • David Nickol

            So why study philosophy?

            The beauty of the whole situation is that only those who study philosophy know it can't answer questions, so it gives them a great advantage, because they can appear to win arguments when they don't even know what they are talking about. :P

            Actually, I think philosophy is very valuable in clarifying questions, sorting out what is really being asked by certain questions (instead of what appears to be being asked), breaking down big questions into smaller, more manageable ones (some of which may have answers and others of which may be non-questions), pointing out several potential answers to questions even if a final one cannot be decided upon, and so on.

            I happen to be reading Terry Eagleton's The Meaning of Life: A Very Short Introduction and I think he is doing a very good job of clarifying what the question "What is the meaning of life?" might mean (if anything). It seems like a fairly straightforward (although huge) question, at first, but it is anything but.

          • Renard Wolfe

            Science doesn't deal with a variety of things that are real and
            objective, such as aesthetics

            This is patently incorrect. There are good scientific reasons why we as a species find certain things pleasing: symmetry in a face for example is a good measure of hybridocity.

            ****philosophy, metaphysics (even those that
            ground science), religion, ethics and moral. Science is useful for those
            areas of knowledge as in the information it provides in describing the
            material reality.****

            Philosophers do not seem to be any better at dealing with these things than anyone else. Philosophy seems to confer absolutely not advantage except to put things in philosophical terms.

          • Vasco Gama

            «Science doesn't deal with a variety of things that are real and objective, such as aesthetics»

            The fact that it might provide an indication of the reasons that you might appreciate symmetry doesn't change nothing, in fact we appreciate symmetry or the lack of symmetry, such as in landscapes or in abstract painting (which mostly are unsymmetrical).

            «Philosophers do not seem to be any better at dealing with these things than anyone else. Philosophy seems to confer absolutely not advantage except to put things in philosophical terms.»

            If you are pretending that philosopher have no other recognized skill besides philosophy. I have to agree with you. In the same way scientists have no other recognized skill besides science.

          • Renard Wolfe

            ---The fact that science might provide an indication that you might appreciate symmetry ---

            No. Stop. You didn't understand the statement.
            Science can provide an answer as to WHY someone appreciates symmetry in the human face. Symmetry= good genes.

            ----doesn't change nothing, in fact we appreciate
            symmetry or the lack of symmetry, such as in landscapes or in abstract painting (which mostly are unsymmetrical)----.

            Sunlight, bright open spaces... you know good places to find food.

            ----I have to agree with you. In the same way scientists have no other recognized skill besides science.---

            A scientists skill is understanding reality. It is by definition something besides science, it is something that has an independent, objective existence. A scientist understands more about their area of expertise (and usually a fair bit outside of it) than a layman. They are better at knowing their specialised terminology AND reality.

            A philosopher only has terminology and semantics twisting with no basis in reality. They are no better at understanding anything in reality than a layman. . .

          • Vasco Gama

            I did understood your statement (it is quite plain and simple), I think you are just trying to oversimplify things to fit your reductive view of reality.

            To resume the beauty of a face to its symmetry (and the supposed goodness of the genetic content) is extremely naïf and simplistic. We recognize the beauty of faces regardless of its symmetrical and unsymmetrical features, we can find beauty in an non symmetrical face, we recognize its beauty regardless if the person is facing us or wherever is oriented of if in profile, of is the face is wrinkled, regardless if we see just one ears or one eye (and we can’t recognize any symmetry), we can find beauty in a face even if the person is clearly not healthy, and some sort of disease is apparent. In the case of landscapes you suggest that we appreciate (and find beauty) if it correspond to “good places to find food”, this is absurd and clearly not the case, in fact we are able to find beauty in very bad places to find food, such as a variety of arid and harsh landscapes, deserts, swamps and a variety of other gloomy environments. In general we see beauty in the nature, and it is quite general, such as in other animals regardless if they are predator or prey to us, or neither, we are delighted by beauty of nature and reduce it this to human reproduction or adaptation to environment is an absurd notion. We recognize beauty in abstract representations, such as painting, we recognize it in music, literature, in humans, in human activity, in the sky, in scientific theories, in flowers or butterflies, and in general in whatever please us.

            «A scientists skill is understanding reality.»

            This clearly not the case, the scientist specific knowledge concerns whatever is the object of their area of expertise (which is not concerns all reality or reality in itself, but a narrow part of material reality).

            « It is by definition something besides science, it is something that has an independent, objective existence.»

            It is not something besides science, but is what science can address and is comprised in the material reality (otherwise science couldn’t address it). Many things that have independent objective existence are not framed by science such as beauty, ethics, value, meaning, purposes (although science can provide useful information).

            You might state that philosophy is irrelevant (I am not trying to prove that you are wrong), as you have the right to assert the absurdities you see fit, but unless you are able to show that it is the case, it is meaningless.

          • Renard Wolfe

            Then why on earth are you asking me to make sense if you understood it?

            Here's the thing: as much as you may doubt the evolutionary advantage answer to aesthetics, philosophy doesn't provide any better answer. It doesn't even promote the question nearly as much as a few drinks. You can't tout the virtue of philosophy in answering questions if it doesn't actually DO that. It tries. It sets up its own method, its own language... but then fails at doing it any better than a drunk in a bar. What makes philosophie's answer to any of the questions any better than Joe Six packs (after the six pack)

            ***the scientist specific knowledge concerns
            whatever is the object of their area of expertise (which is not concerns
            all reality or reality in itself, but a narrow part of material
            reality***

            It clearly IS the case and you admitted it. Even a narrow part of material reality is better than the nothing that a philosopher understands better than anyone else. Also a science education tends to be fairly broad. My degree is in forestry but I also learned a fair amount of chemistry, geology, cellular biology, and animal behavior.

            ***You might state that philosophy is irrelevant***

            I do. And I'm not taking the epistemic hot potato from you to try to prove a negative. If you think philosophy has value my answer to you is the same as to bigfoot watchers: show me the evidence for your position.

          • Vasco Gama

            Let us focus a while in the insights of science in aesthetics, and see what you actually said about that following my previous statement:

            «Science doesn't deal with a variety of things that are real and objective, such as aesthetics».

            In fact science doesn’t deal with aesthetics (it provides no statement concerning aesthetics), however it is not totally useless and allows you to make some simple statements, which by the way are quite irrelevant, as no one says that aesthetics is something useless without purpose, meaning or value, or that is supernatural or magical, as it is not the case we try to deal with it rationally. And even if you may say something like «There are good scientific reasons why we as a species find certain things pleasing: symmetry in a face for example is a good measure of hybridocity», it doesn’t help as I was not claiming that we can’t rationalize our concept of beauty, because I believe we can. The fact that it seems irrelevant is that our concept of beauty and the pleasure we experience from recognizing beauty is much more generalized, in fact we recognize beauty in faces regardless of the symmetry in a face, even occasionally part of the beauty is related with the asymmetry of the face.

            The fact that science is not capable of providing any significant insight regarding to aesthetics, doesn’t make me exclude categorically that in some particular instance I might consider what you proclaimed as valid that « symmetry in a face for example is a good measure of hybridocity», I would say that it might be the case that this thought may deserve some consideration on a very specific case, another thing is to consider that as meaningful or of relevance to aesthetics, because clearly it is not.

            Another problem is pretending the fact that we correlate beauty with other things such as the social utility of aesthetics (or as an indicator of good genetic material based on symmetry of faces) is science, as it is not the case, it is only a rationalization about the aesthetical contents, in fact this exercise maybe interesting but it is not science it would be an exercise in philosophy or aesthetics (not science). The why question that you presume that science answers («I pointed out that science has an answer for a WHY question.»), is not scientific. This doesn’t mean that one should avoid trying to frame aesthetics under the sociological or psychological considerations in relation to its relevance for humans.

          • Renard Wolfe

            the "Facts" you're relying on are 100%, absolutely, objectively wrong.

            Your argument that science can't answer questions about aesthetics
            because science doesn't deal with aesthetics is patently circular.
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Physical_attractiveness

            You are creating out of whole cloth this "higher" level of aesthetics as some platonic ideal, and then saying its philosophy's place to deal with its own creation. That makes philosophy absolutely useless because it only solves the problem it creates for itself. (and it doesn't actually do much solving)

            And its not a presumption. The next time you denigrate one of my statements like that without backing it up I'm done talking with you.

          • Vasco Gama

            I am not denigrating your statements, I only show my disagreement.

            It is fact that science doesn't deal with aestehtics, is there such a thing as beauty or ugliness in science, and if it is the case how does science recognizes it, as aparently they result from subjective experience.

            Even if you consider reasonable to generalize aesthetics on basis of "Physical attractiveness" (your link), in what sense is aesthetics related with science.

          • Renard Wolfe

            The form your disagreement persistently takes is a baseless insult, not a refutation. Instead of providing different different facts or an alternative explanation for the facts I'm working with, you have to say its a presumption: IE that i am NOT working with facts or using reason to reach my conclusion but am instead starting with the conclusion. This is particularly inane, banal, and disingenuous when I show you (briefly, given the format) how I'm reaching the conclusion.

            Physical attractiveness is not the whole of aesthetics, but it is a part of it. You can't rationally deny that science is dealing with the issue, despite your claims to the contrary.

          • Vasco Gama

            Renard,

            There is no need to prolong this dialogue, in spite of the fact that we remain in disagreement, not a problem. Sorry if I was somehow inconvenient to you in my arguing (that was not my intention).

        • cminca

          And I'd venture to guess that the scientist would say that the problem arises when the philosopher tries to do science and is quite incompetent at it (regardless of his philosophical skills).

          I don't see anything in Dr. Feser's resume that indicates he is in any position to determine how a scientist should use a word if the scientist is speaking of science.

          Since when does philosophy have "traditional" rights to any words--including "entropy" "symmetry" or "nothingness"?

          Does an architect need to check with a philosopher if they use the term "symmetry"? Can an artist use the term "nothingness" without checking with a philosopher first? How about the term "negative space"?

          Perhaps it is time to allow science to throw off the burden of trying to please philosophers and let them get on with the business of science?

          • Vasco Gama

            It is besides the point to say that there is any special qualification to define nothing, you are capable to define nothing, I am capable of define nothing, nothing is really not complicated it simple, it has no parts, no color, no smell, no finger prints, it is nothing (it doesn't contain anything).

            And Krauss understands this and that is why he is capable to advance different definitions of nothing, but what he proposes is meant to explain how the universe come to exist from what he states as nothing, and he, himself, says that this discussion is about semantics, he is convinced that the universe come into existence and tries to purpose an explanation about that (the problem is that his explanation doesn't doesn't include a nothing that doesn't contain anything, but by a nothing that includes something (which by definition is not nothing). Krauss is a very competent scientist but on this (creation form nothing) he is trying to adress a philosophical (metaphysical) problem.

            However you can try to think for yourself:

            Does it seem reasonable to accept that nothing is something (or do you do it on basis of your faith in a figure of authority as Krauss), and do you forcly have to disagree with Feser (in spite of his good argument) because he is a theist and a philosopher (or do you have a good argument to support the perspective of Krauss against the one from Feser (apart your believe or disbelieve about God, which is irrelevant at this point).

            By the way a variety of atheist agree with Feser (you can check their perpective on this (disagreeing with Krauss in different degrees):

            Jerry Coyne:
            http://whyevolutionistrue.word...

            Massimo Pigliucci:
            http://rationallyspeaking.blog...

            David Albert:
            http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03...

            Sean Carrol:
            http://www.preposterousunivers...

          • Susan

            ,

            It is besides the point to say that there is any special qualification to define nothing, you are capable to define nothing, I am capable of define nothing, nothing is really not complicated it simple, it has no parts, no color, no smell, no finger prints, it is nothing (it doesn't contain anything)

            I'm curious. Have you read the book? It doesn't appear that Feser has. I could be wrong but there was no indication from the article that he had.

            Does it bother anyone that Feser states at the end of the article that Krauss's explanations aren't "serious physics"? He doesn't support this claim and I'm fairly certain he can't.

            I'm familiar with the links you posted. Coyne didn't find it as well-written as other physics for the public books that have been written.

            Pigliucci and Carrol are responding to Krauss's dig at philosophy that followed Albert's article.

            Here is one of Lawrence Krauss's responses to Jerry Coyne that showed up in the comment you linked:

            And you seem to have missed the key point. It is not lost on me that the goal posts have changed..I was honest about this.. my point is that the question of ‘nothing’ is one that needs to be explored from a scientific perspective.. and when one does so, the whole meaning of the question becomes less important.. nothing is not so simple anymore.. and moreover, the claims that I define nothing to be the quantum vacuum is something I keep reading in some of these reviews, but that is disingenuous. I carefully tried, in 3 steps, to progressively explore different versions of what one might operationally call nothing from a physicists perspectve.. The first version is indeed the empty vacuum of space–the eternal void of the bible if you wish. Such a version of nothing can quickly be dispensed with as easily leading to something, and not really that different from something.. as I point out. ( and for some reason this bothers some people who think it shouldn’t be so..)

            But then I talk about how the complete absence of space itself, of our universe, can lead to the creation of space.. our universe.. when quantum gravitational considerations are included…. Now, in this case, there may be ‘something’..perhaps an eternal multiverse out of which our universe may arise.. but in no sense did OUR universe, or OUR vacuum state in our universe, exist before such spontaneous creation may occur..

            Finally I point out that the laws of physics themselves may be unique to our universe. (It is true as I point out that quantum mechanics itself may be common to all universes or not.. I have no idea.. but that is not the point..it is a side issue).

            I keep trying to get my head around this fixation on "nothing". We haven't found the philosopher's "nothing".

            How useful is the question, "Why is there something rather than nothing?" What does it mean?

            And THIS is very important. How could we EVER possibly answer it?

          • Vasco Gama

            « I'm curious. Have you read the book? It doesn't appear that Feser has. I could be wrong but there was no indication from the article that he had.»

            I didn’t read the book (or the article Feser is referring to in this post).

            Feser did read the book and posted a review on the blog First Things” (besides a few other posts in his own blog to discussing Krauss’s proposals).

            http://www.firstthings.com/article/2012/05/not-understanding-nothing

            Did you read the book? I am also curious.

            «I keep trying to get my head around this fixation on "nothing". We haven't found the philosopher's "nothing".

            How useful is the question, "Why is there something rather than nothing?" What does it mean?»

            The fixation about nothing (and why there is something rather than nothing) is quite real and it exists as long we humans (theists, deists, agnostic and atheists) were able to question ourselves and try to answer it, traditionally this is a question that human philosophers devote themselves to explain throughout human history. Then it came Lawrence Krauss trying to simplify the issue and propose an explanation, in his book “A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing”

            «If theists are really that concerned about equivocation of various "nothings", you would seem less hypocritical if you called out your apologists for it. Krauss at least clarifies exactly what he means when he uses the word and he explains WHY he makes the choices that he makes.»

            It is not the case that theists are really that concerned about equivocation of various "nothings", most of them are quite indifferent to Krauss’s equivocation, theists and atheists (such as Coyne, Albert, Pigliucci and Carrol, among others) don’t agree with definition of “nothing” proposed by Krauss (the definition is not rigorous to their understanding of nothing). No one is trying to deny the validity of Krauss’s scientific work or what he derives from that notion of nothing, the single point is the nature of “nothing”. The only valid critique concerns the presumption that it is a response for the questions that philosophers pose "Why is there something rather than nothing?", as in fact Krauss answers a distinct answer that is "Why is there something rather than nearly nothing?", but this is not the answer that humans (and philosophers) ask for such a long time. But in fact you might say who cares? Well for starters Krauss seems to care (after all he wrote a book on that).

            I don’t claim not to be an hypocritical (maybe I am or maybe not), I just mentioned non theist reviews as I thought you might consider their arguments without the prejudice you possess regarding Feser and theists (that in fact doesn’t discuss or question the religious beliefs of Krauss).

          • Susan

            Hi Vasco,

            Thank you for your reply.

            Feser did read the book and posted a review on the blog First Things”.

            Thank you. I looked it up and it wasn't obvious that he read the book. It wasn't much of a review. It was a reassertion of the case he made in the previous article.

            What is nothing? I'm not asking what it's not. I'm asking what it is. The question that has dogged humanity forever was born from an assumption that the emptiness in a box was "nothing".

            I'm not actually defending Krauss, although I think there is MUCH to be said in his defense. I don't agree that philosophy is useless, for instance. I think it can help us learn about how we think and how to think better. But without an external referent at some point, how can we know that we are thinking better? So, what was that "nothing" when physicists studied it and what was the "nothing" behind that?

            This is about "nothing", isn't it? Krauss's point (and he's been quite clear about it) is that the "nothing" upon which philosophers based their question has since been examined in excruciating detail and does not turn out to be the philosopher's "nothing". I am sad that the best philosophers who considered these arguments aren't here today to learn that. I wonder whether that wouldn't have made them question the question itself. At the very least, I think we should.

            It is not the case that theists are really that concerned about equivocation of various "nothings", most of them are quite indifferent to Krauss’s equivocation,

            Krauss does not equivocate in his arguments, in the explanations he has given with which I am familar. My familiarity IS limited to his lectures, his responses to critics about the book and his general discussion about the subject. I have not read the book yet. I am responding to his critics' arguments. It seems reasonable that the critics should be basing their criticism on the book itself or at least on someone who discusses the book in methodical detail, NOT on the opinions of people who simply use the title to say, "That's not nothing." Where does THAT get us? What if that's the closest thing to nothing we'll ever find? Then what? Is the question still meaningful? If so, how can we answer it? How can we know we've got an answer?

            I thought cminca might consider their arguments without the prejudice that you (as many atheists) possess regarding Feser

            Do you have a basis on which to accuse us of prejudice or is it just that we don't agree with Feser or think he's made any kind of argument on the subject? I haven't accused YOU of being prejudiced when it comes to processing Feser's writing.

            My point is that apologists equivocate "nothing" all the time as a matter of course. Consult your local cosmological argument listings. They rely purely on equivocation, and "nothing" is one of the key terms of equivocation.

            I thought this discussion was supposed to be about "nothing".
            Why is there something rather than nothing?

            ... What do you mean?

          • Vasco Gama

            Susan,

            I am trying to address some of your questions and I am starting from the end, when you said:

            « I thought this discussion was supposed to be about "nothing".

            Why is there something rather than nothing?

            ... What do you mean?»

            This discussion about nothing or what nothingness is, arose in sequence of the publication of Krauss’s book, “A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing”, this book, in its turn tries to answer an much earlier question, formulated in the same manner by Leibnitz (scientist and philosopher, in the beginning of the XVIII century), which actually is a question that philosophy and theology traditionally try to address (as long as philosophy and theology exist). In a way this question of “Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing” has been a question that always puzzled mankind, it is not a modern question, and the question was always well understood, as well as the concepts of nothing (that where always considered in the framework of the knowledge of nothing was). Although today we can have a better understanding about what nothing is, and eventually in the future our concept can be perfected and become more precise, in the past, just as now “nothing” means exactly “not anything” or the “absence of anything”. In spite of the common usage of the term nothing many times can comprehend nothing to mean something, that is really semantics, we know very well that the common usage of the term “nothing” can be imprecise, but that was also the understanding in the past (it is just not that human were fools or idiotic prior to the enlightenment . So trying to turn the discussion about “nothingness” into a semantic discussion is not serious (in spite of I am capable of understanding the motivation of trying to do so). It clearly is not the case that nothing can possibly be the content of an empty box, in spite of you might that there is nothing in the box (but this is semantics).

            You might say that you are happy or that you disagree with my definition of “nothing”, as “not anything” or the “absence of anything”. You might say that you would like that I would say what it is rather than what it is not, I would have to say that I sorry I can’t provide you a better definition, but that what I think is the best definition.

            In the same sense you might actually say that zero (0) doesn’t exist, or that you don’t know what it is, and ask me to provide you a better definition of 0, what I could add is to try to consubstantiate what I mean by 0, and say that is a such a number that when added to any other number it would nothing else but the other number (or X+0=X) or when multiplied by another number it gives himself (such as 0xX=0), and I could add all the other properties of 0. Still you could say well I fail to see what is 0 persons, or snails, or meters, it seems to that that is nothing, it does not exist, or it makes no sense. Maybe I can’t persuade you that zero exists, but for me it exists, is real, meaningful, and objective.

            And of course we might try to apply similar operations to nothing, such as nothing is such that add together with something gives exactly the same something (and nothing else), or that from nothing only nothing can come (howevver here I think you might disagree).

            About your questions:

            «Where does THAT get us? What if that's the closest thing tonothing we'll ever find? Then what? Is the question still meaningful? If so, how can we answer it? How can we know we've got an answer?»

            I would say that we have to find answers to those questions, even if we can only answer the question of how we got a universe out of “nearly nothing”, in spite of not answering our original question, it is still meaningful and worthwhile (but you must presume that is something that it is not).

            When you refer to Feser’s review of the book, I have to say that, much in the same way as you I wasn’t very impressed by it, and I found that in his blog he provided a better insight of the subject on a series of posts dedicated to Krauss’ ideas, I leave you the link of one of his posts that you can see, in case you are curious about Feser arguing (which includes links to other posts):

            http://edwardfeser.blogspot.pt/2013/02/forgetting-nothing-learning-nothing.html

            Although I disagree with most (or at least the most famous theist apologists, such as Platinga or Craig) on a variety of their public positions and arguments, in general I am in agreement with Edward Feser. I must add that I mostly agree with Krauss (however obviously not on theological and philosophical grounds).

            In your last comment you suggested that I was hypocritical and in spite of the fact that I think I am not I didn’t confirm or denied your suggestion. This time you claim that I can be unfair in considering that atheists might have prejudices regarding Feser or other theists, I apologize if you found me unfair (I didn’t mean to be offensive). I discuss regularly with atheists, most of my friends are atheists (I was an atheist not so long ago) and I debate with atheists and theists (such as in this blog or with other people I know) and I have systematically observed that people are more objective while dealing with arguments of people with whom they share a larger affinity, and it is easier to frame the arguments with lesser and simpler ideological constrains. It is not the case that I think that theists and atheists differ in relation to prejudice or preconceptions.

          • Susan

            Hi Vasco,

            Let me begin by saying that I wasn't implying that you were a hypocrite. I understand that it might have come off that way and I apologize. I was talking about the larger world of apologetics where "nothing" shapeshifts to fit the argument.

            My point was that Krauss is explicit in his definitions of nothing, whether you agree with those definitions or not. When apologists say "without time, space, and the laws of physics, there is absolute nothing", and "deduce" from that, that therefore, there must be a being "outside" of time and space that made something from nothing, it's one thing.

            When Krauss shows how that being is not necessary by the same criteria, "No time, no space, no laws of physics.", why is it different?

            .That's inconsistent.

            it is not a modern question, and the question was always well understood

            In what sense? I wonder what Liebniz would think about the question if he knew what physicists like Krauss knew about what happens when you remove the pressurized air from the jar.

            Is the question well understood? How do we go about answering it? How would we know we have an answer?

            I have systematically observed that people are more objective while dealing with arguments of people with whom they share a larger affinity,

            True. To varying degrees, we are prone to bias. That doesn't mean that we are all equally biased on all subjects. It's important to demonstrate bias. Don't just assume that people don't buy Feser's arguments because they are biased. . It's quite possible that his arguments are just unconvincing much of the time.

          • Vasco Gama

            Susan,

            I think you are simplifying the problem with question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” and how we can define what “nothing” in order to fit it into a general dispute between theists and atheists, which clearly not the case here, as you can recognize that this dispute is not limited itself to its theological implications, which is evident from the fact that many people who are not theists, and in fact some of the people that don’t agree with Krauss are themselves atheists and known to participate actively in the debate with theists (such as Dennett, Coyne, Pigliuci, and Carrol, among others). So I have to say that presuming that this issue is somehow limited to the theological debate (in the sense that only the apologetic theists oppose to the notions of nothing that Krauss proposes) is false.

            I am not a cosmologist (just in the same manner as most of the theist apologists) and I have no expertise to criticise or validate Krauss scientific work on cosmology. I think Krauss is respected cosmologist and as far as I have realized he is intelligent and sensible in his work, and I have no objective reason to have any suspicion about is work, as it is surely scrutinized by its peers and I have to be confident about it. However, in spite of not being a philosopher, I have no disadvantage in terms of philosophical expertise in relation to Krauss, and I (and I am not alone in this, and it is not only theists as you seem to presume) can recognize that his notion of nothing (as the vacuum state that Krauss assumes to be nothing in his book) is not “nothing”, instead it is full of stuff.

            As much as anybody else theists or atheists I don’t take any value to Krauss’s work, and in spite of its philosophical and metaphysical flaws, I don’t dismiss the results of Krauss’s scientific work, and I find quite interesting that a whole universe might emerge from the vacuum state. This idea is worthwhile and inspiring. Now is it good to pretend that something is distinct from what it really is. I think not. The scientific theory that Krauss advances as merit for itself and can be tested, it will have value and meaning according to the explanatory power it possess, the problems it solves and the extent of agreement with experimental evidence.

            In the case of Krauss work, one must be able to distinguish between his work as a scientist and his activity as an atheist apologist, and, in his public statements, it is not always clear what he is doing, and one has to be careful in analysing his considerations, at least I am. Krauss assumes that “nothing” might be defined as the “absence of something”, which is not a reasonable definition, as he arbitrarily assumes that he can depopulate something in order to solve his problem, so he goes form there suggesting various graduations of nothingness. This is an equivocation as nothing can only be defined as the “absence of anything”, in a matter that it can’t possibly contain less. This is not reducible to semantics.

            If I can give credit in his statements considering propose of universe might emerging from the vacuum state (which is his prime definition of nothing), as something objective and testable. I am quite suspicious about his other proposed definitions of nothing, considering what can be done form those presumptions of nothing is just metaphysics (while you take fields, particles, radiation, time, space and laws), or magic, surely not science (this is no matter of consistency).

            The pseudo-scientific charges (from Feser to Krauss) don’t impress me, and I don’t take them seriously, in general they just denote an overall disagreement.

  • Octavo

    This is a frustrating article, since Feser just heaps scorn on his opponents rather than engages their arguments. A better, and more educational response would be to compare the physicist's concept of nothing as low quantum energy states with his philosopher's concept of nothing. How do we know that Feser's notion of nothingness is valid? It certainly doesn't come from any sort of observational analysis since that's precisely what Feser is deriding in this piece.

    ~Jesse Webster

    • Andre Boillot

      Doesn't help that the article Feser is responding to is behind a pay-wall.

      • Octavo

        Indeed.

    • Ian Wardell

      Octavo, the physicist is misusing the word "nothing". Feser's notion of nothing is what everyone understands the word nothing to mean -- apart from physicists.

      The question of why there exists something rather than nothing, of why there exists anything at all, could not *in principle* ever be answered by physics.

  • cminca

    To scientists Dr. Feser's (and his ilks) "pop philosophical" "explanations" of the origin of the universe from "nothing" are no more misguided than this "explanation" of the house.
    And BTW--a floor doesn't hold up a house. A foundation does.
    You really shouldn't philosophize about something you don't know anything about.

  • Would y'all accept the expert contributions at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy as representing what many real philosophers think about nothingness?

    If so, please read http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/nothingness/ . It's a bit long but is surprisingly not dry. Learning how Russell nearly caused a riot at Harvard made me laugh aloud and think Harvard must have been full of terribly interesting people.

    I particularly like the opening discussion on the Deep Question. "Why is there something rather than nothing?", which begins with "Well, why not?".

    I spent a lazy day on the beach during a vacation in Costa Rica trying to imagine what it even was I even meant by the word "exist" when I said that some things exist and other things do not exist. In mundane usage of course I just mean that a thing "exists" by being part of the universe. But we can easily imagine and talk about things existing in a heaven or parallel universe with no connection to our universe. Also sometimes we talk about more unusual things, like relationships, properties, mathematical objects, fictional characters, possible worlds, paradoxes, nonsense, and so on. So for a more formal definition, my tentative conclusion was this: for all descriptions X, what X describes exists iff, for all propositions P, PX xor ⌐PX. Less formally, a thing exists if every proposition you can say about it is either true or false but not both or neither. (Examples: There seems to be no fact of the matter about whether or not Sherlock Holmes had a mole on his right shoulder: he doesn't exist. The Liar Paradox looks as if it can't stay just true or just false, so by the definition here it doesn't correctly describe anything which really exists. But the "law of the excluded middle" seems to hold for mathematical objects and for physical objects, so they both exist by the definition here.)

    All that, of course, inclined me to the ideas of Max Tegmark, Russell Standish, and Bruno Marchal, who seriously advocate and provide rigorous theoretical backing to the Plenitude principle, which is the notion that everything that could possibly exist does in fact exist. See http://swc2.hccs.edu/kindle/theoryofnothing.pdf for a most interesting discussion.

  • BC Homeless

    Well even if his twisted statements were true, for example, there were always parts of a jumbo 747, then how did those parts come together to form a jumbo jet 747? An Intelligent designer of course. Now we will know if he has something or nothing in his brain :)

  • Ignorant Amos

    Hypocrisy abounds....a few months ago I was taken to task on a thread about mythicists and the lack of qualifications in that school to afford them being taken seriously on topics concerning the evidence and theology behind an historical Jesus. Yet here we have a philosopher and theologian doing just that...trying to do quantum physics, cosmology, astronomy, etc,...with what qualifications other than personal incredulity?

    Spontaneous creation of the Universe Ex Nihilo

    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S221268641300037X

    No gods required.

    Thomas Jay Oord, a Christian philosopher and theologian, argues that Christians should abandon the doctrine of creation ex nihilo.

    Oord offers nine objections to creatio ex nihilo:

    Theoretical problem: One cannot conceive absolute nothingness.

    There is that incredulity.

    Biblical problem: Scripture – in Genesis, 2 Peter, and elsewhere – suggests creation from something (water, deep, chaos, etc.), not creation from absolutely nothing.

    Yip, "Creatio Ex Nihilio" is not originally a Christian theology, but a 2nd-century theological development.

    Historical problem: The Gnostics Basilides and Valentinus first proposed creatio ex nihilo on the basis of assuming the inherently evil nature of creation, and in the belief that God does not act in history. Early Christian theologians adopted the idea to affirm the kind of absolute divine power that many Christians now reject.

    Them bloody heretical Gnostic's, pre-orthodox Christianity must be a real pain to the Catholic Church, what with the belief in a non-physical, but spiritual Jesus, and such like.

    Empirical problem: We have no evidence that our universe originally came into being from absolutely nothing.

    Evidence is a REAL pain for the believer...got any evidence?

    Creation-at-an-instant problem: We have no evidence in the history of the universe after the big bang that entities can emerge instantaneously from absolute nothingness. As the earliest philosophers noted, out of nothing comes nothing (ex nihilo, nihil fit).

    So on the "what started the Universe we find ourselves in?" question, the agnostic position is the most rational? At least some believers and non-believers can agree on somethings.

    Solitary power problem: Creatio ex nihilo assumes that a powerful God once acted alone. But power, as a social concept, only becomes meaningful in relation to others.

    In other words...no one around to be impressed.

    Errant revelation problem: The God with the capacity to create something from absolutely nothing would apparently have the power to guarantee an unambiguous and inerrant message of salvation (for example: inerrant Bible). An unambiguously clear and inerrant divine revelation does not exist.

    One of my favourites, and one of the big problems in god belief, not least the Christian version, whichever one of the 38,000+ that happens to be.

    Problem of Evil: If God once had the power to create from absolutely nothing, God essentially retains that power. But a God of love with this capacity appears culpable for failing to prevent evil.

    The Theodicy enigma, another of my favourite nails in the theistic coffin. No explanation without a high degree of pretzelmania and a theological two-step.

    Theodicy Empire Problem: The kind of divine power implied in creatio ex nihilo supports a theology of empire, based upon unilateral force and control of others.

    Freewill anybody?

    http://thomasjayoord.com/index.php/blog/archives/creatio_ex_nihilo_the_problem/#.UsrmDdJDuSp

    Oord seems to prefer a kind of Theistic Cosmology in much the CC likes Theistic Evolution. Still, I find myself agreeing with a number of his observations, even if for the wrong reasons.