Wednesday, October 17, 2012

I Can't Think of Nothing

Ever since the publication of On the Origin of the Species, the crown jewel of the apologist’s costume collection has slowly moved from the argument from design to the argument from first cause. I’ve talked about the Cosmological Argument in the past, but new readers should know that I’m not impressed. Version 1.0 of the argument was one big fallacy, and, while the current iteration taking into account scientific data supporting the Big Bang has improved the argument’s foundation, it only manages to include Bible-damning evidence into a theistic statement that’s only achievement is explaining one mystery with a larger mystery. That’s all there is to it. No more to say.  It’s for this reason the current post is only incidentally about a "first cause." In fact, it’s about nothing.

Theists claim that atheists must adopt the logically invalid (or at the least counter-intuitive) stance that something came from nothing. This is completely untrue. Going by the most scientifically accurate origin story available, the Big Bang Theory, we only know that the universe came from a singularity. What came before the Big Bang is unknown. However, it is the believer’s practice to fill gaps of knowledge with the supernatural. In this case, it is God popping space and time into existence. It's the theist who believes that something came from nothing, at least in the material world. The intellectual out of trumping nature with magic is unfounded. There is no reason to believe that anything trumps nature. There is no reason to believe in “nothing.”

I read Lawence Krauss’ book A Universe From Nothing sometime before I started this blog. In it Krauss brings up the theist’s tendency to define “nothing” as that which has no potential to form “something.” The theist works their desired answer into the question. Can something come from nothing? No, according to this definition, it can’t. In fact, even God shouldn’t be able to act on nothing according to this definition. Krauss spends most of the book explaining how the universe could spontaneously spawn from quantum foam. I don’t get into this explanation in debates because, however accurate it may be or may not be, I simply can’t wrap my mind around it. To be honest, “nothing” as a complete lack of anything--a void of the void, the capitol “S” sans--is incomprehensible in it’s own right. Does nothing exist? No, it is the antonym of existence.

So next time a theist says that you must believe that something came from nothing, know that this is untrue. You don’t even have to believe in “nothing.” Something might have come from something, we just don’t know what, and that’s okay.


  1. Well done Grundy. The whole concept of "something from nothing" is often viewed as a trump card by apologists. It is not for all of the reasons you point out.

    Another reason it fails is this...if there was nothing...where did this supposed god reside? How could he live in "nothing"...would that mean that he is outside of space/time? If so, that is incomprehensible really, and certainly something outside of space/time could not then act within space/time correct? At best, this argument renders any concept of "god" to be nothing like what any religion claims him to be. They have basically argued themselves to a loss at best.

  2. I have 2 comments: first, it's funny you mention a universe from nothing, one of my posts this weekend will be about his lecture of the same name. Second, I was spaced out a little bit while reading this and misread "God popping space and time into existence." as " God pooping space and time into existence." Made me laugh hard enough I figured I'd share

  3. God could poop the universe, but I wonder what he ate first.

  4. Good argument in relation to "nothing". It is a tricky one. The difficulty in comprehension I guess is that it is not possible to imagine a concept in complete isolation of our reality without drawing from our experience of it (reality). So if this line of reasoning can also work backwards than ultimately such a concept is rather meaningless.

    I read one of the prior posters mentioning causality and the theist argument regarding the requirement of the Big Bang having one. In this context it would appear causality came into existence with the Big Bang correct?

    A counter argument is although "nothing" may appear meaningless or unfathomable; it does exist. It exists conceptually in our universe and this is something that is meaningful, so how do we account or make use of this? Does this have any impact on burden of proof on assertions of nothing?

    Ultimately these arguments about the Big Bang can be reduced down to who carries the burden of proof. The definition on what is acceptable in terms of what constitutes "proof" and to what certainty such proof justifies belief enough for it to have validity as a truth claim can make for interesting argument.

    The sometimes described "Universe was once the size of a pea and started with a Bang" is conceptually as significant as saying it is the result of experimental celestial theatre, God's Divine Drama created in conjunction with the co-star the "Fall Guy".

    It does give a new use for the term "much ado about nothing", but as you assert not much importance or even much meaning needs to be given,

  5. Brendan, it looks like you had trouble commenting on another post. Sorry about that, your other post is live now and it should all be working in the future.

    Nothing exists as a concept, but that doesn't mean it exists in practice. If "nothing" is the absence of space/time as well as the absence of all matter and energy, then when and where could nothing be? Nowhere.

    I'm not even sure if infinity is anything more than a concept. Could an unlimited quantity of anything exist in practice? I don't know.

  6. jason alan, writerOctober 28, 2012 at 6:06 AM

    What? We don't know everything? Preposterous. We're people, so grand and awesome. We are the gods of the cosmos and we know everything. Where is the sarcasm button?