“A CONCEPT OF NOTHING” By: Warda Idrees Ch
A critic might reasonably question the arguments for a divine first cause of the cosmos. But to ask “What caused God?” misses the whole reason classical philosophers thought His existence necessary in the first place. So when a physicist begins his new book by suggesting, that to ask “Who created the creator?” suffices to dispatch traditional philosophical theology, we know it isn’t going to end well.
In general, classical philosophical theology argues for the existence of a “first cause of the world”, a cause that does not merely happen not to have a cause of its own but that (unlike everything else that exists) in principle does not require one. Nothing else can provide an ultimate explanation of the world.
For Aristotle, for example, things in the world can change only if there is something that changes or actualizes everything else without the need (or indeed even the possibility) of its being actualized itself, precisely because it is already “pure actuality.” Change requires an unchangeable changer or unmovable mover.
For Neoplatonists, everything made up of parts can be explained only by reference to something that combines the parts. Accordingly, the ultimate explanation of things must be utterly simple and therefore without the need or even the possibility of being assembled into being by something else. Plotinus called this “the One.” For Leibniz, the existence of anything that is in any way contingent can be explained only by its origin in an absolutely necessary being.
But a philosopher simply can’t see the “difference between arguing in favor of an eternally existing creator versus an eternally existing universe without one.” The difference, as the reader of Aristotle knows, is that the universe changes while the unmoved mover does not, or, as the Neoplatonist can tell you, that the universe is made up of parts while its source is absolutely one; or, as Leibniz could tell you, that the universe is contingent and God absolutely necessary. There is thus a principled reason for regarding God rather than the universe as the terminus of explanation.
One can sensibly argue that the existence of such a God has not been established. (I think it has been, but that’s a topic for another day.) One cannot sensibly dispute that the unchanging, simple, and necessary God of classical theism, if He exists, would differ from our changing, composite, contingent universe in requiring no cause of His own.
Philosophers’ aim is to answer the question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” without resorting to God and also without bothering to study what previous thinkers of genius have said about the matter.
Nor is it merely the traditional theological answer to the question at hand that the philosopher does not understand. Philosopher doesn’t understand the question itself. There is a lot of farcical chin-pulling over various “possible candidates for nothingness” and “what ‘nothing’ might actually comprise,” along with an earnest insistence that any “definition” of nothingness must ultimately be “based on empirical evidence” and that “‘nothing’ is every bit as physical as ‘something’”as if “nothingness” were a highly unusual kind of stuff that is more difficult to observe or measure than other things are.
Of course, “nothing” is not any kind of thing in the first place but merely the absence of anything. Consider all the true statements there are about what exists: “Trees exist,” “Quarks exist,” “Smug, ill-informed physicists exist,” and so forth. To ask why there is something rather than nothing is just to ask why it isn’t the case that all of these statements are false. There is nothing terribly mysterious about the question, however controversial the traditional answer.
The bulk of the discussion is devoted to exploring how the energy present in an otherwise empty space, together with the laws of physics, might have given rise to the universe as it exists today. This is at first treated as if it were highly relevant to the question of how the universe might have come from “nothing” until philosophers acknowledge at the end that energy, space, and the laws of physics don’t really count as “nothing” after all. Then it is proposed that the laws of physics alone might do the trick though these too, as they implicitly allow, don’t really count as “nothing” either.
Philosophers’ final proposal is that “there may be no fundamental theory at all” but just layer upon layer of laws of physics, which we can probe until we get bored. But this is no explanation of the universe at all. In particular, it is nowhere close to an explanation of how the universe arose ”from nothing” since an endless series of “layers” of laws of physics is hardly “nothing.”
“Who created the creator?”
Critics have exposed their errors and fallacies again and again. Yet writers keep repeating them anyway, for the most part, simply ignoring the critics. What accounts for this? To paraphrase a famous remark, I would suggest that a picture holds these thinkers captive, a picture of the quantitative methods of modern science that have made possible breathtaking predictive and technological successes.
What follows from that success is that the methods in question capture those aspects of reality susceptible of mathematical modeling, prediction, and control. It does not follow that there are no other aspects of reality.
“What is really useful is not pondering [the] question” of why there is something rather than nothing but rather “participating in the exciting voyage of discovery.”
It can be said,
The wild geese do not intend to cast their reflection;
The water has no mind to receive their image.
The true mind is ‘no mind’, which is to say that it is not to be regarded as an object of thought or action, as if it were a thing to be grasped and controlled. That is to say, the mind is no-thing.
By: Warda Idrees ChShare