Why something and not nothing?

May 15, 2012

“Why something and not nothing?” is one of the most interesting questions that science can’t answer, by definition, despite New Atheists’ confidence that somehow it can—metaphysics be damned. In a review of one recent “scientific” attempt to answer it, Edward Feser writes:

The bulk of the book is devoted to exploring how the energy present in 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 Krauss acknowledges toward the end of the book 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 he implicitly allows, don’t really count as “nothing” either….

But as E. A. Burtt noted over half a century ago in his classic book The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Physical Science, the thinker who claims to eschew philosophy in favor of science is constantly tempted “to make a metaphysics out of his method,” trying to define reality as what his preferred techniques can measure rather than letting reality dictate what techniques are appropriate for studying it. He is like the drunk who thinks his car keys must be under the lamppost because that is the only place there is light to look for them—and who refuses to listen to those who have already found them elsewhere.

5 Responses to “Why something and not nothing?”

  1. ““Why something and not nothing?” is one of the most interesting questions that science can’t answer”

    Is it that interesting?

    A question that can be answered with ‘why not?’ doesn’t seem terribly interesting to me.

    • brentwhite Says:

      Yeah! Screw you, Western Philosophical Tradition!

      • Philosophy as a whole doesn’t strike me as terribly interesting, either. There is a tradition behind it…wonderful, but why should that impress me? Men navel-gazing about why there is something rather than nothing? There is something…why do I care why that’s so?

  2. Morbert Says:

    This is an issue I briefly discussed here before. I won’t repost the Feynman video, but I will reiterate his message. When you ask a “why” question, you have to be in a framework where you allow something to be true. Otherwise you are perpetually asking why. “Why is there a God, rather than nothing?” is an example of an equally unanswerable question.

    So it’s not that atheists are being narrow minded. It’s that they already recognise the problem with the question in the first place.

    • brentwhite Says:

      As for why God and not nothing, I would say that God makes better sense of reality than _nothing_ for a host of reasons, as we’ve discussed in the past. Nevertheless, you are a more principled atheist than many of your cohort, who believe that science can indeed furnish the “why.” We both agree that it can’t.

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