What Amounts to Nothing

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Religion and Spirituality  |  House: Booksie Classic
A conversation between a believer and a nonbeliever, on the topic of "something from nothing".

Submitted: December 06, 2013

A A A | A A A

Submitted: December 06, 2013



What Amounts to Nothing

“No, no, no. Design must have a designer. Creation must have a creator. Do you see that bookcase? Are you saying that you could look at that bookcase and tell me that no one made it, that it just popped into existence on its own, by chance? That is ridiculous!”

“That is not at all what I said. I merely pointed out to you this simple truth: complexity is not a sufficient condition for assuming design, and the argument you just forwarded - that the universe’s complexity somehow proves the existence of an all-powerful creator deity - is fallacious, and a non sequitur. You, by saying ‘Creation must have a creator’ are proceeding by way of an assumption – that the complexity you witness in nature is in fact creation. What’s more, just because something is improbable does not mean that it is impossible.”

“Are you saying that everything you see outside of your window, right now, as we talk, is random chance… an accident?”

“There are differences among the words ‘random,’ ‘chance,’ and ‘accident,’ and by no stretch of the imagination did I suggest that the universe accidentally popped into existence on a whim, with no feasible explanation for its emergence. We know a big bang singularity occurred…something many Christian apologetics use to argue for your side, by the way… and we know much about how the universe was formed, and even more about how stars, planets, and biological life formed. The universe may be random – like the shuffling of cards in a deck, and it may be chance in the probability sense, but it is certainly not an accident.”

“If it isn’t an accident, then it was done on purpose! You are proving my point. If it was not an accident, then there must be some intent behind it. There must be someone who made it for a purpose, who had a design for it. That person, that being, is God.”

“Ah…but see, here you are conflating ‘purpose’ with ‘intent’, but it does not follow that, if there is a purpose for something, someone or something intended the thing to have said purpose. What’s more, ‘purpose’ in the sense that you use the word, is irrelevant to our discussion. Is it true that everything must have a purpose? Is it true that everything existing must exist in order to fulfill some intended result? You might ask yourself: what is the purpose of an orange? What intended result does it achieve? The only possible way you could answer this question is by assuming intent, but for the sake of argument, let us ask: Is the purpose of an orange to appear orange in coloration? Is the purpose of an orange sustenance provision? Is the purpose of an orange nutrient distribution? As you see, there are an unlimited number of purposes for which an orange could be imagine being suited for, but none of those purposes demand that some celestial architect intended the purpose. Purpose is determined by a thing’s functionality in relation to the person or thing defining and implementing the function; any other questions relating to purpose, for example, ‘why does the orange exist at all,’ are easily answered by way of deducing the existence of any one thing in the chain of causal events that leads back to the first cause for anything and everything…if indeed there every was such a thing…that exists before the thing in question. So really, the question of purpose, in the sense of an intent or reason for existence, is nonsensical and irrelevant for all questions other than, “Why is there something rather than nothing?”

“Maybe…but you can’t answer the question can you? Maybe the orange has an unlimited amount of possible purposes, and maybe I am assuming intention, but even so, why is there something rather than nothing? Again, you are proving my point. Logically, God must exist, if there could be nothing, but we have something. You and I both know the concept of ex nihilo, ‘out of nothing comes nothing;’ you can’t deny the logic of that statement.”

“Not so. The question of why there is something rather than nothing is another nonsensical one. Although logically ‘ex nihilo’ may well be irrefutable, the question you pose is no more difficult to answer because ex nihilo cannot yet be refuted. Why is there something rather than nothing? Simple: because there is not nothing.Why is it that the Earth is designed to perfectly to suit us? Why is the universe fine-tuned to support life? Why is it that we have lungs to breath oxygen and that oxygen happens to be what is readily available to us, that we can only survive certain temperatures and gravitational forces, and that the gravitational forces and temperatures we find are just right for us?’ My answer: things are as they are because they are the way they are; when someone argues what amounts to ‘if things were different they would be different’ they are asserting what amounts to the equivalent of white noise. So long as we exist, we are always going to observe that the universe permits our existence. If constants did not permit our existence, we would not exist to observe them. There is no mystery to why things are the way we are, or why universal constants create environments that are perfectly suited for us. We breath oxygen because we are on a planet that provides oxygen; if we were on a planet that only provided potential life-forms with carbon monoxide, we would likely have lungs that were perfectly adapted for breathing carbon monoxide. Since we already know that biological life and processes are interdependent on environmental conditions, it is no wonder why things have developed the way they have. The anthropic principle cannot survive any amount of serious scrutiny. What’s more, you might answer your first question, ‘Why is there something rather than nothing,’ with another: ‘Why will there be nothing instead of something?’ We know that a lot of nothing is coming our way when the Andromeda galaxy crashes into our own, or when our sun becomes a Red Dwarf and obliterates all life on earth, or when any number of other things, all certain to occur in our distant future, finally take place – all of them guaranteed to bring about nothingness. So we must ask: why is an unavoidable future of nothingness fine-tuned into the universe? Do you see? You achieve nothing for your argument by arguing an anthropic principle.”

“Fair enough, but you haven’t addressed the fundamental problem of how something could come from nothing in the first place. We have something now. Even if nothing is coming, you still have to explain how anything at all came into existence.My view is that God is the only one capable of bringing something out of nothing, since he is beyond anything and everything.”

“And where did God from?”

“As I said, he is beyond anything and everything; he always was; he is eternal and infinite; he transcends all that is.”

“Do you realize that the very idea of ‘transcending anything and everything,’ is nonsensical?”

“How so?”

“Well…if something isn’t, what is it?”


“If something is not, then what is it?”

“Well…I guess...nothing…I mean…it isn’t anything.”

“Right. Something cannot both exist and not exist at the same time. Nothing cannot be somethingIs not and is are mutually exclusive; is not is the negation of is. How can God transcend that which is not?

“Well, I suppose he can’t. What’s your point?”

“Did you not say that God transcends anything and everything?”

“I did.”

“Well, if God transcends anything and everything, then you must explain why there is God rather than no God, just as I must explain why there is something rather than nothing, since god is something – god – while nothing is the absence of all things. So, God cannot exceed all things, and he cannot be beyond all things; he demands an explanation. If you attempt to explain existence by causation, as you seem to be doing, then you must also explain God’s existence by causation. What is God’s cause? Who created God? The logic of your argument creates an infinite regress, one that you cannot escape. Giving God special pleading in order to escape this regress, namely, emptily asserting that he requires no such explanation, is fallacious.”

“Aren’t you in the same position concerning the universe? Don’t you have to explain where, for example, the first particle came from?”

“I would be, if I was assuming a finite number of past events, and that, before that first cause, nothing existed, meaning, absolutely nothing, in the eh nihilo sense of the word. In other words, if the universe is finite, you might have a point.”

“You admitted that there was a big bang singularity! You have already admitted that the universe had a beginning, and that it had a cause. Doesn’t that mean that the universe is finite? You are saying the cause of the universe is the big bang, I am saying it is God. How do we differ?”

“Perhaps I have been unclear. Although I did admit that there has been a big bang singularity, I have never admitted that the universe is finite. What we have recently discovered about Dark Matter and Dark Energy says a lot about the universe being infinite. Even in a vacuum, where we see virtual particles popping into existence out of ‘nothing’ we know that Dark Matter and Dark Energy must exist. This Dark Energy, like all energy, is eternal. What’s more, we live in a flat, ever-expanding universe. Logically, there can be no boundary drawn around any such phenomenon, and the idea of finiteness seems nonsensical. It seems that even the second law of thermodynamics may not apply to this kind of system, and, thus, multiverse theory. The point I am making is that, while it is true that we do not have all the answers, and that there is quite a bit of debate about a great many things, the current consensus among cosmologists is that the universe could be infinite.”

“Even so, you have to admit that you are still not answering my question. Even if you don’t have to explain a first cause, because you assume the universe is infinite and that something always existed, you still have to explain why you are able to define nothing as something? You have already pointed out that something cannot both exist and not exist simultaneously, but now you are defining nothing as ‘Dark Energy’ and ‘Dark Matter’, and then saying that it always existed; in essence you say: nothing is something; it is and it is not.  It seems to me that, in reality, you are saying something has always existed, to which ex nihilo seems to apply: if something exists, at any time, how does it get there? I can see the point that the universe might go on forever from the point of something existing, but I can’t see how you can get out of this causal loop with Dark Energy or an infinite universe. No matter how far back you go in time, there must have been a time when nothing became something, or else we would have nothing.”

“I realize that you are asserting that there must be a time when there was nothing in the ex nihilo sense of the word, but it does not follow simply from your assertion that this is true. I have defined nothing as a substance that is the negation of matter and energy as we know it, as something that exists in vacuums but by all measurable purposes does not exist, as something that cannot be tested for, cannot be measured, and for all intensive purposes is nothing, and yet, you still have a problem with my definition?”

“Well, yes! It isn’t nothing it is something!”

“Then I must ask, what is your definition for nothing?”

“That which is truly nothing – the absence of everything.”

“Including God?”

“Well, no. God is eternal.”

“May I refer you to my previous argument, where we both agreed that this cannot be the case, that God cannot exceed nothingness? You cannot exceed what does not exist. We did agree to this, did we not?”

“Well… yes, we agreed.”

“Then I will ask the question again: what is your definition for nothing?”

“And I cannot use the one I have already given?”

“Would it be logical to do so?”


“Then try again, for another definition.”

“I…I have none.”

“I expected as much. You see, the only definition for ‘nothing’ that you seem willing to accept is, ‘Nothing except God; or, ‘that from which only god could create something,’ and that is telling. Ex nihilo is an interesting concept, but it is not an end-all to the game, nor does it side with your argument. You are using God as an ‘out’ to the very difficult problem of defining what nothing actually is, as it exists…or doesn’t…in the universe, however, this accomplishes... nothing...and we are left right where we started.”

“Then, if we do not use God, how do we explain it? Why can’t God be the solution? You have offered no other explanation that solves the problem.”

“I may have…”

“And what is that?”

“Well… let me just say this: Philosophy, ex nihilo, things of that nature…they are useful to an extent, and they do serve their purpose in most cases, but on quantum levels of existence, things behave quite counter intuitively, and in some cases, a Philosophical definition, or an idea or concept of something that we can imagine – like absolute nothingness – is, in reality, impossible or nonsensical. For example, I refer you to our orange. We can ask why the orange exists in the philosophical sense if we like, in other words, what desired effect was intended for the orange, why is it an orange…but this question is nonsensical. There isn’t a why in the sense of real purpose for many things, and there is no such purpose demanded by existence itself. Nothingness is the same way. For all intensive purposes, what we see in vacuums really, actually, is nothing, which is… you are right… counterintuitive. This may be an area in which logic fails us, and we fail as humans to conceptualize what is now beyond our understanding. At the same time, logic reveals to us its usefulness, when it shows that your use of ex nihilo is also limited and incomplete. So really, ex nihilo is interesting to think about, but it doesn’t serve the purpose you want for it, nor does it pose a threat to what we know so far about nothing.”

“Ex nihilo can ‘fail’ us? How? We can easily imagine nothingness … the absence of all is… in other words, not is… within a few moments time. And we can easily imagine that if there was not is and there is now is then there must have been something that brought is into existence. If my definitions for nothing fail me, as you say, maybe I have to keep working at the definition, but you cannot deny that absolute nothingness is an easily grasped concept.”

“An Ontological argument achieves you nothing. We can imagine a great many things, but it does not follow that the things we can imagine actually exist or can even probably exist. We must follow the evidence, not what we imagine to be true.”

“But there must be a final nothingness – an absence of all things! God perfectly explains how we could get from such a nothingness, to all that we see before us today.”

“Only if you ignore special pleading, as I have said…but enough. Do you still persist in this? Do you still insist that God must be posited in order to solve the conundrum?”

“Yes, of course!”

“Then I will ask again: what is your definition for nothing?”

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