Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Why Is 'Nothing' Assumed To Be The Default?

We mildly assume, quite naively I believe, that there shouldn't be anything, that nothing should exist at all, if there isn't some grand creator to make it. This assumption led philosophers like Leibniz to ask why there is something rather than nothing, because intuition would tell us that nothing should somehow be the default. I can understand this notion of nothing being the default, however, I also recognize the fact that our intuition has been misguided before.

It may be as it turns out, that something must always exist, that absolute nothing has never and could never exist. If this is indeed true, than our arduous quest to explain the meaning of existence is futile at best. In my journey in understanding philosophy, I have come across the term brute fact. In order to give a sufficient explanation of something, you cannot have an infinite regress of explanations. As it seems, and you must eventually arrive at some terminating point. For theists, that point is god. God is their brute fact. For the naturalist, it may be some fundamental law that necessitates existence.

Existence and nature might just be brute facts, and so it may be futile to ask why these laws of physics and not others, or why this universe and not another. I myself have wondered why this god and not another, and why did he create this world and not another. The former at least is explained by theists that god's own existence is necessary for some reason. What that reason is, varies from theist to theist, and religion to religion, but I've also wondered why there shouldn't truly be nothing: no universes, no laws of physics and no god. And since god is a mind, I've wondered if god ever reflected on his own existence, and why it is that he exists, eternally.

Personally, I contend that god's purpose is to create us, and that without us, or without creation, god serves no purpose unto himself. If it is indeed, as I believe, that existence is the default, that there is always something rather than nothing and that there has never been and cannot ever be absolute nothing, than it's no surprise we created many gods and myths to in order to explain our existence. So asking why there is something rather than nothing may be the wrong question. The better question might be, why isn't there nothing rather than something?


  1. This is an astonishing post. You seem to agree with the Leibnizian and Theistic contention that it isn't logically possible that nothing exist, but then blunder into thinking that if God exists his existence qualifies as a brute fact. A brute fact is a contingent fact without a sufficient explanation. God's existence would be a necessary fact. It isn't unexplained precisely because it explains itself, in the same way one cannot say "1+1=2" is a brute fact because no other proposition explains why it is true - it explains why it is true. It is a necessary proposition, and therefore doesn't even fit in the wheelhouse of contingency or brute-ness.

    The concept of God involves the notion that God is a necessary being, that he exists necessarily because his essence is existence, and so on. Claims I'm sure you've heard before. So now, imagine that God does exist - what is the reason God exists? Because his essence involves existence. This isn't defining God into existence because we aren't predicating 'exist' of God as though it were some accidental property - it is rather more like one of his essential superlative attributes... In fact, it is one of his essential superlative attributes.

    Everyone agrees that Theism avoids postulating brute facts where Atheism cops out and postulates brute facts. But think about that - brute facts are literally facts which are 'just so', and if Naturalism adopts more brute facts than theism (Theism has none necessarily, while Naturalism does necessarily) then Naturalism is more of a just-so story. Moreover, I think our intuition is not misguided on this point (and I think it is often more helpful than pessimistic empiricists contend), and in any case this intuition is a modal one. It is an apprehension of a constraint on what is logically possible (conceivable to the human mind). Thus, if we cannot coherently conceive of what it would mean for this intuition to be wrong, then we cannot pretend that it is logically possible that we be wrong about it. It isn't logically possible that we be wrong about it, and it does entail that something must exist of necessity, and such a thing would need to have an essence identical with its existence. That is all straightforward logical inference about necessary truths.

    1. You still give into the old ontological argumentative points that existence is a property that god has, and so he therefore exists. Imagine god doesn't exist - the same logical mind games would apply to the concept of god as they would other versions of god. So the ontological argument I think is one of the weakest arguments for god.

      To ask "Why this god and not another?" you would respond by saying because this god is necessary. I think given the world that exists, we can show how an all-loving, omnibenevolent being cannot exist. I mentioned this when I rebutted your comments on evolution's compatibility with Christianity here:

      The whole point of this post is to show how god would be a brute fact if existence was the default as opposed to nothing. We'd have to invent god(s) to explain that which we could not. It is us that give god purpose, which makes me feel it is more likely than not the case than man created god in his image and not the other way around.

    2. The notion that there is any meaningful difference between "This" God or "That" God is completely confused. God is defined as a being which exemplifies the divine nature, that nature involving all of the superlative attributes belonging to the concept of the divine nature, among which are included maximal knowledge, maximal goodness, and maximal existence.

      Perhaps I think that something is true of God over and above the divine nature. For example, perhaps I believe that God has actualized the Christian story, whereas another believes he has not. Perhaps I believe that God needs to be spoken of with the masculine pronoun whereas somebody who is a complete nominalist about gender might not. However, for these to be disagreements about the same thing, they have to be disagreements about the same "thing". I am not claiming that one can prove that there exists a God who exemplifies the full description of the Christian religion. I am claiming that what all men understand by the word 'God', namely a necessary, maximally great being, transcendent, creator of the world (etc), does exist. I claim that one can know that a necessary being exists logically by recognizing that it is not logically possible for nothing to exist.

      I saw your rebuttal, and composed a response to it, and then didn't get around to posting it. Perhaps I'll do that sometime today.

    3. Not all men understand "God" as you do but that's not a big deal here. It's hard for me to believe that a being that contains paradoxical properties as god traditionally has, can also contain a property that his existence is necessary. I think god serves no purpose except to create us, and that means to me, that we really just created him. I find this "ontological proof" that Anselm conjured up to be an attempt to try to define god into existence. It’s mere sophistry to me.

    4. That reflects a failure to apprehend what makes the argument so interesting and why it has been so debated in the history of western thought. Notice that even Thomas Aquinas or Kant did not dismiss the argument for being as superficial as you suggest, precisely because they understood that it was a remarkably brilliant argument (even though each of them had their qualms with it). Remember that Kant devoted some of his years to developing a sound ontological argument because he thought it was the only way to make a compelling argument for the existence of God, rather than what he was left with after he failed, which were arguments concluding to the effect that it was irrational and immoral to not postulate God for the sake of the consistency of a transcendental philosophy.

      Perhaps not all men understand the word "God" at all. For instance the positivists. Certainly not all men think the divine nature involves all the superlative attributes classically thought to be involved in such a nature. However, through the historical mainstream of western thought runs a current we call Theism, and this is the view that the divine nature, as classically and typically construed (involving all those superlative attributes), is exemplified. Given what the idea is, the key question becomes, what arguments are there to think that this nature is exemplified. I think the ontological proof is one among many ways in which one can obviate the truth of Theism. It draws an inference from the idea's content to the objective existence of the thing about which the idea is.

      I'd like to know, if you don't mind my being a little nosy by asking, what antinomies you think exist between any two of the attributes supposedly belonging to the divine nature.

    5. Sorry I didn't see this until now. I'm carrying on two other simultaneous debates on two other blogs and I'm realizing it's starting to become a full time job!!

      I don't spend a lot of time thinking about the OA and even if I were a believer I still don't think I would. But I do like one little take on the OA that can disprove the god of Christianity at least:

      1. God is the greatest conceivable being.
      2. I can conceive of a greater being than Yahweh.
      3. Therefore, Yahweh is not God.

      This argument doesn't try to disprove god just any existing notion of god, like Yahweh. If you accept the OA as being logically valid, you have to accept this argument is too. If I can think of a being that is greater than god, then *that* being would be god. That's what proponents of the OA always say. So if that's the case, Yahweh or Allah or any other described god cannot be god if another greater god can be thought of.

      I responded to the OA here for other arguments against it:



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