More on Science, Theology and Nothing

‘Nothing from nothing comes.’

Something cannot come from nothing – or can it? Can nothing bring forth something, being bring forth nonbeing? Some edgy physicists would claim that that is in fact the case – the universe came from nothing (see previous posts for a bit of context on this issue). The trick has been to redefine the word ‘nothing’ – instead of meaning what is normally meant by ‘nothing’ – namely, the lack of any thing, the absolute lack of any and all being, etc, etc, ‘nothing’ comes to be an odd sort of something – in some cases (Victor Stenger, for example) the word defies explanation. In most of these cases, though, ‘nothing’ comes to mean a quantum foam filled vacuum governed by the laws of physics.

The standard reply: that’s not nothing. The laws of physics and the quantum foam are indeed something – they are obviously not nothing. I’ve tried to think of how such a definition of ‘nothing’ can be acceptable – I can’t make it work. Maybe it is in fact the case that nothing is a weird sort of something – but I doubt it.

If this definition is acceptable, then the idea of a universe from nothing becomes much more palatable – and with it, the idea of a creator less so. If the universe can and will create itself from nothing (Stephen Hawking) then there is no need for a creator.

Philosopher of science John Lennox (as well as others) have rightly that the definition of nothing as the quantum foam filled vacuum governed by physical laws simply does not work. All those things are something, not nothing. This seems to be a pretty insurmountable obstacle.

The other great objection to this idea is Leibniz’s famous question: why is there something, rather than nothing? Why does the universe exist? Why are there contingent things? Lawrence Krauss declares that when we ask ‘why does the universe exist?’ we actually mean ‘how does the universe come to exist?’ No, we mean, why does the universe exist. They are two separate things: why and how do not mean the same things and are not interchangeable is this context. When I say ‘why?’ I do not mean ‘how?’ I mean, ‘Why does the universe exist? For what reason? For what purpose?’ Questions of purpose, however, lead far too close to realms which some physicists reject as nonsensical (expect some more thoughts on purpose in the near future). For to admit of purpose in the universe is to admit that the universe is created for that purpose – and that is to admit that something, or Someone, created the universe with and for a purpose.

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