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Denys Turner, the Cambridge theologian whose inaugural lecture for taking up the chair of theology was How to Be an Atheist, said that in order to be a “proper, card-carrying atheist,” one has to be good at avoiding a certain kind of question. That question is, Why is there something rather than nothing at all?

To dwelve deeper into this mystery, I’d like to refer to a post of the same name by Sean Caroll at Cosmic Variance.

The first assignment on the agenda is to look into the possibilities of “nothing” and “something,” and what makes them special. (Some have argued that true nothingness is an impossibility – to which I ask, how do you know? Perfect nothingness is self-evident and easy to conceive of; there is nothing incoherent about it.) Nothingness appears more plain and simple than something. It has the absence of any character and detail, therefore making it the sort of “default” that contrasts against something with attributes. Even though this metaphysical “zero” universe about which all others are conceived is simpler than all else, the question is, why is simpler better? Occam’s razor applies to competing explanations, not possible worlds. On the one hand, this seems a fair question to ask. The question is being begged for. Yet, our intuition wonders how we could just settle for accepting that our universe is an arbitrary one instead of a more “natural,” “spontaneous” option. Quoting Caroll:

But our experience with the world in which we actually live tells us nothing whatsoever about whether certain possible universes are “natural” or not. In particular, nothing in science, logic, or philosophy provides any evidence for the claim that simple universes are “preferred” (whatever that could possibly mean). We only have experience with one universe; there is no ensemble from which it is chosen, on which we could define a measure to quantify degrees of probability. Who is to say whether a universe described by the non-perturbative completion of superstring theory is likelier or less likely than, for example, a universe described by a Rule 110 cellular automaton?

As much as we hate to admit it, our intuitions on this matter are unfounded, unreliable, and unauthoritative. And since this is so, we have nothing more to look towards in search of an answer. We cannot hope to find one. We don’t have to be good at avoiding the question: there is no way to confront it.

Now, I’ll back myself up on that. I’ll prove it. Reductio ad absurdum style.

Suppose this question had an answer. That means there is a deciding factor that chose between nothingness and something. This deciding factor is itself something, which means it chose itself into existence. This is illogical. There is no answer to the question. There is nothing outside of the possibilities of nothingness and something. We just exist. That is all.

* This isn’t to say that no god(s) exist. If god(s) exist, then they are counted as something too.


A Conversation

Einstein: "God does not play dice with the universe."
Bohr: "Einstein, stop telling God what to do!"