This is part of a series of posts answering Michael Egnor’s eight questions for atheists. I am taking the questions out of order, as suits my fancy, but you can see all questions and my responses here.
On the question Why is there Anything? my answer is nearly identical to Luke’s from Common Sense Atheism:
I will say it has always struck me as an odd question. The assumption seems to be that non-being (“nothing”) is somehow more fundamental than being (“something”), and that we need an explanation of why there is being instead of only non-being.
But this supposition must be another strange intuition of the human species, because I see no evidence for it. We have never discovered non-being. Even the blackest depths of outer space are filled with a soup of quantum fluctuations. Perhaps non-being is impossible! I don’t know. But all the evidence we do have can only suggest that it is being that is more fundamental than non-being, in which case the whole question is wrong-headed.
I’ll take a crack at explaining why I agree in more detail, and apologies if the language gets a little muddled. In one draft of this post, the phrase ‘that which had it’s non-existence embedded across from the existence region‘ appeared, and I’ve tried hard to clean it up, but please ask for clarification if necessary. Here goes:
What would it mean for there to ‘be nothing?’ To me, the idea of nothing existing only makes sense to me if something (or Someone) exists outside of the nothing, to observe its nonbeing. Without that deistic view, the other option I’m presented with seems empty.
Let’s assume that the Universe is a closed space (i.e. has a boundary) whatever shape or dimension is contained within that boundary. Perhaps whatever is on the other side of that boundary could be described as nonbeing. Perhaps the idea of nothing rather than something is just a question of allowing whatever lies on the other side of the universe to rise up and over the boundary, sweeping over and extinguishing our universe like a tidal wave.
I still don’t think this is a particularly coherent idea. I think it’s a mistake to assume that a boundary only imposes structure and order on that which is contained within it. If the substance of nonbeing or universal substrate, or whatever you wanted to call it ever overwhelmed and erased the boundary, I’m not sure it could exist unbounded, and I think it’s up to the other side to convince me that this is a likely proposition that I’m obliged to consider.
For a very prosaic example, imagine a shape made out of silly putty:
I can imagine the putty not having this particular shape, but I cannot imagine the putty existing without a shape at all. To lose all shape, the putty would have to be annihilated. For non-being to ‘exist’ it couldn’t just erase the matter space currently contains, it would have to annihilate space and location altogether. I have no idea what that would entail or if it’s a remotely plausible configuration for the world.
Thus, I can say only that something exists, and I have no way of speculating about the relative probability of Something versus Nothing.
Check out this post from Nova for some interesting speculation on the size of the Universe and any possible boundary.