How Can You Believe That Something Came From Nothing?

How Can You Believe That Something Came From Nothing? January 8, 2020

The height of my science “career” was making paper maché volcanos in grade two that erupted in a pungent, vinegary mess. I mean, I took bio in high school, and I passed, and I was super interested. I just wasn’t as interested in that as I was, say, my boyfriend’s dimples or maybe the latest Pearl Jam album. I’ll put it to you this way: science blows my mind, but my understanding of it is about the same level of understanding Tony Hawk might have of makeup highlighter: pretty much limited to, “Woah, cool!”

So, when theists ask me, way too often, how I can believe that something came from nothing, you can understand how absurd the question is to me. I mean, I don’t know the first thing about what may have existed before the Big Bang. I don’t even really understand fully what hypotheses are under exploration. I barely have a grasp on what the Big Bang itself is.

I guess, in the forty-two years I’ve been an atheist, I just never got the memo that I was supposed to believe that something came from nothing. My position has always been, instead, that I dunno. It’s a big, fat shrug.

“Hey GM! Where did the Universe come from?”

“Beats the hell outta me” is what my answer would be after the inevitable, “up your butt, Jobu.” As you know, my maturity peaked with those paper maché volcanoes, too.

It’s strange to me that some believers think that atheism is a position on the origins of the universe. That, because we don’t believe a god made all of this, we must have some other explanation. It simply does not cross their mind that our answer might be “dunno.”

It’s the same way they approach everything. They have faith, so we must. They have religious beliefs, and so we must also have religious beliefs. Their position on god is a religion, and so our position on god must be a religion. They have a made-up story about where the universe came from, and so we must also have a tale we all believe about the origins of everything that ever was.

It’s just not the case at all, and this question ends up telling us a whole lot more about the asker than it does about the person answering. It tells us that the theist is so uncomfortable with the state of not knowing that he cannot fathom someone okay with it. We must have an answer of our own.

The thing is, though, we are okay with not knowing. There are plenty of things we don’t understand at this stage in human knowledge, and the best thing about being able to admit we don’t know is that it leaves room for investigation. Insisting you already know closes that door very quickly.

I asked some of you on Twitter how you answered the question, “How can you believe something came from nothing?” and here are some of the best answers,

As you can see, you’re all one hell of a lot smarter than I am when it comes to this sort of thing, but kids, if you ever need help with your paper maché volcano, you know who to call.

What’s your answer to the question, “how can you believe something came from nothing?” Let me know in the comments!

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  • aitwk

    Science has a better notion of how something could come from nothing than most people think. As Stephen Hawking indicated, and I am paraphrasing here, stuff is weird at the quantum level. Particles appear out of thin air and disappear all the time. Consider quantum physics and suddenly the notion doesn’t seem so unlikely.

  • Yeah, see that’s exactly what I have trouble wrapping my mind around!

  • Astreja

    Um… last time I checked, a singularity — a tiny entity containing highly compressed proto-matter/energy — is the very antithesis of “nothing.”

  • Exactly. Is nothing even possible?

  • Jim Jones

    I tell them it was the oozlum bird. When it achieved full cranial-rectal insertion it ceased to exist which cause a rift in the space-time continuum and brought the universe into being.

  • Jim Jones

    Jim Al-Khalili has Youtube videos.

  • The Bofa on the Sofa

    Yeah, my first response is, “What do you mean by ‘nothing’?” Followed with something about, as far as I understand it, no one has ever asserted there was such.

  • In quantum mechanics, particles and antiparticles can pop up from the vacuum, which is not the same as the philosophical concept of nothingness, and that for all we know could have existed forever just by brute force and because there’s no alternative.

    The Universe, and probably a whole lot of others, could have popped up that way and will do so. It is even said that observations support that, at least for an Universe -ours-, and it’s even possible in the very, very, very distant future it could happen within ours or whatever remained of it.

  • Michael Neville

    At very large and very tiny scales the universe is counter-intuitive. For instance, gravity can be considered negative energy, which means that the net energy level of the universe is zero. Cosmologists can describe the universe back to Planck Time (approximately 5.39 × 10^-44 seconds after the Big Bang). Time probably started at Planck Time, which means time began some time after the Big Bang.

  • Michael Neville

    Every time I get asked about “something coming from nothing” I ask for a rigorous definition of nothing. At that point the conversation usually veers into a different direction.

  • Goresh

    I generally ask them where God came from.
    Generally they say he (what purpose does gender serve a unique, eternal being) always existed.
    Since time is a facet of the universe, time came into existence with the universe ergo, the universe always existed.

    But since theirs is a two step process, God always existed then God created the universe, while mine is a one step process, the universe always existed, the KISS principle would strongly indicate that my hypothesis was more likely than theirs.

  • Bob Jase

    Do goddists believe that magicians magically make a rabbit appear in a hat before they pull one out?

  • Michael Neville

    Many creationists see Biblical creation vs the Big Bangg* as a zero-sum game. If the Big Bangg loses then creationism automatically wins! Nothing could be further from the truth. Any theory which replaces the Big Bangg would have to answer every question that the Big Bangg answers and some it doesn’t. GODDIDIT answers every question and so answers none of them, which puts Biblical creationism out of the running as a replacement for modern cosmology.

    *Seriously, Patheos, Bangg is not a naughty word. Get your heads out of your arses.

  • Goresh

    Well, assuming the singularity itself was in something….
    A singularity has no dimensions, but those no dimensions must be measured against something.

    A foot long ruler stretched to twice its length is still a foot long when your only reference is the ruler itself.

  • Bob Jase

    We need to see a cat scan of Trump’s head to know.

  • abb3w

    In my case, the understanding comes from understanding a bit of physics, which I will now oversimplify.

    The First Law of Thermodynamics is the conservation of mass-energy. However (as several websites on the internet explain) under General Relativity and present data it appears that in the universe the total mass-energy of stuff and of space-time curvature is zero. Therefore, there’s no problem on that end.

    The Second Law of Thermodynamics is the nondecrease of entropy. Semi-formally, entropy is “the logarithm of the number of ways possible to re-arrange what you have”. There is exactly one way to arrange Nothing; the total entropy is zero. When you have a universe with Stuff, there’s more rearrangements; the total entropy is positive. Ergo, still no problem.

    Furthermore, in the primordial sense Nothing includes not only no matter, but no spacetime… and therefore, no time. And, as the old quip (frequently misattributed to Einstein) goes, “Time is what keeps everything from happening at once.” Without time, a thermodynamcially favorable (energy conserved, entropy increasing) transition from Nothing to Something therefore would be expected to happen… At Once.

    Trying to explain this seems to tend to leave theists confused.

  • You cannot expect people ignorant of science at best and ludicrously ignorant at worst will understand that, especially when they either give a very botched description of the BB that looks like a Big Crunch instead and claim that if you believe in that you must believe in the virgin birth of Jesus, or that it’s far more probable the Sun had turned off six seconds after Jesus died than the same theory -both from the same man-.

    (Seriously, Patheos. I’m sure that Catholics who talk of the Virgin Mary will be also quite upset of this damned filter)

  • Joe_Buddha

    Quantum mechanics pretty much precludes the possibility of “nothing”.

  • Anri

    My answer is: Per the very best science has to tell us, we cannot actually say that there ever is or ever was “nothing”. We can only get so close to measuring stuff, below that threshold, there is no theoretical way to say if something or nothing is there. At this scale, things tend to pop up without any specific antecedent.
    Yes, this is very strange. The primary thing the modern era has taught us about the universe is that it does not, and does not have to, fit our preconceived notions. We can complain about the universe doing stuff that seems counter-intuitive as much as we like, the universe will continue doing so regardless of our protests. There is no Complaints Desk for the universe.

  • bahaha, I was on the phone with one of my clients when I read this and I laughed out loud.

  • Jim Jones

    Sir Arthur Conan Doyle believed Houdini could dematerialize, walk through a wall and then rematerialize.

  • (((J_Enigma32)))

    My answer goes like this:

    If the universe is infinite, it’s always been infinite even before the BB, and will be even into the future. In fact, it’s an infinity that’s even larger than the infinity it started with, because yes, infinities can be larger than one another. For instance, take a set consisting of all perfect squares. That’s an infinite set. But that set is also smaller than the set of all rational numbers, which is also an infinite set, because the rational number set includes all perfect squares. Now combine this with the MWI interpretation of quantum mechanics, which I tend to hew to because of both the determinism and the way in which it handles the anthropic principle. With the MWI and an infinite-size universe, you actually end up with an infinite-size multiverse. So you have an infinitely big universe, sharing an infinitely large multiverse with other infinitely big universes and within all that infinity, the probability of something happening no matter how statistically insignificant or unlikely becomes a near certainty, including the creation of a universe from nothing.

    Yes, I’m aware my answer is trollish and relies on several large assumptions about the way the universe works based on my (admittedly) shaky knowledge of cosmology and set theory, but I don’t care. The question isn’t asked in good faith and they don’t care about the answer, so I might as well craft an answer that I find entertaining that sounds vaguely plausible.

  • This is perfect.

  • aitwk

    Bearing in mind that Planck Time divides milliseconds.

  • Michael Neville

    Milliseconds are an eternity compared to Planck Time.

  • Astreja

    Apparently only in very small areas for very short periods of time, until a quantum fluctuation flips a bit and makes a zero into a one.

  • rationalobservations?

    As an atheist I don’t “believe” in anything. I accept that for which evidence exists and reject all that is mere speculation based upon fiction and mythology.

    The only people who appear to believe in something from nothing are creationists who believe in a god from nothing that wished the whole infinite chaotic and randomly violent universe into existence FROM NOTHING.

  • Michael Neville

    Houdini tried to show Conan Doyle that stage magic was literally slight of hand but could not convince him that magic wasn’t “magic”.

  • Cozmo the Magician

    Well.. when one NOTHING really LOVES another NOTHING they share a special “HUG” and then the mommy NOTHING gets a little watermellon seed in her belly that grow into a BABY NOTHING … UNLESS &#8203SATAN passes uhborshun laws allowing us heathens to make that BABY go away…

    Ok, enough snark.. Ima have a &#8203beer

  • Cozmo the Magician

    WHAT &#8203THE &#8203ACTUAL &#8203FUCK &#8203in &#8203the &#8203below &#8203pissed &#8203off &#8203the &#8203censorbot &#8203below…I’m &#8203guessing &#8203’bang’

    &#8203Is &#8203Planck &#8203time &#8203anything &#8203like &#8203MILLER &#8203TIME? &#8203

    “If &#8203you’ve &#8203got &#8203the &#8203time…. &#8203we &#8203have &#8203the… &#8203BIG &#8203BANG”

  • Cozmo the Magician
  • Cozmo the Magician

    Banngggg.. I know really.. I was trying to figure out what word caused censorbot to kick a few posts.. GEE WHIZZY.. Hey Disc.. go BANNNNNGGGYOURSELF.

    And on that note.. time for a flash back video..

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TVEhDrJzM8E

  • Cozmo the Magician

    And for grins and giggles.. here is something from nothing…

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V_YlZ1JdcVk

  • Cozmo the Magician

    Oh, and here is a really GOOD but long talk about ‘sumtin fra nuttin’

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gH9UvnrARf8

  • Cozmo the Magician

    And and BTW, just google ‘something from nothing’… I did and posted some answers above (:

    GODDIT is NOT the best answer…

  • Cozmo the Magician

    And more giggle-fu on ‘what, why, and how’

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ZLtcTZP2js

  • abb3w

    what purpose does gender serve a unique, eternal being

    Contrariwise, what harm does having a purposeless characteristic do for an eternal and omnipotent being?

  • abb3w

    You cannot expect people ignorant of science at best and ludicrously ignorant at worst will understand that

    Particularly not expect based from the sample of past performance, no.

    Nonetheless, the question is “how can you believe”, not “how can I understand”; and the answer does give room for further questions, if they wish to make the attempt at understanding.

    I’ll note, it seems significant that people who ask the question very frequently have a lot of problem with “exactly one way to arrange Nothing”; IE, that the factorial of zero is one. The ultimate problem thus appears not so much ignorance of science as ignorance of (and perhaps ineptitude with) mathematics.

  • Thank you!

  • It’s censoring bang? Jesus…

  • Agreed. It really has to be dumbed down. I’ve gotten into a few conversations with creationists about evolution and it boggles my mind the level to which I have to dumb it down. However, if you have a patient creationist, it’s worth it. I’ve had a couple come around and develop an understanding of evolution.

  • Jim Jones

    I ask them why all the brothers in a family don’t have the same DNA.

  • Jim Jones

    Many words are banned. Like Islam. And 500 variations of ass.

  • MelindaF

    I ask them how much they know about M-Theory and if the can explain the arrow of time. When they inevitably say ‘no’ – I tell them we can discuss it when they are capable of understanding what I am saying.

  • Probably. The man who claims that has never explained his background but I do not have much faith on him having a scientific-related one. Others two I know of claim to be a retired philosophy teacher, who despite admitting to have no idea of science talks about it with the expected messy results when you mix it with the Bible, and the other is a lawyer who claims “Martian life is far more protected than the one of the stillborn” (’nuff said)

    In an skeptic blog it’s happening the same with some -presumably- believers with the same “nothing comes from nothing”, despite the blog’s webmaster having explained again and again how nothingness in quantum physics has nothing to see with the phylosophical one

  • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

    It’s fun to point such questioners at Feynman Diagrams and watch their heads explode 😉

    (also, your PNR fellow-blogger Captain Cassidy at RollToDisbelieve refers to the mindset you mention as ‘The Law of Conservation of Worship’ 😉

  • Derek Mathias

    Creationist: “How can you believe everything came from nothing?”
    Me: “What do you mean? YOU are the one who believes everything came from nothing.”
    C: Uh…what?
    M: “You believe that God created everything, right?”
    C: “Yeah.”
    M: “Well, what did he create it out of? If he created EVERYTHING, then there was nothing before he created everything, right? So what did he create everything out of?”
    C: “Well, God spoke the universe into existence….”
    M: “Out of what? Absolute nothingness, right? So you believe everything came from nothing.”
    C: …
    M: “We, OTOH, have no reason to think there was ever any such thing as ‘absolute nothingness.’ Physics implies there may be something like an eternal quantum void that spawns universes, although there’s no way to know, at least not yet. What we DON’T believe is that everything came from absolute nothingness like you do. That’s just crazy.”
    C: …

  • Art Davison

    But didn’t the Christian Gawd create the universe from nothing?

  • monkE602 .

    i don’t believe in the concept of nothing. there is only that of which i’m unaware.

  • Christians don’t believe in evolution, but they believe something came from nothing. I’m confused now.

  • Read about the zero-energy universe. The negative and positive energy cancels out, and the universe actually is a net nothing.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zero-energy_universe

  • A state of Nothing is similar to a state of complete absence of cats – both situations difficult to imagine.

    The Coming of the Quantum Cats is a 1986 science fiction novel by American writer Frederik Pohl.

  • Cozmo the Magician

    I have a quantum cat, and I don’t have a quantum cat O_o

  • Suitable food to sustain a quantum cat may be difficult to purchase, but then- a quantum cat may not need any food.
    (Food for thought)

    Schrödinger’s cat goes quantum: New experiment shows feline can be both alive and dead – and in two places at once Daily Mail 28 May 2016
    https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3613333/Schr-dinger-s-cat-friend-New-video-reveals-quantum-cat-alive-dead-two-places-once.html

    https://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2016/05/27/20/34B3779700000578-0-image-a-34_1464377201064.jpg

  • Quantum Mathematics at school.
    Tommy got an A for his answer to question One- “Zero
    Billy also got an A for his answer to question One- “One
    Roger got an A and an F for his answer to question One- “There is No question One
    Suzy may have had a correct answer, or she may not have; because she was either present for the Maths Quiz, or she was home with the flu.

  • Quantum Jesus 101- While that tomb is yet unopened . .

    https://kevinfrank.net/staging/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/SaintSchrodinger.jpg

  • The biggest problem with a being credited with attributes having values at onmi levels is that His level of Apathy must mean that the being just does not give a flying f–k, what ever Faith and Prayer is offered.

    If We are made in God’s Image and we don’t care — that means that He didn’t care either right from the word go. Remember, He’s very, very, busy observing Falling Sparrows.

  • aitwk

    True. I had no better words to use than “milliseconds” because it is generally the smallest unit of time we deal with.

  • abb3w

    The biggest problem with a being credited with attributes having values at onmi levels is that His level of Apathy must mean that the being just does not give a flying f–k, what ever Faith and Prayer is offered.

    Yeah, but that seems a more specific objection about a more specific sort of deity. I didn’t specify “omnibenevolent”, only eternal and omnipotent. Having a gender implies being less than omni-apathetic, or at least the existence of some other being not omni-apathetic and of sufficient power to inflict a gender on the omnipotent deity. Sure, the omnipotent deity could stop “junior” from inflicting a gender, but doesn’t care enough to do so.

  • Gary Fowler

    I think there could have been a universe before this one, that collapsed in on itself, and created the singularity from which this universe sprang. That’s in my opinion, and completely speculative. I don’t know what really happened. I just know it wasn’t “God.”

  • Gary Fowler

    The smallest named unit of time, aside from Planck, is the yoctosecond, or one septillionth of a second, or a trillionth of a trillionth of a second (a trillionth of a picosecond), but the yoctosecond is still twenty orders of magnitude longer than Planck Time.

  • aitwk

    Ah, so it’s like a henway.

  • HairyEyedWordBombThrower
  • DrSkeep

    Read Lawrence Krauss’s “A Universe From Nothing”, GM. Since “nothing” would require a perfect balance between positive and negative energy, between matter and anti-matter, etc. — and I’m way oversimplifying — “nothing” is the least likely of all states/conditions.

    But why is this ever a point of discussion with theists? Did their imagined gods and/or goddesses, for which there is no evidence, come from nothing? If not, if they “always existed”, why didn’t some version or part of the universe/multiverse we perceive all around all of us always exist?

    As ever, GM, theists want to have it both ways. Nope. If they can fantasize an eternal imperceptible entity, they’re stuck with the possibility of an eternal perceptible universe/multiverse.

  • Gord O’Mitey

    Y’all know I created the Universe outa nothin’, eh. Or, did I create it outa chaos? Shucks, I fergit, eh. An’ doncha feckin’ ask Me whut I wus created frum. If ya don’t have faith, I’ll feckin’ smite y’all, eh.

  • Gord O’Mitey

    Moderator, what is wrong with my satirical post, under my pseudonym that’s an approximation of God Almighty, “Y’all know I created the Universe outa nothin’, eh. Or, did I create it outa chaos? Shucks, I fergit, eh. An’ doncha feckin’ ask Me whut I wus created frum. If ya don’t have faith, I’ll feckin’ smite y’all, eh.”? This would be acceptable on all the other atheist blogs on Patheos.

  • Oro Lee

    “What is your evidence that there was nothing?”

  • My favorite response to “Why is there something rather than nothing?” is “So you think something is the default? How interesting–now defend that claim.”

  • Meena 2016

    The (positive) energy in the universe, linked to matter, may be equal to the (negative) energy, linked to gravitation, so that the total mass/energy of the universe may be ZERO.

    Thus the appearance of the universe did not violate the engery principle of conservation.

    The zero-energy universe theory originated in 1973, when Edward Tryon proposed in the journal Nature that the universe emerged from a large-scale quantum fluctuation of vacuum energy, resulting in its positive mass-energy being exactly balanced by its negative gravitational potential energy.

    So the universe is a separation of two things, which together amount to nothing.

    The US physicist Tryon did rough calculations that seemed to agree with his hypothesis. Subsequent work in the decades since all reinforce the hypothesis

    SEE: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zero-energy_universe
    WIKIPEDIA: The zero-energy universe

  • Yep, a fascinating theory. The universe is the ultimate free lunch.

    I never have understood, though, how anything can be “negative energy.”

  • Is there such a option as Omni-Gendered (the greatest magnitude of Genders), or simply Gender Indeterminate (Quantum Gendered)- implying that without observing the uncovered lower end of a deity’s trunk, one cannot be certain about which Gender is prominent at a particular moment of time?

    But hows about a Omni-hermaphrodite deity- (the greatest magnitude of both Male and Female Genders) . . . which could be like swiftly revolving gatling gun barrels with Male and Female aspects alternating at a ultra-rapid rate?

    But, what how does Junior (diety Junior?) gain the attribute of Gender Infliction? Would Driving Out Demons change the sex of the human person just cured?

  • abb3w

    But, what how does Junior (diety Junior?) gain the attribute of Gender Infliction?

    It doesn’t seem to matter to the conclusion how Junior has sufficient power, only that Junior has sufficient power.

  • Meena 2016

    Potential energy is due to fields – in this case the gravitational fields that exist across the universe. Fields exert forces. Gravity fields exert forces on masses. The force exerted by a gravity field on a mass always tends toward an energy that is lower – which is equivalent to adding a negative quantity to the energy equation.

  • Meena 2016

    “So you think nothing is the default……..?”

  • Fascinating, thanks.

  • “I’m not the one making the claim; you are. You say that something is the default, and I’m just asking for evidence.”

  • rationalobservations?

    It appears to many (who recognise the evidence of the “Big Bang” without needing to prove its origin) that the only folk who believe in something from nothing are creationists who believe in a god from nothing that wished the whole universe into existence from NOTHING.

  • “What’s your answer to the question, “how can you believe something came from nothing?” Let me know in the comments!”

    Ok, I will. You can believe it if you know nothing about the conservation of energy-matter or if you willingly reject the conclusion that energy-matter is conserved.

  • Something from nothing? That would be magic.

  • “a large-scale quantum fluctuation of vacuum energy” is not nothing.

  • I think something is the default. Why? If there was nothing, then there wouldn’t be anything now. But there is something now. Therefore, there was never nothing.

    Something comes from something, not from nothing.

  • There isn’t any such evidence. Something is the evidence there was never nothing.

  • I found Krauss’s book very weak from a philosophical perspective. Of course he hates philosophy.

    I agree with you that there has always be something.

  • Do we know that God does not exist?

  • Actually, you can find verses in their Bible that support both ideas: 1) God created the universe from something. vs. 2) God created the universe from nothing. If God did exist, there wouldn’t be this discrepancy in his book.

  • What some religious people could believe is that a god created the universe out of part of himself. I don’t believe this, but it is a viable hypothesis, more likely than creation from nothing.

  • Yes, that is what common sense tells us. I’m not sure that’s what cosmology and quantum physics tell us.

  • DrSkeep

    Our brains presume “something” and haven’t the toolkit to do “nothing”. My point is that it is easier, simpler, to accept an eternal universe/multiverse than an eternal entity that decided, a brief time ago by the eternal metric, to create this ephemeral world.

  • Bob Jase

    Which ones?

  • Bob Jase

    Which creation myths do you find viable? All include magic which is an automatic dis-qualifier imo.

  • Bob Jase

    Just what was Yahweh doing for the first half of eternity?

  • Derek Mathias

    Interestingly, I have only ever had one Christian tentatively offer that as an explanation, but he clearly was not comfortable with the concept. Everyone else seems to believe that God created the universe out of absolute nothingness.

  • The zero-energy universe hypothesis says that the universe is nothing.

  • Philosophers don’t tell us what’s at the frontier of science. That’s scientists.

  • John Conolley

    My answer is that something coming from nothing is the Christian belief, not science. Christian believe there was nothing, then God passed a miracle and there was something. Science doesn’t make any claim that nothing was ever a condition of the universe.

  • BJ1: Which ones?

    GW1: What do you mean by that question? There are many gods, but by definition there is only one “God.” My question was about God.

  • Well, it does depend on what we mean by “viable.” I am using the term to mean “logically possible, not contradictory, not internally inconsistent.” I believe almost all creation myths are viable in this sense, but also very unlikely or unsupported by good evidence.

    How do you define “magic”?

  • Yes, I know that it is a very uncommon idea, but I think it makes much more sense than creation out of nothing. By analogy, think of a human person cutting off their own hand and using it to make a whole new human being. Sort of the same idea. Something created from something — one’s self.

    Of course, I don’t believe this idea is true.

  • But this is not nothing.

  • I disagree. That would be the province of scientific philosophers or philosophical scientists. These professions blend at the “frontier of science.”

  • Art Davison

    Adding Gawd to the equation just adds more complexity. Where did he/she/it come from?

  • Dhammarato Atheist

    nothings is impossible 😀

  • Dhammarato Atheist

    and before god what was there?

  • Sure, scientists can do philosophy. I’m talking about philosophers doing science–that’s what I see none of.

  • Before which god? But if you are speaking of God, then the story is that God was always there.

    I believe that God does not exist.

  • Sam Harris has done science, but he doesn’t make his living at it. What about Daniel Dennett? He is a philosopher who uses the findings of science as the basis for his philosophizing, and does this very well. What about Jonathan Haidt? He is sort of both philosopher and social scientist.

    Science and philosophy were once highly integrated. It was called “Natural Philosophy.” They both fall in the Reason Toolbox.

  • Give me a philosopher (not a scientist) who has made scientific contributions at the frontier of science–cosmology or quantum physics, for example. I can think of no one.

  • You are moving the goal posts. You have not provided adequate definitions of “scientist,” “philosopher,” “scientific contribution,” or “frontier of science” to enable a sound answer. That would require some philosophizing.

    I think science involves theorizing, making predictions, and collecting data, but all of these might not be done by the same person.

    Take Albert Einstein for example. Did he ever collect any data? Very little or none. Was he a scientist, a philosopher, or both? I think he was both. In a similar way, I think Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett are both too.

    The line between science and philosophy is a fuzzy one, if there is any.

  • And you’ve done nothing to change my view that philosophers don’t do science. If you want to say that scientists do philosophizing, that’s fine–there’s your philosophy in science.

  • Martin Penwald

    From nothing 🙂

  • BS1: And you’ve done nothing to change my view that philosophers don’t do science. If you want to say that scientists do philosophizing, that’s fine–there’s your philosophy in science.

    GW1: The claim “All swans are white” can be refuted by finding one black or nonwhite swan. Similarly, your claim that no philosophers do science if refuted by finding one philosopher who does science. This philosopher is Sam Harris. So, your claim is refuted by a little good empirically-based philosophy. I am sure there are other exceptions to your claim, and eventually I will remember them or find them. Still, however, you never defined your main terms.

  • This philosopher is Sam Harris.

    Sam Harris is a scientist.

    Is the issue not clear? Show me a not-scientist philosopher who contributes to science. I know of none.

  • Would Junior’s power include getting his hands on a Honda Odyssey nearly 2,000 years prior to their appearance?
    (Recall that we are aware of his liking for the Accord model)

    He’s need more seating capacity (than an Accord has) to be able to drive out the merchants in the temple in a reasonable amount of time, after all.

  • I suspect our difference of opinion on this issue is the result of using different definitions of terms. You still have not presented your definitions of “scientist,” “philosopher,” “scientific contribution,” or “frontier of science”, as I previously requested.

    Part of doing good philosophy and good science is clearly defining terms.

    I disagree with you. At the least Sam Harris is a philosopher who has contributed to science. Is this not obvious?

  • I suspect our difference of opinion on this issue is the result of using different definitions of terms. You still have not presented your definitions of “scientist,” “philosopher,” “scientific contribution,” or “frontier of science”, as I previously requested.

    Sure, it’s possible that that’s the problem, but I doubt that our definitions are so far off that we can’t communicate.

    Thanks for the offer, but I don’t have time to go back and forth 10 comments as you criticize my definitions.

    I disagree with you.

    So then there are philosophers (who aren’t scientists) who have significantly contributed to research at the frontier of science? Give me some examples. If I’m intrigued by them, maybe then we can worry about definitions.

    At the least Sam Harris is a philosopher who has contributed to science. Is this not obvious?

    For the purpose of my argument, Sam Harris is a scientist who has contributed to science. Does he also do philosophy? Maybe—I don’t care. That’s not the point.

  • I still disagree with you, and our disagreement is not going to be solved by simply re-stating claims. I think it would require definitions of terms, and you aren’t willing to get into those weeds. So, we’ll just have to agree to disagree. Otherwise, good article.

  • Our brains have the toolkit to do “nothing.” It is just the opposite or negation of something. But I do agree with you that “something always existed” is simpler than the other relevant hypotheses.

  • “Half of eternity”? That’s a meaningless term.

  • Bob Jase

    No moreso than god.

  • I disagree. It is much more meaningless than most concepts of gods. How could you calculate half of eternity?

  • Bob Jase

    How do you calculate an omni god?

  • You can determine half of a finite set, but not of an infinite set.

    You can define an omni god in a meaningful way.

  • This would be neatly resolved if you could name a non-scientist philosopher who has made a significant contribution to the research at the frontier of science. If no names come to mind, I’m thinking that there may be none.

    Yes, we could agree to disagree, but I would like to resolve this. It has come up in other contexts (mostly WLC prancing around like a scientist, as if he (a philosopher) has something to add). If my argument has holes, I’d like to find out so I can stop using it.

  • If our universe is nothing (see the zero-energy universe hypothesis), then maybe we’re still at nothing.

  • It would be nice, but not necessary, that we came to an agreement.

    What is a scientist? What is a philosopher? If a person now doing philosophy once did science, is he now only a philosopher or is he both? What is a “significant contribution to research at the frontier of science? Who decides if it is significant? Who decides what the frontier of science is? The start of resolving disagreements is establishing a common language and identifying assumptions and premises. Then, we can go to the evidence. We don’t know what evidence to look for or present if we don’t have clearly defined concepts.

    I think we can agree straight away that WLC is not now a scientist and never has been. However, could he be correct that some god created the universe our of nothing? Sure he could! But there are no good reasons, arguments, or evidence to reach that conclusion. Other conclusions are better. I guess the fact that he is not a scientist reduces his credibility on the question.

  • I don’t think that makes any sense. Things exist! At the least my experience exists. The chair on which I am sitting seems to exist.

    I believe the State of Nothing never existed, as we have already discussed.

  • What is a scientist? What is a philosopher? If a person now doing philosophy once did science, is he now only a philosopher or is he both? What is a “significant contribution to research at the frontier of science? Who decides if it is significant? Who decides what the frontier of science is?

    If I didn’t know better, I’d think that you’re kicking up dust to protect a poor argument. Sure, I’d love to spend hours going back and forth to hammer out definitions, but that’s not going to happen. If you have an example, give it to me.

    The start of resolving disagreements is establishing a common language and identifying assumptions and premises.

    Oh, if only we shared a common language . . .

    I think we can agree straight away that WLC is not now a scientist and never has been.

    Good. Perhaps we can also agree that important contributions at the frontier of science today don’t come from non-scientists and that being a philosopher doesn’t help being useful in a field you don’t understand.

    However, could he be correct that some god created the universe our of nothing? Sure he could!

    And I can correctly predict coin flips 50% of the time . . . which means that I’m not predicting anything.

  • That hypothesis is just something to expand the conversation. Since you were talking about nothing, it seems relevant.

    Things exist! At the least my experience exists.

    Right, but let’s not rely on common sense at the frontier of science.

  • So, you want to have a discussion but only on your terms. Sorry, but that’s not going to happen.

    If you have a definition give it to me.

  • Ok, prove that nothing exists now and that nothing once existed. At the frontiers of science, we are left with speculations. But some are better than others. The best one is that something always existed and always will.

  • Bob Jase

    “So, you want to have a discussion but only on your terms. Sorry, but that’s not going to happen.”

    How kind of you to let Bob post on your blog/

  • Gosh, if there were only like a–what’s the word?–dictionary. Oh, well.

  • The best [speculation] is that something always existed and always will.

    Why? Sounds like you think that common sense is a reliable guide at the frontier of science. I would’ve thought that discoveries in quantum mechanics and cosmology would’ve taught you otherwise.

  • DrSkeep

    If you think your brain can do “nothing”, Gary — not even that mega-meme “I”, your consciousness — try, honestly and sincerely, to imagine your own nonexistence. Your only perpective for anything comes from your perception of “self”. Without that perception, with true “nothingness”, what tool in the brain-kit would your brain be using? I do not see how anyone can imagine true nothingness given the necessity of a platform from which to imagine.

  • DrSkeep

    Duking it out with Zeus and Thor and, my fave, Marduk for the god championship?

  • Who are you — Seidensticker’s attorney? If so, I hope he’s not paying you very much.

    Bob S stated his terms and I stated mine. He rejected my terms, so why should I just accept his? A discussion is a cooperative endeavor, not one-sided, or at least it should be cooperative.

  • If you wish to use a dictionary to define the terms you are using, that’s fine. Then present one definition for each of the terms I asked you about and we can proceed from there. You probably won’t find definitions for some of them, and then you’ll have to present your own anyway.

  • My mind can understand the concept of “nothing” as the opposite, converse, contradiction, or negation of “something.” I don’t know why your mind can’t. It is analogous to understanding the concept of unconsciousness as the negation of consciousness.

  • I regretfully decline your offer.

  • I regretfully accept your declination.

  • Starlady

    Greta Christina made a point which is not quite the same thing, but it’s definitely related.
    Number of times people used to think Thing had a supernatural explanation and then found a scientific explanation – thousands at least. Probably starting with tides, wind and fire, tiny eggs accounting for “sponteneous” maggots in rotten meat, microbes causing disease, all the way through to relativity altering the orbit of Mercury and the utter weirdness of quantum physics.
    Number of times people used to think Thing had a scientific explanation and then found a supernatural explanation – so far exactly zero.
    So I have absolutely no clue what created the Big Bang, but a scientific explanation seems a gazillion times more likely than God. And anyway, if God exsts, where did he come from?

  • Meena 2016

    Some peole think that there is a related matter in mathematice.
    Mathematics may be considered to be the theory of “sets”. Sets of numbers, for example dfferents sets for different types of numbers etc and sets of other things.

    An interesting set is the empty set – a set that has no members. It can be shown the every possible set can be produced by various arrangements of the empty set. Is mathematice tyring to tell us something?

  • Meena 2016

    It is zero if the negative addition (due to gravity fields in the universe) is equal to the positive energy linked to matter in the universe. Whch it does seem to be.

  • Meena 2016

    See comment re. set theory in pure mathematice. It can be shown that every possible set can be produced from the empty set.

  • But gravity fields and matter are not nothing.

  • The target here is not mathematics. It is physics and metaphysics. It is likely that everything in math is not represented or reflected in physical reality.

  • rationalobservations?

    …. And magic is as delusional as gods from nothing wishing an infinite universe into existence from NOTHING.

  • DrSkeep

    I think you’ve made my point, Gary. There is, as yet, no agreed description/definition of human consciousness — we don’t know what it is — so your “negation of consciousness” is necessarily also vague/fuzzy/opaque, i.e., not a firm concept in your mind like, e.g., “the Andromeda galaxy”. “Nothingness” is an order of magnitude less graspable than “negation of consciousness”. You and I can share the words you use, but the realities represented by those words remain beyond us.

  • Meena 2016

    If the positive energy associated with matter (this includes radiations of all kinds) is equal to the negative energy associated with gravity fields, then the total energy is zero. These + and – do seem to be equal. A little more time will tell us for sure.

    If you cannot fully comprehend why gravity field energy is a negative quantity, that is understandable – but you must accept the knowledge of the physicists who do understand this.

  • Meena 2016

    Gravity fields and matter both are types of energy. One holding positive energy and the other negative energy. It does seem that these two energies are equal in size – one a positive quantity and the other an equal negative quantity. +X plus -X = zero

  • rationalobservations?

    Evidence of the nonexistence of the nonexistent is nonexistent because the nonexistent is nonexistent.

    Applies to any of the gods and goddesses “from nothing” as much as any other hypothesis of a universe “from nothing”.

  • Or even a finite universe.

  • DS3: I think you’ve made my point, Gary.

    GW3: I think not.

    DS3: There is, as yet, no agreed description/definition of human consciousness — we don’t know what it is — so your “negation of consciousness” is necessarily also vague/fuzzy/opaque, i.e., not a firm concept in your mind like, e.g., “the Andromeda galaxy”.

    GW3: I disagree. There is a consensus now among neuroscientists, psychologists, and philosophers on the definition of consciousness. Here is the gist of it: Consciousness is a state of cognitive awareness, alertness, wakefulness, or receptivity through at least one sensory modality but usually more than one, in association with neuronal activity in parts of the brain. When a person goes to sleep at night and is not dreaming, he is unconscious, and when he awakens in the morning, he is conscious. Consciousness becomes operative in the human organism when the brain reaches a certain size and complexity at around 24 weeks after conception.

    DS3: “Nothingness” is an order of magnitude less graspable than “negation of consciousness”.

    GW3: Nothingness is the negation or absence of everything. That’s not difficult to understand.

    DS3: You and I can share the words you use, but the realities represented by those words remain beyond us.

    GW3: No, these words designate concepts which we can understand.

  • What you have described, even if accurate, is not nothing.

  • Once again, gravity fields and matter are not nothing. They are something.

  • Have you read the Wikipedia article on the zero-energy universe hypothesis?

  • ?? The point is that they’re negative something! Are you not paying attention?

  • rationalobservations?

    The universe is expanding at a frantic rate with no discernable boundaries or limit to that expansion. If it is “finite”, please offer evidence of that?

  • I just read it. I see nothing there to suggest that there was once Absolute Nothing or that everything came from nothing. If you think so, then explain and justify your opinion.

  • Are you not paying attention? I have read nothing or heard nothing to suggest that there was once Absolute Nothing or that everything came from nothing. If you think so, then explain and justify your opinion.

  • You have misunderstood my comment. It is delusional to think that any god could wish either an infinite or finite universe into existence from NOTHING. I think we agree.

    But you would need to say finite or infinite in what respect.

    I suspect our universe is finite in the number of basic particles of which it consists and is finite in the space it currently occupies, but I could be mistaken. Maybe the expansion will continue forever.

  • No one’s gonna get ol’ Gary to defend anything! Nope–he only attacks.

    You said, “gravity fields and matter are not nothing. They are something.” You now see the problem with that, right? No one said that were nothing!

    This is where you say to @meenanew2016:disqus , “Ah, I get it now. I see your point. Thanks for that.”

  • I already defended the idea that there was never Absolute Nothing. I know you read it. So your claim here is refuted at the outset.

    Nobody knows what happened before the Big Bang. Heck, some physicists claim there was no “before.” The best approach is to say that we don’t know. There are several speculations, but I don’t think any is much better than any other. I am skeptical of these mathematical contortions which have been offered in this discussion. What can be done in math cannot always find representation in physics. I’ll give you an example. For a long time, it was said that our universe began with a Singularity — an infinitely dense infinitely hot point of energy. This never made much sense to me. A point is a geometric concept, not a physical concept. It was just that the “primordial particle” or whatever you want to call it approximated a point, not that it was a point.

    I don’t see Meena’s point, so I don’t think I should say I do.

  • rationalobservations?

    You may be interested to look up scientific papers and articles regarding the eventual “Heat death” of the universe?

    There appears nothing to stop the cold dark lifeless future universe expanding forever into infinity.

    Since we agree upon the fantastic improbability of any of the gods and creation myths invented by ancient ignorant barbarians – the status and fate of the universe appears a side issue.

  • I am familiar with those predictions. Even if they turn out to be correct, there won’t be nothing. There will still be something. Agree?

  • DrSkeep

    If you offer your imagined “consensus” definition of consciousness seriously, Gary, you missed all that required reading during the past couple of decades. Every “man on the street” knows what consciousness is, eh? Where to begin? For an overview of how far off you are, Susan Blackmore’s “Consciousness: An Introduction” would be a good start. For a deeper dive, Dennett’s “Consciousness Explained” could be next. And/or you could attend this year’s Science Of Consciousness conference for a brief idea of the state of the research, thinking and deep, wide disagreement; begins April 12 in Tucson. See you there?

    Re: the ungraspability of “nothing” — the act of negation requires an agent that/who negates; there is no free-floating negation. If you have those negating agents, “something”, you don’t have “nothing”.

    As I suggested, you and I may be able to say “the Mandarin language” with no detailed understanding of that language; we may say “gods that rise from the dead” or “immortal souls”, nonexistent fact-based-reality categories, while only one of us understands such a fantasy-category to be the foundation of his life and the other a delusion; we may say “nothingness” with one of us using your nonfunctional aphorism, more a tautology than an actual definition, and the other not.