Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Why something rather than nothing? Part I

I’m beginning a series of posts centered on the age old existential philosophical question of “Why something exists, as opposed to nothing at all?”  I intend to survey many (different) naturalistic answers to this question, and, since I’m obviously not a naturalist, demonstrate why I believe they fall short.

I have decided to begin with the answer that is most wrong-headed and nonsensical. Unfortunately, this is a common response among naturalists and scientists today, and has been promulgated, as of late, by some of the best known contemporary naturalists. Here is a sample of common answers that lie in the same vein:
“[Nothing] should perhaps be better termed as a ‘void,’ which is what you get when you apply quantum theory to space-time itself. It’s about as nothing as nothing can be. This void can be described mathematically. It has an explicit wave function. This void is the quantum gravity equivalent of the quantum vacuum in quantum field theory.”

"[E]mpty space, which for many people is a good first example of nothing, is actually unstable. Quantum mechanics will allow particles to suddenly pop out of nothing and it doesn't violate any laws of physics. Just the known laws of quantum mechanics and relativity can produce 400 billion galaxies each containing 100 billion stars and then beyond that it turns out when you apply quantum mechanics to gravity, space itself can arise from nothing, as can time. It seems impossible but it’s completely possible and what is amazing to me is to be asked what would be the characteristics of a universe that came from nothing by laws of physics. It would be precisely the characteristics of the universe we measure."

“Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.”

These answers were promulgated by physicists Victor Stenger, Lawrence Krauss, and Stephen Hawking respectively, and they all suffer from the same problem: namely, what they’re describing is not nothing. Nothing is, simply, complete non-existence, that is, the absence of anything, at all. But, according to these scientists, “nothing” (pictured at left) is unstable, empty space, governed by the laws of gravity and quantum mechanics, and has a wave function. This definition seems to satisfy these physicists because “[i]t’s about as nothing as nothing can be.”

 However, we’re not looking for as close a definition of nothing that physics can provide, rather, we’re looking for absolute nothingness. The question is why something exists rather than nothing, not why something exists rather than empty space governed by the laws of physics.

 That being said, even if we granted them their definition, they have still failed to answer the question. For the laws of physics that they have appealed to—e.g. the laws of gravity, quantum mechanics, and relativity—do not, and cannot, explain the emergence of existence. Why? Because laws only describe the nature of what already exists. The law of gravity only describes how matter behaves at certain parts of the universe. Similarly, the laws of quantum mechanics only describe how sub-atomic particles behave. Notice that you must first have matter and sub-atomic particles in order for these laws to be binding. So, obviously, you must have something before physical laws can even begin to impart explanation.

 The physicists, then, have missed the mark. They cannot even use correct semantics involved in this discussion, and even if they did, their answers presuppose the very concept they’re attempting to account for.

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