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Why Does Anything at all Exist? — 4 Comments

  1. There is a weirdness to the question, I think, because you have set it up as a paradox. You are only willing to accept an explanation of reality from something outside of that reality. But look at how strange that criterion is: The totality of all being can only be adequately explained by something other than what is included in that totality. But, the totality includes everything. As you know, I agree with Russell’s view – The existence of something rather than nothing is a “brute fact.” But, to clarify – It is true, but there is literally no reason beyond that reality why it is true.

    And, it seems odd that you would find the brute fact of reality to be repugnant, but the existence of God as a brute fact to be so warm and cozy.

    There is an alternative that you haven’t included, proposed by Kant. Why is there something rather than nothing? Because rational beings could not conceive of reality in any other way….

    Given that no one has ever had any experience of nothing, and could not even conceive of nothingness (without reference to something), why do we even consider Nothing to be a possible alternative to something. As Parmenides explained so eloquently, “That which can be spoken and thought needs must
    be; for it is possible for it, but not for nothing, to be.1 (270)” Nothing is not possible, reality is. Fact. Brutally.

    • Thanks for the excellent counter-point, Paul. You express the view more common than mine among contemporary philosophers.
      It is true, of course, that ‘everything’ cannot be explained by its being caused by something else—something not included in ‘everything.’ That would be self-contradictory—an incoherent, nonsensical idea. But that is just another way of demonstrating that not everything can have a causal explanation. So that fact ‘Something exists rather than nothing’ cannot have a causal explanation.
      So, it cannot have an explanation at all.
      Whoa! Wait! Back up a step.
      To infer from ‘There is no causal explanation’ to ‘There is no explanation at all’ assumes that there is no other kind of explanation available. But, of course, there is another kind of explanation: conceptual explanation—the sort of explanation exemplified in mathematics, and philosophy, actually.
      One could assume, as many have asserted, that the existence of something cannot have a conceptual explanation. But I know of no good argument for that. The best argument is that the ordinary objects we are familiar with all have causal, not conceptual, explanations. But there is a rather substantial inductive leap from that to ‘Nothing existent could have a conceptual explanation.’
      So here’s our choice:
      1) ‘There is something rather than nothing’ is a “brute fact” having, literally, no explanation.
      Or,
      2) There is something that has to exist for conceptual reasons—which has, then, an explanation.
      I find the latter more plausible than the former.

      I don’t actually believe that the existence of God is a brute fact. I’m not ‘warm and cozy’ with brute facts at all—even about God. I think the reality that must exist, for conceptual reasons, is God.
      But whether ‘the ultimate reality’ (uncaused by anything else) is a brute fact, or must exists for conceptual reasons, I find God to be the most plausible candidate. As Richard Swinburne has argued, the concept of a single being with unlimited causal power being the ultimate cause of everything else is a simpler hypothesis than any alternative hypothesis consistent with what we know.

      That there couldn’t really have been nothing, for purely conceptual reasons, is, of course, my thesis. There having been nothing is as incoherent as 2+2=10 (interpreted as we normally do). For purely conceptual reasons, that couldn’t have happened. But that isn’t just a limitation of our psychology. It’s the way things actually are—indeed have to be—couldn’t have been otherwise.
      Of course my view would be much more convincing if it were as obvious that ‘Nothing exists’ couldn’t have really happened as it is that 2+2=10 couldn’t really have happened. It would be much more convincing if I actually knew the conceptual explanation of why something has to exist. Alas I do not.
      But I find it more plausible that there is an explanation none of us have been able to fathom than that there isn’t one (because we haven’t been able to think of it?).

  2. String Theory suggests that there may be “Universes” where nothing exists and that in fact there may be flat Universes or Universes where time runs differently. I however would agree with the ultimate conclusion as to first causes (God) not so much because something exists or not but because of the ultimate “Laws” upon which a give universe will or will not operate. One should ask the fundamental question, why does energy, gravity and time exist at all. All universes regardless of having matter or not must still operate according to rules governed by its characteristics. If this is not the case then it must be proven that those universes do not obey those “Physics” laws, even one where no matter exists at all.

    A random set of universes does not explain the governing principles by which makes life possible.

    • I am inclined to believe in the ‘multiverse’ for theological reasons, believe it or not, not just for reasons of physical theory.
      But I am also inclined to think those theories which are reported to hold that there are universes where nothing exists – or where this universe came ‘from nothing’ – are mis-described; there is not literally nothing in those scenarios.
      Regardless, I think you are right that we still need an explanation of why there are many universes following different laws; we need an explanation of the law(s) which govern (and produce?) them all.
      So I also agree that the ‘fine tuning’ argument for God is powerful even if there are many universes.

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