You can’t get there from here
It’s difficult, thus far impossible, to get Enlightened persons to understand nothing. Lord knows it’s been tried. Some physicists—Larry Krauss, Vic Stenger, Stephen Hawking, others—make a nice living misunderstanding nothing. Still, where there’s life there’s hope. So let’s try again.
Nothing is no thing. It is not some thing. It is not some thing very small or difficult to see. It is not some thing far away in time or distance. It is not a quantum field, for a field is something. It is not a set of mathematical or physical laws, for sets of laws are something. It is obviously not an infinity of universes, for an infinity of universes is certainly something. It is not time, for time is not nothing.
I assure you, dear reader, whatever exceptions you believe you have discovered to this definition are mistaken. Nothing means just what it says: nothing. That’s our first premise.
Second premise: some things exist. Like the monitor or screen on which you’re reading this. Even you exist and are something, despite what our government or some rogue materialist philosopher might have told you.
This leads to the Big Question: why is all this stuff here? Pay attention, now. I do not mean to ask, though we will ask later, when all this stuff got here, but I want to know why anything is here right now, right this very moment.
Well, no surprise that the answer is God, a.k.a. I Am That I Am. If you don’t find that name spine tingling, even if you’re an unbeliever, than you haven’t understood it. And you must understand it, because it is this God you claim to reject (with all the others). So let’s try to.
You yourself are composed of parts, you are made of things which are in movement in the sense that they change, perhaps not from one place to another, but from actual states to other potential states. Example? Well, you have to scroll down to read this article, so you move your hand to the mouse (say), press its button, and drag the mouse to scroll the page.
Your hand moves because the muscles pullings on tendons and bones move simultaneously, and your muscles contract because of changes (which don’t matter here) inside the cells, and these changes occur because of chemical interactions, which are themselves changes in the position of certain electrons, protons, and neutrons, and these change because (to make it short) the quantum field in which these objects are “embedded” changes, and the field changes…because why?
Well, because of something. Maybe because there is something smaller and more fundamental than the field that causes the field to change, but anyway something is causing it to change. Even if there is something smaller and more fundamental than the field, this series of simultaneous, here-and-now causes-and-effects must have a first cause, a base which starts the whole thing off. This simultaneous, here-and-now cause-and-effect chain can not go on forever. It must terminate somewhere or nothing could ever happen.
The whole shebang must have a first cause, a cause which itself is not caused by anything else. Now it doesn’t take much to see that it’s this same first cause that must also be causing every other simultaneous, here-and-now cause-and-effect chain. Every as in every. This first cause, as we’ll see, is why there is something and not nothing right here and right now.
This first uncaused cause is what we call Being Itself, the Unmoved Mover, I Am That I Am, which is to say, God.
You can get something from God
Judaism and Christianity are not the only traditions to have noted these curious facts, albeit in different contexts. Hart: “Everything available to the senses or representable to the mind is entirely subject to annicha (to use the Buddhist term): impermanence, mutability, transience.” God “is beyond all mere finite beings, and is himself that ultimate ground upon which any foundations must rest. Thus the Mundaka Upanishad speaks of Brahma, the first-born among the gods, coming forth from Brahma, the eternal Godhead who is the source of all being”.
What of existence itself? It “lies logically beyond the system of causes that nature comprises; it is, quite literally, ‘hyperphysical,’ or, shifting into Latin, super naturam.” Boy, howdy, is that a frightening word. Just imagining the demons set loose upon “reason” by this word is probably what causes prominent scientists to confuse a universe (or multiverse, or whatever stuff there is) transitioning “from one physical state to another, one manner of existence to another” with coming into being out of nothing.
These guys figure that if the somethings they describe are smaller and more basic, that somehow the infinite bridge between non-existence and existence can be crossed. This is an example “of what might be called the ‘pleonastic fallacy’: that is, the belief that an absolute qualitative difference can be overcome by a successive accumulation of extremely small and entirely relative quantitative steps.”
More metaphysics, which are the physics beyond the physics, the stuff which we must know before we can even discuss, say, molecular bonding and quantum chromodynamics. We need at least these two things:
[T]the Principle of Causation—whatever does not have the cause of its existence in itself must be caused to exist by something beyond itself—and the Principle of Sufficient Reason—any true proposition1 must have some sufficient explanation for why it is true…The latter principle in some sense presumes the former, because a proposition about an event or about some object’s existence will generally be explicable chiefly by reference to the cause of that event or object.
And hear Hart makes my heart sing: “But one must remember that propositions can be true in a numbers of ways, depending on their form and content, and that propositions are not “caused” to be true, even if they are true because they accurately describe how something has been caused.” The distinction between what we know and what is must not be forgot, though it often is. That is, we can’t mix up these two principles, and it’s the Principle of Causation which is of more importance to the question “Why is there anything?”
Now since the universe (or multiverse, or whatever) is logically contingent on something for its existence, and since this something cannot be itself by the Principle of Causation, it must be contingent on something outside itself, i.e. the “Absolute”. What’s what? You say that not everything needs a cause? Well, you can say it, you can even imagine it, but you can’t really believe or conceive of it. For once you imagine any “inexplicable”, “uncaused” event (The philosopher Edward Feser has a purple rabbit, or whatever, popping “into existence” in front of you), you immediately ask, “How did that get there?”
“Not so, Briggs. You have failed to consider quantum mechanics, where we know there are no ‘hidden variables’ causing things which are unpredictable.” True, but that does not mean that “nothing” causes these events, just that we finite stuck-in-time beings cannot know what it is. But we know enough that we can pin the probability of events occurring. And by the Principle of Sufficient Reason these probabilities are all conditional2 on the knowledge of certain things already existing; i.e. quantum events “do not literally emerge from nonexistence” but in the presence of the already-existing subatomic soup.
As for when it all got here, well, Hart like Aquinas and most other theologians are content to let Science (it must be capitalized) tell us. The universe (etc.) might have been here forever, expanding and contracting and doing its dance, or it might have got its start some thirteen billion years ago. Or there might really be a multiverse (or whatever). All fascinating questions, but regardless of when, Science can never ultimately say why.
One last thing, to those who shout, “Sez you! God might have caused the universe, but what caused God? Ha!” This retort shows two things: that I have done a poor job showing that God is a logically necessary being and that He must exist, and that in making this argument you are conceding the unpalatability of the infinite regress (think about it).
A simple Being
Hart goes into detail about how God is metaphysically “simple”, i.e. that He is not composed of parts, that He is unchangeable and what “unchangeable” means, that He exists outside time and what that really means, that He is utterly transcendent and just what that means.
That we can only speak analogically of God, or negatively: we can say what God is not. After all, none of us has any idea what it’s like out at infinity, and we have only the dimmest concept of what (say) omnipotence or omniscience are. We say God is good and wise, but those terms are only crude approximations, because really they are the same thing. God is simple in that his essence and existence are the same.
But I have used up my space so you’ll have to refer to the book for these details.
Next time: God and consciousness.
1Hart also has some interesting things to say about Fregean-style analytic philosophy that I am anxious to discuss, such as the view (he doesn’t put it this way) that if only we can work out just the write symbols, where each symbols is perfectly defined and unique, then we can have a purely logical language. As the kiddies say, good luck with that!
2As I say again and again and as nauseam, all probability is conditional.