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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

What a novel idea: something from nothing

An 'interesting” letter appeared in yesterday's Sydney Morning Herald. It was written in response to someone else's criticism of Stephen Hawking's incredible claim that the universe's existence comes down to nothing more than one very big accident or an almost infinite series of chance events. The writer, someone so obviously unexposed to, let alone actually trained in, even the most elementary philosophical principles, objected to the earlier writer's judgement that it was unreasonable to argue for the universe's coming into existence without a Designer. Here is what he – oh heck! let's call him, say, Ian Stewart of Davidson - claimed: “You just have to get your head around the idea of nothingness. Then it's quite easy. There was nothing, then the universe created itself spontaneously.”

My first impression was that this was a superb piece of mickey taking – you know, ostensibly quite serious, but really a parody in order to expose one's opponent's truly weak argument. However, reading further and seeing Ian Stewart of Davidson's unequivocal religious belief in the non-existence of God, I could see Ian Stewart of Davidson was writing a spoof-free letter to the editor and was actually presenting the idea that an ontological nothing can produce an actual something, that something in fact being a universe! When put so straightforwardly and unencumbered by technical jargon, this snippet of paralogical nonsense would surely leave even the most dogged atheist philosopher embarrassed and speechless.

Universities full of philosophers, for millennia, have scorned such unmitigable obtuseness, so I won't add anything except to say this. If an actual nothing, a zero, can produce a yet-to-be-fully-measured universe, then why on earth am I putting all my money into a bank? Surely the best thing I can do is to spend, spend, spend until my balance is nada, and then patiently wait until it begins to go back into the black....all by itself. You know, before long, on Ian Stewart of Davidson's philosophical outlook on reality, I won't have to invent Windows or Cochlea Ear Implants to become the richest man in the universe – chance and time will take care of that!

Evolution says much the same thing: no genetic information in the beginning is able to produce whole libraries full of the weightless "stuff" all obeying an “invisible” code. Or more simply, non-life is able to produce life, without so much as a skerrick of empirical demonstration.

It seems like the world is full of Ian Stewarts. How sad then that the Sydney Anglican Diocese encourages the Ian Stewarts of this world to flourish by subscribing to an evolutionary worldview.


neil moore said...

I suppose some troubled soul might declare "Well, there have been several cases of people having little or no money in their bank account and 'hey presto' a large sum appears in the account due to a bank error."

This, of course, misses the point of John's blog. The appearance of the money in such circumstance is an error by an errant mind (whether computer hardware/software designer or by information transcriber), not by nothingness.


John said...

True, Neil, but sometimes such "errors" are due to fraud i.e. design.

Healyhatman said...

If one thing (God) doesn't need a cause, why is it such a leap that other things can be without cause as well?

John said...

I'm sorry Healy but you must be drunk or whacked on some bongs because your syntax makes little sense in acceptable English. On the more than likely possibility that you won't sober up/straighten out I'll try and make what sense I can out of your gibberish in a day or so and then respond.

John said...

Healy asks: "If one thing (God) doesn't need a cause, why is it such a leap that other things can be without cause as well?"

There are about a hundred and one I'll give you a few.

1. We are talking about ultimate explanations, not the particularised ones you imply i.e. Why is everything here Vs Why does Healy's bong exist?
2. Your assertion is incomplete. It left out a key logical descriptor which would reduce your statement to a paralogism. Your question should have been stated this way, “If one thing (God) doesn't need a cause, why is it such a leap that other CONTINGENT things can be without cause as well?” God is not one contingent “thing” among all other contingent things. If God were, he would not be God. God, by definition, is a necessary “thing”. Of course, by arguing that all other things have no cause you could be claiming that all other things are necessary things i.e. have not come into existence but are eternal. My advice is two-pronged a. See below, and, b. See an optician
3. Necessary beings don't need a cause because they do not, by definition, come into existence and so are uncaused. Everything we see around us has come into existence and so is in need of causal reference i.e. The Principle of Sufficient Reason.
4. The materialist is faced with choosing between a raft of illogical and/or unsound options: a. Matter is eternal and thus must explain the origin all those phenomena, like biological information, that aren't material b. Matter is not eternal and the universe came out of nothing i.e. nothing produced something c. A myriad of contingent entities is able to overcome the metaphysical problem of being ontologically insufficient to be their own ultimate explanation for themselves d. The negation of the metaphysic that says the existence of one contingent being is demonstration of the existence of a necessary being e. Since we notice things all the time coming into existence, then for something's coming into existence to be not caused by another being's but its own, then that something's present existence must have been caused by itself before it existed i.e. before it existed it created itself.
5. Can you empirically demonstrate a few things that exist and have come into existence without a cause for their existence?