Thursday, August 25, 2011

Ex Nihilo?

Expansion of Spacetime and All its Contents
(Image from Wikipedia)

Over at the Marmot's Hole, some folks were arguing about the rationality, or lack thereof, for belief in God. I usually stay out of those discussions there because there's too much ad hominem for my tastes, but the issue of "something from nothing" came up, i.e., whether the universe could suddenly begin to exist purely ex nihilo or whether a God were needed to perform the creative act to produce the universe ex nihilo, so I offered a speculation:
The question of the metaphysical foundation of the universe is an interesting one, at least for me. The appeal to an infinite series of universes seems to imply that our particular universe would never have been reached, for one cannot count to infinity. There would thus seem to have had to be a beginning of a finite sequence of universes.

But I end up in a Kantian sort of antinomy.

Either the first universe to come into existence was dependent for its existence upon something metaphysical that is extratemporal, or the first universe to come into existence was dependent upon nothing at all and popped into existence truly ex nihilo.

The former might appear more rational, for that extratemporal metaphysical entity would be the noncontingent ground of all contingent things, and we might consider 'irrational' the view that something could simply pop into existence ex nihilo, but what barrier would 'irrationality' be to utter nothingness?

The choice leaves me intellectually stumped.
I didn't really get a response on that Marmot's Hole thread (not even a query about my allusion to the Kalam argument), and I halfway never expected one, so I've reposted here, partly out of a need to post something this morning. And yes, I realize that I've raised this sort of question here at Gypsy Scholar before and have received replies of the sort that argue that for something to just pop into existence is contrary to reason, but the question still nags at me.

I guess my problem with this argument is that I can't quite see what hindrance irrationality poses to utter nothingness.


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At 3:27 PM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

Some time ago I worked out a philosophy/theology which - in brief - runs like this:

1. In the origin, just God and nothing[ness];

2. God alters Its relationship towards the nothing, It basically 'recoils';

3. This causes a 'shock' to the nothing, which therefore turns into no-nothing = something.

- - -

P.S. The use of "It" implies the tautology that God is not a man. As to God recoiling, see the theory of Zimzum by Isaac Luria.

At 4:36 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Is there a difference between "just God" and "just God and nothing[ness]"?

(The "just" meaning "only," not "righteous.")

I see you're in Kabbalah.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:24 PM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

Oh, yes, it simply meant "only God." This is why He/It could not create/make the universe but "out of nothing."

I should check it better, but sort of remember that Isaac Luria's views were 'against' the Kabbalah, i.e. he did not see God as being in everything but as 'drawing back' from everything, thus creating an "open space" to things.

At 7:55 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I didn't check, but I seem to recall "Zimzum" as being a Kabbalistic idea.

How can there be a relationship with "nothing"? That seems to imply that it has some properties -- or at least one, the ability to have a relationship.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:23 PM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

Of course, this does not claim to be any "true theology," it is only a joke ---tho', vice versa, jokes are the only serious things.

Anyway, say, hmm, Nothing[ness] "as such, in se" has no properties, except that in fact it stops being "nothing" as soon as God, the only being Being, 'shifts' (metaphysically, not in space).

At 8:27 PM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

An example: a still pool, into which a stone suddently falls.

Yeah, I "play El" (word verification)


At 9:05 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

A metaphysical shift leaves 'room' for something where before was nothing?

A lot of unpacking of terms would be necessary to bring precision, I reckon.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:11 PM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

"Nothing" as the impossibility of things, sort of a wall.

The Zimzum as the creating of a "practicable" space.
See the Spirit according to Raimon Panikkar (the Indo-European thinker I have been called to take part in the international team working on the opera omnia of).

At 3:57 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I think that true "nothingness" would be utter absence -- no entities and no properties whatsoever.

Congratulations on the project.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

These things always turn into ad hominem attacks. I don't know why I first ventured into it.

I do know a few cool headed agnostic/atheist friends. I figured abcde might be one of those cool-headed types.

At 4:57 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

The alphabet is smart, but seems to have an ax to grind about religion.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:54 AM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

Congratulations on the project.

*GASP* Oh my God... I mean, ahy Me!... you discovered my secret identity!

:-D :-D :-D

At 6:09 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Discovered? Only if 'discovery' means reading your comment . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:51 AM, Anonymous Tom Ball said...

There was recently a program on one of the "scientific" channels here, in which Stephen Hawking explained why reasonable people shouldn't believe God created the universe. His ultimate argument, at least as far as he was able to express it in the time allotted, was that there was no such thing as time "before" the big bang, so there was no time in which He could work His magic. Infuriatingly small minded from a person of his calibre. You might as easily say He couldn't have created the universe because there was nowhere to stand while doing it. But you can't argue with Hawking. Literally. At least if you do it takes months.

At 8:09 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I'll let Hawking sort things out with God . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:19 PM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

Infuriatingly small minded from a person of his calibre

Yes, he does not give his best on such occasions. He is perfectly free to be an atheist and explain why, but his 'reasonings' on God are often 'unbelievably' rough (as it happens with some Italian scientists too, on the other hand). Once he even said, "Who created the Creator?"

At 5:50 PM, Anonymous Scott A. said...

Science is based in part on repetition. You observe. Analyze. Then seek to replicate for analysis or find nearly identical phenomenon to analyze. You have to have enough replicated data before you can move beyond a mere hypothesis. It takes a lot to make it to the point of becoming scientific law. (Or it should…)

Besides the intellectual inability to contemplate a complete nothingness – something void of even space – the above is another reason why I can’t believe in the Big Bang Theory.

We have no other examples of something coming from nothing to go by.

In the billions of years that the universe has been in existence since the BB, why haven’t other universes popped into being that we can observe?

Why do we not have evidence of things popping out of nothing everywhere?

Given the amount of time since the BB, you’d have to have expected to find a few other examples of gigantic things appearing out of nowhere and nothing.

At 5:55 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Perhaps we live in a universe with constraints that prevent "something from nothing" . . . or perhaps we wouldn't recognize something from nothing even if it happened before our eyes.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:51 PM, Blogger Hathor said...

It was my understanding that the universe didn't come from nothing.?The question would be where did that infinitesimal unit of energy containing all the energy.of the universe came from.

At 10:57 PM, Anonymous Scott A. said...

Besides the something from nothing concept, I can't, and I don't think anybody can, contemplate an absolute nothing -- something void of even space much less matter and energy.

I can't contemplate an edge to our universe beyond which there is an absolute nothing - and absolute nothing that our universe is somehow expanding into. How do you expand into an absolute nothing?

At 11:00 PM, Anonymous Scott A. said...

The Big Bang Never Happened is about 20 years old but is a book worth reading on cosmology, mathmatics, and science. It fits the title in its focus, and it is written by someone with a math and science background, but he is good at getting a laymen into it without getting lost. It is a historical look from a specific opinion/point of view that favors an alternative scientific hypothesis.

At 5:35 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

You're right, Hathor, the Big Bang theory doesn't actually start with nothing.

But since a series of events, in our case a series of universes, could never stretch back into infinity, for our universe would never have been reached, then the series must be finite, so where did that first "infinitesimal unit of energy containing all the energy" come from?

My question is thus similar to yours.

Suggested Answer: Either from nothing, or from some extratemporal ground of being.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:41 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

The concept of "nothingness" is hard to grasp, and we have a tendency to reify it, but we can approach comprehension by negation, subtracting all properties and even 'substracting' existence.

As for the Big Bang, it's currently the most plausible theory, but there have always been competing theories, and we don't really know if we've arrived at the final truth even when all the evidence seems to be accounted for. Something new always turns up.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:01 AM, Anonymous Scott A. said...

The property of space is one I can't comprehend erasing.

If the Big Bang Theory postulates that there was a tiny spec containg all the necessary elements to produce all matter and energy in our universe, then the universe itself would already exist in the form of space into which the explosion could expand.

I always thought the idea was that our universe expanded (and was continuing to expand) into an absolute nothing....?

If not, then, as GS says, who created the infinitesimal unit of energy or how it came to be is still the fundamental metaphysical question...

At 8:11 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

According to the Big Bang theory, space comes into existence with the 'Bang' -- as does time.

What's "GS"?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:41 AM, Anonymous Scott A. said...

GS = You... :)

So, if space is created at the same time as the Big Bang, then how could it not be coming out of nothing? How can there be something without space? Or time?

If, perhaps, the only space before the BB was that which the infinitesimal unit of energy occupied, how could it expand beyond that? What did it expand into?

If the energy was infinitesimal, how could it be contained? -- which could justify the need for a BB -- but -- then -- why do some say the expansion of the universe will eventually end? If the energy was infinte then, how could it be finite now? And again, if the universe is expanding today, and space was created at the start of the BB, what is the universe expanding into ?

(I'm frankly not convinced time exists beyond the perception/imagination of man.)

These kinds of questions are what has caused me to question the BB theory and cosmology as a whole. Not my religious beliefs.

At 8:48 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Ah, so that's what "GS" stands for. I thought you were citing some reputable authority.

I guess that an infinitesimal wouldn't require any space.

I know too little to attempt an answer to your questions, but evidence supports the theory of expansion. I suppose the infinitesimal is a mathematical extrapolation into the past.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:04 AM, Anonymous Scott A. said...

The Big Bang Never Happened book goes into the evidence used to support the BB theory and seeks to refute it.

By the way, he isn't attacking it from a religious perspective either but in favor of an alternative involving plasma theory.

You have to be a scientist to understand it all, and it means little to my life...

...but....I really wonder......500 years from now, will Enstein and those who grew from him look as foolish as scientists 500 years before him? How many of these complex, odd sounding ideas that are scientific gospel today be laughed at by school children they way we laughed at the idea of a flat earth?

I'd really like to see that...

At 9:07 AM, Anonymous Scott A. said...

I see I confused the words infinte and infinitesimal in my reading...


Still brings up related questions. How could something just approaching a nothing suddenly explode into creating everything?

Saying it was infinitesimal looks like a dodge around saying it came from absolute nothing...

At 9:09 AM, Anonymous Scott A. said...


The note on the book should say that the book looks at the evidence for the idea of expansion and tries to refute it (as well as other evidence for the BBT).

At 10:15 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Well, I'm in over my head, anyway.

Jeffery Hodges

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