Why is there something rather than nothing?

Mr. Apologist wrote: “The first was originally posed by Martin Heidegger: ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?'”

Mr. Apologist nowhere shows this to be valid question; instead, he simply assumes that it is valid, and expects it to have a valid answer. It will be clear to those who have a firm grasp of Objectivism, that this fellow has not thought very carefully about this subject.

For one thing, Objectivism will view such questions as “why does existence exist?” as essentially fallacious. For no matter how one will want to answer such a question, one would have to appeal, at least implicitly, to that which exists (or to what supposedly exists). Otherwise, one would put himself in the dubious position of assuming that the appeal to non-existence somehow explains existence. (The trend in philosophy since Plato, and perhaps long before him, is to posit some form of consciousness as the “answer” to such questions, even though this tactic is irrescindably incoherent.)

Thus, by posing this question and assuming that it is valid, Mr. Apologist implicitly (but unavoidably) commits himself to the fallacy of the stolen concept. If we ask why something is, but simply turn around and posit that something in our explanation of that something, what mileage have we gained? Indeed, we’re back to where we started, yet we don’t admit it to ourselves. This is what Mr. Apologist does in assuming that the question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” (or “Why does existence exist?”) is a valid question. One will have to assume the fact of existence in order to answer the question. But in so doing, he will have to deny the fact of existence in order to validate his assumption that there must be a reason why there is something rather than nothing. He must assume the very concept his argument wants to deny, thus ‘stealing’ it from the objective hierarchy of knowledge, and rendering invalid any conclusion he hopes to draw from his argument.

Existence exists. We must start somewhere. The theist wants to start with a form of consciousness. He wants to posit a mind (albeit supernatural) which is responsible for creating all its objects. This is called metaphysical subjectivism, a view which holds that existence finds its source in a form of consciousness.

Some may object to my characterization of the question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” as fallacious, contesting that there is no such thing as a fallacious question. However, it is true when we examine issues in epistemology and logic, that there is a such thing as an invalid question. The fallacy known as ‘complex question‘, for instance, is a species of invalid question. It is a question which operates on a false assumption and expects the reader to accept that false assumption in order to answer it. The typical example is the question “Have you stopped beating your wife?” The question assumes that one is a married man and that he beats or has beaten his wife; indeed, it implies such beatings are a regular occurrence. Contrary to these assumptions, however, it could be the case a) that he is not married, or b) that he is married but has never beaten his wife. Since the question is asked in a manner in which a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response can be the only appropriate reply, one cannot answer it on its own terms and avoid affirming its erroneous premises. One would implicate himself simply by answering. The question is fallacious because it leads one to accept a false premise, assuming either a) or b) are the actual case, if he should choose to take it seriously.

Likewise, a question which leads one to commit a fallacy in order to answer it is also invalid. If taken seriously, the question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” will lead one to commit the fallacy of the stolen concept; indeed, the fallacy of the stolen concept is unavoidable on the question’s own terms, as we saw above. One would have both to assume and deny existence in order to address the question. If Heidegger did not recognize this, it was principally because he was not operating on a fully rational philosophy. Yet, today we have theists assuming this question is valid all the time in the construction of their apologetic ruses. What is it that theists want to posit in response to their invalid questions so as to appear to satisfy them? Of course, they assume that the only logical answer is to assert a universe-creating, reality-ruling form of consciousness, which they call God, and delight themselves with this as their answer, never allowing themselves to recognize that the question leads them to accepting a stolen concept, and assuming that their arguments justifying this illicit move make it valid.

Mr. Apologist wrote: “And so Heidegger’s question becomes interesting. Atheism can describe the properties of what is. Objectivism can say that existence exists, but it cannot account for existence.”

As we saw above, the idea of “accounting for” existence is meaningless. Would not whatever Mr. Apologist asserts as “accounting for” existence also exist itself? If so, then he has not given an explanation (or an “account”), and if not, then he still gives us no explanation. One does not “explain” existence by appealing to non-existence, or to consciousness. Statements like Mr. Apologist’ assertion above, that “Objectivism… cannot account for existence,” only underscore the validity of the Objectivist identification that religion wants to posit a form of consciousness prior to existence.

Mr. Apologist wrote: “Any world view has to deal with questions in five areas:

1. Origin/Being (like the question above)

2. Meaning/Predication

3. Ethics/Norms

4. Destiny

5. Aesthetics”

I agree that philosophy can be divided into five principle areas or provinces, but I would not endorse the divisions which Mr. Apologist suggests entirely. Rather, I would agree with Rand that those five branches are:

1. Metaphysics: What is the nature of reality?

2. Epistemology: What is knowledge and its proper validation?

3. Morality: What is the proper code of values to guide man’s choices and actions?

4. Politics: What is the proper social theory for man?

5. Aesthetics: What is a proper theory of art?

There are a number of general differences between this list [1] and the list which Mr. Apologist provides. First, Mr. Apologist wants to position the notion “origin” as a primary concern on his list. The origin of what? Ostensibly, of being as such, since he also includes this in his first area of philosophic concern, and since he is mistaken that existence or being as such can have an explanation beyond itself, as we saw above. Here we immediately see his system’s vulnerability to stolen concepts, since the idea of an origin of being as such, i.e., of existence, is prone to denying that which must be assumed, which is the fact of existence itself. What could possibly be the origin of existence to begin with? If we posit X as the origin of existence, are we not assuming that X exists? If not, then there is no explanatory value in positing X (since non-existence does not explain existence), and if we do assume that X exists, then we’re positing what we originally set out to explain, while denying it at the same time. This will not do, for it is internally fallacious and cannot lead to rationality, which should be our goal at this point.

By asserting at the outset that a proper philosophic code must address the issue of origins to being, Mr. Apologist intentionally stacks the deck such that non-theists will automatically fail in providing a sufficient foundation to their philosophy. One cannot attempt to reason about the origin of something before one has identified the nature of that something. There is an order of priority here which theists who place such emphasis on the question of “origins” tend to overlook. If I see a car, for example, and have not made the effort to identify its make, I will have nothing to go on in determining the nation in which it was manufactured (i.e., its origin). When I investigate the matter and discover that the car is a Volvo, for instance, then I can reasonably infer that the car originally came from Sweden. No, that’s not a fantastic example, for it may be possible so far as I know that Volvo has manufacturing plants in other nations (e.g. Canada, Belgium, et al.), and the car could have been produced there. And of course this example already assumes that I’ve determined that the object I perceive is a car. Had my example not made this assumption, it is clear that the identification of the object as a car would constitute yet another step in this process. The point is that I do not need to know where the car was manufactured in order to be fully certain that the object I am perceiving is in fact an car. The question of the object’s origin is not essential to a correct identification of the fact in question. So clearly we must begin any inference of “origins” with the identification of the nature of the object in question. Otherwise, we risk committing our conclusions to a false or inaccurate context.

When it gets to the universe as a whole, which is the sum of all existence, talk of “origins” is invalid, unless one is willing to assume that non-existence as such provides valuable explanation to that which does exist. But how does non-existence explain anything, and how does non-existence qualify as an “origin” of that which does exist? Were we to assume that non-existence plays a metaphysical, explanatory role for existence, we would also have to infer that existence came about through some kind of causal activity, and thus we would risk positing the concept ‘causality’ apart from existence, and consequently commit ourselves to another stolen concept. How can one posit a cause without assuming the existence of an entity which does the causing? As David Kelley states, “there’s no dance without a dancer.” Likewise, there’s no cause without a causal agent, i.e., without something which exists. This points to the fact that we must begin with something which exists, i.e., we must begin with existence as such.


[1] This list is not my invention. This is precisely how Ayn Rand summarized her philosophy in its most general conception. See for instance The Essentials of Objectivism on the Ayn Rand Institute Homepage.


One thought on “Why is there something rather than nothing?

  1. The Jocaxian Nothingness [Nada Jocaxiano]
    João Carlos Holland de Barcellos
    translated by Debora Policastro

    The “Jocaxian Nothingness” (JN) is the “Nothingness” that exists. It is a physical system devoid not only of physical elements and physical laws, but also of rules of any kind.

    In order to understand and intuit JN as an “existent nothingness”, we can mentally build it as follows: we withdraw all the matter, energy and the field they generate from the universe. Then we can withdraw dark energy and dark matter. What is left is something that is not the nonexistent. Let us continue our mental experiment and suppress elements of the universe: now, we withdraw physical laws and spatial dimensions. If we do not forget to withdraw anything, what is left is a JN: an existent nothingness.

    JN is different from the Nothingness we generally think of. The commonly believed nothingness, which we might call “Trivial Nothingness” to distinguish it from the JN, is something from which nothing can arise, that is, the “Trivial Nothing” follows a rule: “Nothing can happen”. Thus, the “Trivial Nothingness”, the nothingness people generally think of when talking about “nothingness”, is not the simpler possible nothingness, it has at least one restriction rule.

    Jocax did not define the JN as something in which nothing exists. Such definition is dubious and contains some contradictions as: “If in the nothingness nothing exists, then, nothingness itself does not exist”. No. First, Jocax defined what it means to exist: “Something exists when its properties are fulfilled within reality”. Therefore, JN has been defined as something that:

    1- Has no physical elements of any kind (particles, energy, space, etc.)

    2- Has no laws (no rules of any kind).

    Being so, JN could have physically existed. JN is a construction that differs from the “trivial nothingness” since it does not contain the rule “Nothing can happen”. That way, Jocax liberates his JN from semantic paradoxes like: “If it exists, then it does not exist” and claims that this nothingness is SOMETHING that could have existed. That is, JN is the simpler possible physical structure, something like the minimal state of nature. And also the natural candidate for the origin of the universe.

    We must not confuse the definition of the NJ with rules to be followed. It is only the declaration of a state. If nature is in the state defined by conditions 1 and 2 above, we say it is a “Jocaxian-Nothingness”. The state of a system is something that can change, differently from the rule that must be followed by the system (otherwise it would not be a rule). For example, the state “has no physical elements”; it is a state, not a rule because, occasionally this state may change. If it was a rule it could not change (unless another rule eliminated the first one).

    Being free of any elements, JN does not presume the existence of any existing thing but its own and, by the “Occam’s Razor”, it must be the simpler state possible of nature, therefore with no need for explanations about its origin. JN, of course, does not currently exist, but may have existed in a distant past. That is, JN would be the universe itself – defined as a set of all existing things – in its minimal state. Thus we can also say the Universe (being a JN) has always existed.

    JN, as well as everything that can be understood by means of logic, must follow the tautology: “it may or may NOT happen”. This tautology – absolute logical truth – as we shall see, has also a semantic value in JN: it allows things to happen (or not).

    We cannot say that events in the JN must necessarily occur. Eventually, it is possible that nothing really happens, that is, JN may continue “indefinitely” (time does not exist in a JN) without changing its initial state and with no occurrences. But there is a possibility that random phenomena can derive from this absolute nothingness. This conclusion comes logically from the analysis of a system without premises: as JN, by definition, does not have laws, it can be shaped as a logical system without premises.

    We shall interrupt a little in order to open up an explanatory digression. We are dealing with two types of “Jocaxian-Nothingness”: the physical object named “JN”, which was the universe in its minimal state with the properties described above; and the theory which analyses this object, the JN-Theory. The JN-Theory, the theory about the JN-object (this text), uses logical rules to help us understand the JN-Object. But JN-object itself does not follow logical rules, once there are no laws it must obey. Nevertheless, I do not believe we will let possibilities to JN-object escape if we analyze it according to classic logic. However, we must be aware that this logical analysis (JN-Theory) could maybe limit some potentiality of JN-Object.

    Within a system without premises, we cannot conclude that something cannot happen. There are no laws from which we can draw this conclusion. That is, there is no prohibition for anything to happen. If there is no prohibition for anything to happen, then, eventually, something may happen. That is, the tautological logics remain true in a system without premises: “something happens or not”. If something occasionally happens, this something must not obey rules and, therefore, would be totally random and unpredictable.

    We call the first JN randomizations Schizo-Creations. This schizo-creations, once they come from something without laws, are totally random and, if we could watch them, they would seem completely “schizophrenic”. Of course with the first randomizations, JN is no longer the original JN as now it owns something, that is, the JN transforms. Because JN is not limited by any laws, it may eventually also generate laws, to which its elements – now itself – would have to obey.

    Let us show how the random generation of laws can produce a logical universe: suppose laws are generated randomly in a sequence. If a new law is generated and does not conflict with the others, all of them remain undamaged in the set of generated laws. However, if a law that conflicts with other laws previously generated appears, it replaces (kills) the previous laws that are inconsistent with it, since it must be obeyed (until a newer law opposes to it). Thus, in a true “natural selection” of laws, only a little set of laws compatible to each other would last. That answers a fundamental philosophical question about our universe: “Why does the universe follow logical rules?”

    Thereby, the Jocaxian Nothingness is the natural candidate for the origin of the our cosmo, since it is the simpler possible state nature could present: a state of such simplicity there would not be the need to explain its existence. And, by logical consequence of this state, anything could be (or not) randomized, even our physical laws and elementary particles.

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