Saturday, March 22, 2014

Nothing is simple

Jeffrey Jay Lowder quotes philosopher Richard Swinburne’s statement:

it is always simpler to postulate nothing rather than something

while making objections to Swinburne’s formulation of the Cosmological Argument for the Existence of God.

Since the question "why is there something rather than nothing" always interests me, my attention for the moment is on just this snippet of Swinburne’s argument.

I think Swinburne has ignored the forest while focusing on the trees, in an attempt to invoke Occam's Razor. To my eyes, he appears to have committed a false dichotomy.

When you’re asking the question “why is there something rather than nothing?”, you're asking a question about why one particular state of affairs - that of the absence of anything - is preferable to all other alternative states of affairs that might pertain. It's not a question of contrasting A with B, it's a question of contrasting A versus the set {B,C,D,E,F,G...} - where that set contains every logical state that could exist. Since we know our universe exists - time, space, matter, energy, predictable behaviors - we have good reason to believe that other possible states of existence could pertain as well. They could be less complex or more complex, with different attributes and behaviors in different quantities and relationships.

Since the set “every other possible state” contains a quantity of states that we don’t know the upper limit on, then we might be justified in saying that the quantity approaches infinity - although we don't know how closely. That makes the relative occurrence of a state of “nothing” in the set named “all possible states” equal to a number that approaches the infinitesimal - although here too we don't know how closely. Therefore a state of something is (nearly) infinitely more probable than a state of nothing.

Bonus thought: since “nothing” means the absence of anything - space, time, matter, energy, Miley Cyrus - whether “nothing” occurs is irrelevant to observers in an actual space-time like we enjoy because it “occurs” for zero duration. You could have some real absurdist fun telling people how nothing occurs infinitely many times all around us.

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