Friday 25 February 2022

Why is there something rather than nothing; or, what is creation For?

The above are examples of metaphysical questions concerning the fundamental nature of reality. 

And you can see that the question asked already presupposes something - there is no single ultimate first question. 

One who asks why there is something rather than nothing has already made an assumption that nothing was the original condition, and that therefore there needs to be a reason for something. This invites a response along the lines of explaining why a deity - that existed before creation - made the stuff of reality. 

I, by contrast, assume that there always has been something. Therefore, for me, a fundamental question is about the purpose of creation. What is creation for?

I am already assuming that something always has-been, and that we live in 'a creation' with purpose - and that therefore there is a personal God. 

I am asking, therefore, what God aimed at with creation: what did God want?

How did I come to ask this question, to regard it as fundamental;  - since I certainly did not do so form most of my life?

With such fundamental questions it is often difficult to recognize what you personally regard as most fundamental. 

Much of philosophy through the ages consists of "other people's problems", but not mine; it consists of trying to persuade other people (i.e. me) that there is a problem; and that such-and-such is the most important question. 

This is why so much of philosophy is irrelevant, and leaves most people stone-cold and indifferent - you must have experienced this? 

I remember first reading standard philosophy texts, and being repelled by the assumptions of what was fundamental - when my own concerns were very different. 

Philosophy came to life only when it addressed what I personally regarded as important questions. 

Thus Robert M Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was the first to excite me; because it addressed what my seventeen-year-old self regarded as most urgently important - and was seeking what I would regard as the kind of answer I needed.  

The value of philosophy comes from the excitement of reading a problem stated and recognizing a shared concern - a shared sense of what is important

"Here is a fellow spirit!" is the feeling - here is someone who who sees life in the same kind of way that I do, who experiences the same kind of problems.  

When I read the opening passage of William Arkle's Letter from a Father, I had just this kind of feeling:

My Dear Child, 

In the beginning before time was, your mother and I had a longing in our heart to share our values and the substance of our being with others who could rejoice and be glad about them as we are glad about them. So we considered how we could do this. 

We realised that to make living beings directly and ready formed was one way, and to make the seeds of this, and plant them in a situation which would cause them to grow in their own way, as a gradual process, was another. 

There were two things we had to bear in mind. We had to decide how important to us it was that these children were real and not remotely controlled puppets. And we had to decide how we could guide and teach them what we knew they would have to learn without them losing the position of judgement for themselves over the values which we already knew to be good. 

We had to think of a system in which we could sow these potentialities of our own being as individual units so that they would grow and realise their potentialities as actual abilities. In the process we would have to be careful not to dominate them too much or we would destroy their individual differences and the integrity of their reality. 

But we also understood that they would have to grow into a certain type of person if they were going to be able to understand what we had to show them and give to them. 

And of course we realised that they would begin their growth as our children, but that what we really longed for was not that they should be our children, but that they should slowly mature and become our companions and friends. For our longing was to share this undemanding gladness in other centres of being who were in harmony with us but who were truly independent individuals to us. 

We understood this relationship to be the most delightful, and one which was open to endless variations, and these variations seemed to us of the greatest value since they had an absolute creative context between them. 

I mean that when we had companions who had matured to this position, and had decided to accept your mother and myself as their friends, and one another as friends, then there would be an endless variety of possibilities for future projects of creation in which we could all share and which would give us tremendous enjoyment in the doing of them together. 

For we are not limited in any way that matters and there is nothing that we could not try out as an experiment so long as it seemed to us to have in it that integrity and affection which is the very basis of our nature.


I found the language strange - making, sowing and planting 'seeds', 'potentialities of being', 'centres of being' etc. - but these usages seemed to be eccentric and naïve yet sincere (rather than pretentious, designed to impress - as philosophy so often tends to be). 

The phrase For we are not limited in any way that matters was very striking and memorable to me - it's hard to explain why. 

But mostly, I was captivated by the idea of God - as a 'dyad' of Heavenly Parents - brooding on what was wanted from creation. 

Arkle's was offering a God-centred understanding of creation - which I found at first astonishing, then clarifying; finally absolutely necessary and obvious!

This is what metaphysical-level philosophy can do when it chimes with inner motivations and needs. It can lead the way to un-asking a fundamental question that is experienced as irrelevant; and pointing to another and much more fruitful foundational question. 

Instead of a picture of God creating everything from nothing; I now have a picture of Heavenly parents brooding on what should be the purpose of creation. 

And for me that was A Key.



a_probst said...

"...there has always been something."

A few years ago, I came to a similar conclusion by a different train of thought. It occurred to me that 'nothingness' and 'non-existence', where the physical world is concerned, are only human constructs, generated by the childhood experience that something-or-other is gone, when in truth the 'vanished' item has simply changed form.

'The cookies/biscuits are gone.' No, they are in people's stomachs being digested. 'That restaurant no longer exists.' The owner and employees are working elsewhere, retired, or dead; the building is used by another tenant or has been torn down and its materials reused or chucked in a dump.

"The phrase For we are not limited in any way that matters was very striking and memorable to me - it's hard to explain why."

For one thing, he does not assume the Omni-God.

I know you've referred to the Greek philosophical underpinnings of the Omni-God idea, but it occurs to me that to the rare individuals who have had a more direct experience of God while in their mortal coils, He probably seems omnipotent and omniscient compared with us mortals. In trying to convey the experience in words, they can't help but pile on the superlatives.

Bruce Charlton said...

@ap - I agree with your last comment; and that kind of thing doesn't do harm.

What does do harm is to be so captured by an abstract philosophical definition that you allow it to become primary and mandatory, and to dictate the shape of Christianity.

Dave Bagwill said...

There is as far as I know, no justification for the idea that time is infinite to the past, or that everything that is has existed 'forever' in some form of matter or 'quantum foam' or whatever the next flight of fancy tells us. To the contrary, there are hard science findings and hard logical analyses that show the impossibility of infinite time, or 'eternal' existence of matter/energy.
The increasing number of Physicists who are committed to the 'Big Bang' recognize that there was a point at which a creation-type event happened. They are often loathe to call the Cause 'God' - and in fact some of them state flatly that they resisted the Big-Bang theory on the basis that it implies an actual Creator - not a Demiurge.

I do believe that the creation ex nihilo question is one of science and logic, not one that can be reasoned away.

Bruce Charlton said...

@DB - Well, no. All science has metaphysical assumptions within-which it operates. Therefore science cannot confirm or refute metaphysics.

Metaphysical assumptions sneak in everywhere, unnoticed. For example - time:

Dave Bagwill said...

Metaphysical presuppositions, of course - and those that have allowed science to flower and to grow civilization. And downsides as well, of course - Hiroshima.

But Bruce, there are FACTS. If we cannot agree on that - that there is extra-mental Reality (not just metaphysics) - well, if we are immune to facts - things in the shared world not just in our heads - then our arguments are based on nothing but monadic mental fabrications.

So the demiurge theory - which is a speculation, admittedly - should be open to being challenged not by metaphysics, but by shared reality.

Reality is more than semantics. I have a feeling that you and I cannot agree on what a fact is, though. Facts are troublesome, and avoiding them takes a lot of words.

It's strange that I can profit much from some of your writing, but come to a loggerhead at this point. Is what it is, I reckon.

Alexeiprofi said...

Nonexistence cannot exist, therefore something

Alexeiprofi said...

Chris Langan says that it's impossible for nothing to be origin of reality, because nothingness requires restrictions on potential. So in the beginning there was potential (Unbound Telesis)

Bruce Charlton said...

@DB - It depends on how much you have thought about this. Maybe a specific example would help:

Bruce Charlton said...

@A - Langan is on the right side in the spiritual war - although I find his metaphysics to be too abstract. Politically, he has much more faith in the goodness of the masses than I do.