It ain’t necessarily so
I wonder sometimes if it was easier in the first century to convince people of the truth of Christian theism…one God, creator of all things, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…than it is today. There were many “gods” competing for their allegiance, but at least folks readily acknowledged the spiritual realm. Many nowadays first need convincing that the spiritual exists, as their “god” is science or materialism.
But whether one is a materialist or a spiritualist (in the philosophical sense of the word…I’m not talking seances here), it seems to me one has to acknowledge the reality of necessity. If anything at all exists, something must exist necessarily, i.e. it could not NOT exist. If the material is the whole of reality then the universe is eternal and not only that, it has to exist.
But does that make sense? What is it about the universe that makes it necessary? We can easily conceive the possibility that the earth not exist, and the contingency of every object in the universe is also plainly seen. So if all the material in the universe is contingent, what properties would a material-less universe have if it would still exist because it is necessary? And with no necessary material in it, how is it that any material objects came into being?
I believe a much more reasonable explanation for the existence of anything, including an empty universe, is that there is a necessary being outside of the material reality, and this spiritual being created the material. We can imagine that nothing at all exists, including this necessary being, but if something exists, something exists necessarily. And the only plausible description of this necessary being is the same as the God of theism.
Agree? Disagree? Discuss.
I’m not sure that I see how something has to be necessary. Why could there not be nothing? In our limited understanding, we have a hard time relating to the concept of nothing (not just empty space, but the lack of space altogether), but I don’t see why there could conceivably have been nothing instead of something.
I’ve read works by physicists who claim that ‘nothing’ is actually quite unstable. I don’t really quite understand this, but assuming it’s true that only explains why there needs to be something and not why there has to be something.
However, assuming that ‘something’ is necessary, I still don’t think that eliminates materialism. Every object in the universe may, in fact, be contingent, but for that matter, there could conceivably be a universe which was filled with entirely different matter. If all we’re assuming is that there has to be ‘something,’ there’s still an infinite number of possibilities for universes which contain matter that is not necessary.
Hi, Jon. Thanks for your input. I didn’t say that, unequivocally, something must be necessary. I said that if something exists, something exists necessarily.
And physicists who give nothing characteristics like instability are using an incorrect definition of the term. Nothing is not something with attributes…it is the lack of something.
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So to clarify, are you saying that if ‘something’ exists, some part or component of that ‘something’ must be necessary?
My understanding of the concept of instability (and I make no claim to be an expert) is that this an inference from the study of quantum mechanics and how, when viewed on a smaller and smaller scale, matter becomes more and more unstable. But yes, this would seem to be a misnomer as far as how we view things and their attributes. However, for that matter, even the perfect vacuum is still not ‘nothing’ in the classical sense. Rather, still contains a cloud of particles and anti-particles. (And could this be the extent of what we call ‘necessary’?)
Confusing? Certainly, for me, but I think it shows that there are always going to be problems when trying to understand and discuss ‘nothing.’
I’m saying that if anything exists at all, something must be necessary…not that “some part or component of that ‘something’ must be necessary.”
And I agree that necessary existence is difficult to grasp, but I disagree that nothingness is. Previous to relatively recent arguments for the non-existence of God that equivocate the term “nothing,” I believe it was generally understood by all to mean what it really does: no thing.
Is that equivocation or is it simply a matter of gaining additional insight into how the natural world actually works? 500 years ago, we thought the ‘rising’ of the sun meant that it literally rose from the horizon and passed over the earth. It wasn’t equivocation to learn that it actually worked quite differently than we previously thought.
That’s something totally different. Our knowledge of heliocentrism meant that now when we say the sun rose we know it really doesn’t. But we still acknowledge that rising means to “move from a lower position to a higher one.” The concept of nothingness as the absence of any thing will never change no matter how much additional insight we gain. It’s self-evident. When physicists use it to mean something, they are being disingenuous and downright deceptive.
Caroline, have you heard of St. Anselm’s Ontological Proof for the Existence of God? If not — you’ve basically hit on the fundamental concept. The idea, if you’re not familiar, is that if we define God as a being “than which nothing greater or more perfect can be conceived,” we have to assume that such a definition includes *necessary* existence. Because a god who isn’t necessary is less “great” than one who is.
There is then a sort of rhetorical trick that implies that conceiving of something as necessary implies that it must actually exist, which has annoyed philosophers for centuries, but overall the concept is very similar to what you’re saying here.
I’m familiar with the ontological argument, Joe, though I don’t use it because I haven’t studied and pondered it enough to be convinced by it yet. My familiarity is with Alvin Plantinga’s version involving a maximally great being and possible worlds, as taught by William Lane Craig. You can read about it here and here.
But I think my argument here for the necessity of something if anything exists is much more modest and self-evident, and uncontroversial. Because I’m not arguing for a necessary Being…necessarily…but just for some necessary thing. Can you agree with this argument or am I missing some…necessary…thing?
It is easy to confuse logical necessity and existential necessity – equivocation on that point is the flaw in the ontological argument.
I think your proposal is an interesting one and might be rephrased, is there an essence to existence?
But I think that is more an epistemological problem, than a metaphysical one. How do we know if there is a context within which we exist? If we attempt to form a concept of that situation, we must assume our own identity to do so.
Yet that “must” is not the “must” we are looking for in our quest for an essence of existence. The assumption of identity is something we simply do – we cannot even effectively state the case, “Imagine I transcend all perspective” without contradicting ourselves.
Likewise, I don’t think we can effectively form a concept of ‘nothing’, as it would be a concept which precludes possibility – again, a contradiction, and actually the same one involved in imagining oneself transcending perspective.
I don’t think that all is lost for your argument, just that existential necessity must remain a possibility, and a limited one – there is nothing more that we can say about it.