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That title may seem a contradiction in terms but not if one defines those words according to the philosopher James P. Carse in his new book, The Religious Case Against Belief. He simply says, in a detailed and complex way, that religion is concerned with the ultimate questions: why are we here? (not how we are here), why is there something rather than nothing?, what is death?, and many other related questions. On the other hand, belief is a thing we know, that we have answers to. For example, there is belief in the Christian God, or the Allah of Islam, or simply belief in the divinity (partial or not) for Jesus, and many other fixed beliefs. So, what Carse is saying is that we should leave ourselves open to these ultimate questions and not think we have the answer to them in a fixed belief system.

I feel I have still not quite captured the essence of the distinction Carse makes. I think I’ll post this for now and come back later. He has a great analysis of one of my favorite poems, Emily Dickinson’s I Heard a Fly Buzz When I died so I want to bring that in too. There’s never enough time to post and read!

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First, where it’s at: it’s snowing today. We are supposed to be getting about a foot of snow before it’s over sometime tomorrow. I had just finished on Saturday cutting a path in our brushy undergrowth below the house to the paths in the woods. Now I’ll be able to snowshoe there more easily.

Second, where I’m at: I’m at the last chapter of Cosmic Jackpot: Why Our Universe Is Just Right for Life by Paul Davies. At last I found a science book that really takes seriously Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing? and it even reads like a detective thriller.

As Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka says,
In our times such disparate thinkers as Wittgenstein and Heidegger have been struck by its poignancy. As Wittgenstein puts it: “Not how the world is, is the mystical, but that it is.” He is believed to have experienced at times “a certain feeling of amazement that anything should exist at all,” and Heidegger has developed his metaphysics as the “exfoliation” of the question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?”

I’m with you, Ludwig. That the world is is the mystical. I often have that exact same feeling: a certain feeling of amazement that anything should exist at all.

Here’s what Homer Simpson thinks about the question:

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There I go again! Back to my favorite question. It’s actually a pretty good one I think. Why IS there anything here at all, and what’s more, where did it come from? I can feel the awe whenever I focus on these thoughts. Yes, it’s awe, awesome, even shock and awe, or awe and shock, really really weird.

OK, I’m not the only one who asks such a question. In fact, I bet we all do. But here’s a link where this question is specifically taken up. It’s a rather long article by an Arthur Witherall entitled “The Fundamental Question”. Here’s the first sentence: Many philosophers have expressed a feeling of awe when they come to address what Martin Heidegger has called the fundamental question of metaphysics: “why is there something instead of nothing?”.

And while I’m on a roll here, how about the question of where did it come from anyway? Well, many will say God created it. And then someone else will say, “Who created God?” Cosmologists and astrophysicists are working on this question and I’ve been rereading the fine book by Timothy Ferris entitled “The Whole Shebang”, a very readable book for the layman on how it all got here, including theories of the Big Bang.

BUT, after pouring over this book off and on for the last several years, and also other books of a more or less technical nature, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s almost easier to say, “Forget it! God did it!” than to try to understand the latest cosmological theories of the universe, or as the case may be, universes. In fact there is a thing called nonlocality that has been verified experimentally and means any two parts of this vast universe (or universes?) can under certain conditions instantaneously connect! Forget the speed of light. That’s slow stuff! OK, I’m over the top. Over and out. Time for bed.


But there is more!

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