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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!

Lawrence Krauss (the officianados call him Larry;) has answered the question Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing? in his new book, A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing, or should I say he has claimed to have answered the question.

But I’m sure old Martin Heidegger, Nazi sympathizer that he was, is rolling over in his grave now saying, “No, he hasn’t. The Nothing that Krauss uses is really not the true Nothing, but already a Something. The true Nothing is not empty space but the absence of empty space altogether, in fact, “There was not then what is nor what is not.”, as found in the Song of Creation from the Rig Veda is perhaps an approximate, and only approximate, way of characterizing the Nothing.”

I hope my translation of his German is accurate. Old Martin was talking really fast and sputtering in frustration from his grave there. But I think I caught the gist of it, I hope.


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I’ve reported on Aifric Campbell’s “The Semantics of Murder” in a previous post. But in the past couple months I’ve also read three philosophical books.

1. “The Case for God” by Karen Armstrong
2. “The Beginning of All Things: Science and Religion” by Hans Küng
3. “36 Arguments for the Existence of God: a work of fiction” by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein

Armstrong’s book is in big print (I mistakenly ordered that format from Amazon) and her case for God is far from conventional. In fact her concept of God is close to that of an atheist, I think. She joined a convent at an early age and rebelled strongly becoming an out and out atheist. But now she apparently believes in God in the sense that action alone is an expression of what God is. Her big project is The Charter for Compassion based on the golden rule. I’ve subscribed to this.

Hans Küng’s book is challenging in part perhaps because it’s a translation from scientific German. He’s actually still a Catholic although I’d say it’s by quite a stretch. To him the miracles are metaphors and God is somehow wrapped up in the incomprehensibility of an origin of the universe. Mankind’s reason meets its limit in its inability to fathom a “first cause”, and also an ending. He discusses the question, “Why not Nothing?” a great deal, something I have mentioned in this blog as my favorite question, i.e., why is there something rather than nothing?

Rebecca Goldstein’s book, basically an exciting novel which captures the kinds of feelings associated with the Why not Nothing? feeling, demolishes all the arguments for God (36 of them in the Appendix) and replaces these with a defense of morality based on the feeling of “ontological wonder”. So, if you wanted to call this “ontological wonder” a replacement for God, you could I suppose, although Goldstein herself claims to be an atheist intellectually. She seems a little worried, in the interviews of her I’ve found online, that some of her academic friends might think she’s NOT an atheist. She’s obviously a fascinating and brilliant woman and graduated summa-cum-laude from Barnard College.

So what do these three books all add up to in my mind? Not sure, to be honest. However, I am thinking of getting Goldstein’s book on Spinoza who she thinks has it all. From what I’ve gathered by listening to her, she thinks Spinoza has successfully used reason to explain, or account for, the “it’s turtles all the way down” problem. I’d like to see that one explained!

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Here I am back to Terry Eagleton again with his first Yale lecture series talk, “Christianity Fair and Foul”, in the middle of which he invokes the “mind-blowing contingency” of the cosmos, the fact it might just as well never have happened, and captures for me again my one feeling of mystery, namely, the Why is there something rather than nothing? feeling. He’s totally brilliant and amusing throughout this talk and sums up Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens as Ditchkins. I was led here this morning from another old flame of mine, James P. Carse, to whom I was led by the remarkable Rebecca Parker, UU “theologian” of the Starr King school in Berkeley, Calif., after having heard her beautiful North Conway Friday evening talk about earth being our only paradise, as proclaimed by among others, Jesus H Christ, and the early Christians. How I found James P. Carse from this comes from a UU World interview of Parker and co-author Rita Nakashima Brock, under Recent Articles in the sidebar. Parker’s latest book, again with Brock, is titled, “Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire”. OK, there’s enough material here in these links to last a lifetime, certainly my lifetime.
ps. I forgot what really set me off on this track this morning, Stanley Fish’s recent article in the NYT, God Talk. It’s a review of Terry Eagleton’s latest book, Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate.
Happy reading! 😆

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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: