Post Author: Bill Pratt
There seems to be a lot of confusion over the word nothing, when scientists and philosophers are talking cosmology. Philosophers, when speaking about the origin of the universe, will ask questions like, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” or “Did the universe come from nothing?”
When philosophers ask these questions, they have a very specific definition of the word nothing in mind. They mean, by nothing, that literally no thing exists. It is the non-existence of everything. Seems simple enough, right?
Obviously not to some scientists, who cannot seem to grasp this concept of nothing. We hear from them that the universe can indeed come from nothing. For example, the universe could come from a quantum vacuum. Or it could come from the law of gravity. Or it could come from all the laws of physics. Or from positive and negative energy in equilibrium.
But wait! All of these examples of nothing are something. They are definitely not nothing. Quantum vacuums and gravity and energy are all very much something. They are things that exist, and so they are not nothing.
When a scientist tells us that the universe came from nothing, but then he goes on to describe nothing to us, he is absolutely not talking about nothing. Nothing cannot be described. Nothing has no properties, no existence, no substance. It is no thing.
Where does this leave us? Positing physical laws, energy, or quantum anything as the causes of the universe does not answer the philosophers’ questions of “Why is there something rather than nothing?” or “Did the universe come from nothing?” In fact, science, in principle, cannot answer these questions because they are philosophical questions, not available to scientific investigation.
Anyone who tries to answer these questions with scientific explanations is simply confused about what is being asked.