Much has been written over the last few weeks about the philosophical foolishness of cosmologist Lawrence M. Krauss in his recently published book, A Universe from Nothing. Of particular note are the devastating takedowns contributed by Mike Flynn and David Albert. They point out that Krauss has mistaken the meaning of “nothing.” Krauss argues that a quantum vacuum could give rise to a cosmos, and that is what it seems to have done. But the quantum vacuum is not nothing; it is a state of affairs that behaves in accordance with a system of equations. States, affairs, behavior and equations are things. Nothing is a state of affairs in which there is no state of affairs, nor any equations, nor anything else of any kind whatsoever. So Krauss is talking, not about how nothing gave rise to something, but how something gave rise to something.
So much for him, then.
It is not too tough to see that you can’t get something from nothing. Interestingly, it turns out that you can’t even get nothing from nothing. You can only get nothing from something. But then, technically, you can’t get nothing from something, either. At most, you can get non-being from something. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
You can’t get something from nothing, because there would be nothing to get the something from; nothing to cause it to pop into existence, and nothing out of which it could pop into existence. That part’s easy.
You can’t get nothing from nothing, either. If there were to be nothing at all, then absolute nothingness would in that case necessarily be possible. The actuality of nothingness requires the existence of the possibility of nothingness. But if a possibility exists, and nothing else, then there is still something rather than nothing.
You can’t get nothingness from nothing, and you can’t get it from anything. So absolute nothingness is absolutely impossible. Absolute nothingness is an incoherent idea.
The closest you can get to nothingness is non-being: the nonexistence of some state of affairs that is different than any of the states of affairs that ever will have come about. The state of affairs in which there is no actual universe in which we ever exist is in a state of non-being. So is the state of affairs in which there is a square circle.
To say that nothingness is impossible is to say that it is necessary that there be always, in every possible state of affairs – including those states of affairs that are prior to all worlds – something that exists necessarily, and that makes the existence of states of affairs possible in the first place. Before any particular instance of being, then, being as such must be. Our term for that necessary existence is “God.”