Breaking Down Nothing

Examining empirically defensible "nothings"

The question, "why is there something instead of nothing?" is popping up again here at Debunking Christianity. Let's explore what "nothing" might really mean...

Zero-Property Nothing

Think of “nothing”. The picture in your mind was probably of a vast expanse of dark, cold, and would kill you in an instant. But dark and cold are negative properties – the absence of light and heat. Lack of dimensions would also a negative property. It's hard to describe this kind of nothing by saying what it is, we can only say what it isn't. I call that a zero-property nothing. It has no properties.

A void with only a quantum field would not a be zero-property nothing, since that quantum field would be a property. A zero-property nothing could never be expanded. It could never change. With no ability to gain emergent properties, or to hold brute-fact properties, the zero-property nothing would always remain zero-property. This nothing is not empirically defensible by the simple fact that we are here.

Philosophers' Nothing 

Philosophers over the centuries have argued what constitutes nothing. From Wikipedia:
 (Parmenides) argued that "nothing" cannot exist by the following line of reasoning: To speak of a thing, one has to speak of a thing that exists. 
From that starting point, philosophers have explored different conceptions of nothing. Some thought nothing is the empty space between particles. Others though that void between particles doesn't actually exist. Regardless, these a priori arguments should be considered as hypothesis awaiting empirical verification. I call this the Philosophers' Nothing.

From the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, whatever this nothing is, it must have some form of quantum fluctuations. Otherwise, it's total total energy would be exactly zero, and the rate of change would also be exactly zero. The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle implies a void without quantum fluctuations cannot exist.

Apologists' Nothing

The apologists' nothing tries to look like a zero-property nothing, but apologists have no better definition than the philosopher's nothing. And then they add the paradoxical claim of a god existing when "nothing" is supposed to exist.

They claim God is intelligent, and wise, and all-knowing -- a supremely intelligent agent. For an agent to exist, there has be information (knowledge) and a method of processing that information (intelligence). Of course, information requires a medium: brain cells, letters on a page, DNA, patterns in radio waves, and so on. Processing information requires a series of states and changes to those states: a new memory stored in the brain, an eraser and pencil, merging two strands, a new broadcast. Hence the paradox, everything that is required to sustain intelligence must exist where there is no medium to support it.

The Scientific Nothing

There are many scientific models which make predictions about the beginning of our universe. The Big Bang Theory has its limits. Inflation answers some of those questions, but leaves other open questions. These models suggest more refined theories like String Theory or Quantum Gravity. But they mostly await empirical data and validation.

The scientific nothing models are further ahead than the philosophers nothing. They make predictions that come from partially validated mathematical models. They imply methods of testing, and ways of falsifications. Indeed, some models have been falsified. Some predictions have been verified, such as discovering the Cosmic Microwave Background. We found it because the prediction told us where to look.


The Scientific Nothing comes in first. It is the only concept of nothing that strives towards empirical validation. We may be a long way from a solid answer, but there is some progress. The Philosopher's Nothing doesn't give us many hints of where to look or how to test, but at least they don't impede progress. The Apologists Nothing hasn't left the starting line. It ignores its own contradictions and only serves as rhetorical device.


We hear the question often: "why is there something instead of nothing?" The honest answer is that we don't know yet. But the question is usually in the context of wanting to use "God" as the answer. That presumes the answer and shortcuts the need for empirical evidence. The apologists nothing implies an incoherent starting point with a paradoxical presupposition. The proper response should always be, "define 'nothing' and explain how you know it's properties."