Inspection- The “Something from Nothing” Strawman

by Ken Carman

 Once again the fundamentalist guest tossed the old strawman argument that atheists, and non-theists, believe, “Something came from nothing.” at Thom Hartmann. This canard bothers me, mostly because the response to this bogus argument has pretty much been to ignore it.
  No one believes, “Something came from nothing,”
  It was an argument about evolution, true, but it had the Big Bang connotations. And,of course, how life started. Let’s start with that and move backward in time, shall we?
  When life started we have two rather simplistic options, or so it seems. Either amino acids and conditions just happened to come together right, or God took something: dust, a rib… hopefully not from some ancient version of Sticky Fingers Barbeque Parlor, and went, “poof! Life!” If that’s what we define as “nothing,” then we have no argument. Both used “something.”
 That’s what shines the light of bogus-ness on the strawman part of the argument: using the basic building blocks of life to go “poof,” or the same coming together under the right conditions. Therefore, either way, there was “something.” This has never, ever been an argument about “something from nothing.”
  The only “problem” with evolution and faith is simple: it offends literalists. Otherwise there’s no reason evolution, or the Big Bang, can’t exist side by side with belief in God, Allah or The Flying Spaghetti Monster. Parable is parable, and such stories were told with intent that goes beyond the very limited, severely anal, focus demanded by literalism.
 Beyond evolution, part of this strawman argument revolves around the claim that those who accept science, rather than demand dogma must be accepted in a literal sense, believe there was nothing before that Bang. But, that’s not true. If nothing else, there was that big, super compressed, ball of matter, right? But if even if there was “nothing but…” basic logic dictates there was still was something, right?
  How big was it? Hey, how would I know. I wasn’t there. Either I was out sick that day, or I’m not quite that old… yet. From what I remember from class was it was so compressed it was pretty small.
  But let’s go further, Science says nothing about what may, or may not, have been before that. One older theory speculates that all this has happened before: expansion, then retraction, big bang and the cycle starts again. While the current understanding among most scientists is the universe just continues to expand, I don’t totally discount the possibility we might need to go back to expand and contract. But even if the ever expanding concept is true: expanding into what?
  Then we get real weird with alternate reality concepts, Men in Black-like concepts where all that is is like the classic Russian toy which is a toy, within a toy, within a…
  That too fascinates me.
  And before the Bang? Well, maybe there was something other than a small clump of compressed matter. Maybe something we wouldn’t recognize. But fact is fact: the “nothing before something” talking point is not just wrong, if you apply basic logic it’s thoughtless, ignorant and pretty damn stupid.

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Inspection is a column that has been written by Ken Carman for over 30 years. Inspection is dedicated to looking at odd angles, under all the rocks and into the unseen cracks and crevasses that constitute the issues and philosophical constructs of our day: places few think, or even dare, to venture.
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