philosophy theology

god and reality 2

…a somewhat better way to phrase the question (remember, words matter!) about god and reality, etc. would this:

Why does existence exist?

Answering the question by reference to any particular ‘thing’ that exists (a ‘force’, ‘singularity’, ‘multi-verse’, ‘string’, etc.) is to completely not pay attention to the question.  The answer cannot be in terms of any merely-existing thing, but must be in reference to some ‘more-than-existing’ kind of ‘more-than-thing’.  Phrases like ‘ground for existence’ or ‘foundation of the universe’ are appropriate attempts here.

The fact that these are metaphors shouldn’t surprise us.  (After all, even the most ‘technical’ and ‘precise’ terminology is metaphor at bottom anyway…)  It’s quite obvious that the universe doesn’t have a ‘foundation’ like a house; and it would seem obvious that ‘existence’ isn’t on top of some ‘ground’ in the same way that we might be at times.  But it remains that answering a question about why existence exists demands reaching for a category larger (or more ‘foundational’) than existence itself.  If asked ‘what is supporting that house’, could we really be satisfied with an answer that was in terms of house-ness?

27 replies on “god and reality 2”

I agree with these sentiments completely. Even our ‘hardest’ knowledge, like the model of the atom, are metaphor. And metaphor is simply a comparison. Ultimately, everything we describe is merely a universe-internal comparison.

I think it is only possible to ask the question “Why does existence exist” when one has a faulty view of what existence is.

I agree with these sentiments completely. Even our ‘hardest’ knowledge, like the model of the atom, are metaphor.

Good! :)

I think it is only possible to ask the question “Why does existence exist” when one has a faulty view of what existence is.

Well I’d be interested to hear a) what an un-faulty view of existence is, b) how we know that :)
((having said that, I do see a possible misunderstanding. The use of ‘existence’ in this question refers to ‘existing things’, making the question the same as “Why does anything exist?” or “Why is there something rather than nothing?”, etc.))


I think the ‘answer’ to the question “Why does existence exist?” or “Why is there anything rather than nothing?” is to realise the invalidity of the question.

The ‘things’ above which you say are invalid to answer the question – ‘force’, ’singularity’, ‘multi-verse’, ’string’ – these are not ‘things’ either. These are just descriptions; human constructs. Metaphors.
There are no answers to the question ‘why’, only ‘how’. We mistake the ‘how’ answers as ‘why’ ones only if we can believe in the postulated entities. Which is to say we confuse reality with our descriptions of it.

The problem that the metaphysical naturalist view has is the success of its theories despite the fact that these things – these forces, singularities, multi-verse, strings… – these things do not even exist!
And the problem of the deist view (the one I read you OP as advocating) is that any more-than-thing is also a thing. Or at least, is not-a-thing just as much as a force, string etc. (but with the downside of not even being able to make predictions)

As you seem to agree, all of our understanding is via metaphor. I think an unfaulty view of existence is perhaps one in which we are cognisant of this; there is no answer to the question ‘why’. Only metaphorical descriptions of ‘how’. The original question “Why does existence exist?” is just the ultimate ‘why’ question. It only goes away when we take our metaphors too seriously.

A few more questions for you Simon,

How do you know that the ultimate ‘why’ question is invalid?

How do you know that “there are no answers to the question ‘why'”?

How would you define the words ‘thing’ and ‘exist’?

Yes, all of our understanding (our various ways of ‘knowing’ whether subjective, inter-subjective or objective, experiential or experimental, etc.) are indeed described by way of metaphor – but the things we metaphorically describe are sometimes (even often) real. Why can’t metaphors attempting to answer ‘why’ be valid? How do you know they aren’t valid?

Where is the line at which we know we are taking our metaphors too seriously?


Well, give me a ‘why’ answer to anything and I’ll show you how [I think] it’s a ‘how’ question. Like I say, any ‘why’ answer is just a ‘how’ answer using postulated entities (forces, strings, god) which we are prepared to believe in.

Why is it either/or? Why not both/and? Why are you so convinced that we can’t ask (and work at answering) both ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions about phenomena/things/etc.???


They are the same thing and I am calling it ‘how’ because the answers always involve a mechanism. Seriously, try to come up with a ‘why’ answer without it being a ‘how’ answer. I put it to you that you can’t.

They are the same thing and I am calling it ‘how’ because the answers always involve a mechanism.

That’s a non sequitur. Just because we can ask and seek to answer ‘how’ questions (i.e. just because the ‘how’ answers always involve a mechanism) doesn’t a priori rule out the validy/existence/possibility of asking and seeking to answer ‘why’ questions.

There are heaps of evolutionary/biological reasons (‘how’ answers) why we instinctively protect small babies (though I note, this doesn’t stop some would-be parents from literally rubbish-binning their own new-borns!), but this ‘how answer’ doesn’t negate the possibility of other answers (‘why’ answers), such as: rather than simply being a socially-constructed thing, a chemical reaction or both, that we are respecting the dignity and value of human life, especially at a most precious and fragile stage.

True human dignity/worth/value (as I point out here) is not a ‘how’ answer. To talk about evolutionary and/or social development offers good and helpful understanding as to ‘how’ we might feel feelings of ‘dignity’ or ‘value’ (not to mention whatever feelings are involved in rubbish-binning your own new-born), but it doesn’t even begin to establish whether or not we actually and truly have dignity and value.


Okay, but we have merely constructed an entity (concept) called “human dignity” to which we adhere. This answer, “human dignity”, only suffices if we convince ourselves that it is the end of the road; that it is unquestionable. But it is not. We can quite validly ask ‘why’ it is that we are compeeled to construct the concept “human dignity” for which it would be foolish to bank on there being no ‘how’ answer to.

Perhaps this is a better statement of my position to you original post: You seem to me to be contradicting yourself. On the one hand you agree that all of our understanding is in metaphor form, from the existence of existence right through to mundane forces. And yet on the other hand you want forces to be simply ‘things’ but the explanation for the existence of existence to be a ‘more-than-thing’. There is no demarcation here.

human dignity:
again, ‘how’ answers don’t rule out ‘why’ answers (and certainly not the validity of even asking the ‘why’ question!)

existence and ‘more than things’, etc.:
I really don’t see too many options when it comes to explaining (why OR how!) the existence of things/anything/everything/universe/multi-verse/etc., etc.:
1. Nothing actually exists. Existence is illusory. (raises question: ‘if the illusion is real, then at least something exists to be aware of it, etc.’
2. Everything is eternal and uncreated. (including theory about endless cycle(s) of cosmic expansion/collapse/re-expansion/re-collapse, etc., ad infinitum) (raises many many questions, of course)
3. Everything is self-created or self-caused. (to me, this stretches the imagination far more than belief in a creator!)
4. Everything was (somehow, in some way) created or caused. (this of course, challenges Carl Sagan’s assertion that the universe is all there is, all there was, and all there ever will be…)

Please add to this list if I’ve left something out?

Lol. I should put an end to the how/why thing. I am probably not explaining myself very well. :)

To me each one of those options is absurd. 1, how could nothing existing give rise to illusion? 2, I think answers nothing – what does this universe exist in? And what is time such that the universe exists in time? 3, agreed. 4, absurd, for what created the creator?

I would like to point out that to some people the idea that everything has existed for eternity (3) is just as natural as number 4 is to you (particularly in eastern religion I might suggest?). For sure, the idea that everything has existed for eternity is an ad-hoc claim to make. But so is the claim that there is an uncaused creator. To me there is no way out of absurdity. I think I can see the necessary self-contradiction in each one of those scenarios, and indeed, this is what motivates me to say that there is no answer to the ultimate question ‘why’.

1) (illusory universe) agreed fully
2) (eternal universe) I agree, it’s just asserted and raises questions
3) (self-created/caused universe) Good we agree :)
4) (created universe) Obviously, I don’t agree:

The ‘what created the creator’ question is dealt with (no offense) upon another half-second of reflection. “Oh yeah, you’d eventually (in terms of causality) have to get to a self-existant creator – which is pretty much (duh) the whole point of a creator)”

Not absurd at all, and precisely where causal logic leads. :)

I disagree, obviously. A self-created creator defiles the word ‘create’ altogether, I think. It is certainly not causally logical. Indeed, it is the very opposite of what we even mean by causally logical. Certainly a self-created creator is a concept worth pondering, but it is just as ad-hoc as the universe existing forever, or the universe creating itself.

I can see the linguistic problem of the notion of a self-‘created’ ‘creator’, but I don’t see even the slightest logical problem.

That is why I didn’t say self-‘created’ but rather self ‘existant’. Any Creator deserving of the title must be self-existant, and would be the source of all creating activity;
‘all things’ being ‘created’,
and the Creator being ‘un-created’.

So rather than ‘self-created’, ‘un-created’ would be both logically and linguistically proper. Indeed, ‘self-created’ would imply the same problem inherent to a self-creating universe, but ‘un-created’ (or ‘self-existant’) is a wholly different (and infinitely more logical) thing.

Okay. Ya, I guess then it’s similar to the ever-existing universe position; a self-existant universe.

Hehe. But that is an ad-hoc claim in itself. We don’t exactly have great experience with eternal objects, save the one’s – and this feels like a low blow – invented to obtain certain conclusions. But this goes for all of the four points above of course, in their attempts to ground our knowledge and the universe. A knowledge which is empirically and ultimately ungrounded and circular in my opinion.

Not ad-hoc at all sir :) An eternal universe doesn’t fit with cosmologial theories (even multiverse theory with its emerging/evolving mass of limitless universes would point back to a first universe). But a created universe/multi-verse is consistent and harmonious with cosmology.

I’m quite confident that in terms of the ‘why is there something and not nothing’, a creator will always be the most logical answer. Now, of course, that doesn’t get anyone to any specific kind of theism (pantheism, panentheism, deism, theism, spinozan/einsteinian ‘cosmic’ god, etc.,), but a) the other theories (1-3) are (I think) logically untenable, and b) I also find theism resonant with everything else I know/experience. I don’t claim that I can ‘prove’ God’s existence (although the 4 options above are a pretty compelling start, I think), but I just get annoyed by people asserting that it’s nonsense or idiotic, etc.

Any hint of reasons why it is ‘ad hoc’? If logic leads to and supports something, how can we say it is ‘ad hoc’???

Actually I think you mistook my meaning and I didn’t spot it, sorry. In post 18 I was saying that the claim that eternal things don’t change is ad-hoc. In two ways, I think. Firstly in claiming that there is something eternal, and then also in claiming that eternal things don’t change.

I think you misunderstood me because then in the next post you seem to argue that…….oh I see what you thought I meant. Okay, you were saying that ruling out an eternal universe is not ad-hoc. Well, funnily enough I disagree with this anyway, in a way. I hold that it does not make sense to make statements about the universe as a whole, because any qualifier/quantifier/description we make is necessarily an internal one; all of the concepts that we understand are from within the universe, by definition. For the specific case here, time. Time is a propertly of our universe(we pretty much think), so it simply doesn’t make sense to apply it to the universe as a whole. Certainly it appears to be true that a long time ago things in the universe were a lot closer together, but that’s it.
Certainly if time is external to our universe it might make sense to talk of the beginning of our universe. But then if time is external to our universe then we have something outside our universe, which undermines our use of the word universe in the first place!

First, let me address the time issue and at the same time your claim that it is ad hoc to claim that there is something eternal.

We call the universe the time/space universe. It is logical that a creator or cause of a time/space universe would not (could not) be rightly described (or even wondered about) in terms of either of those terms (time or space) specific to the universe. This is one part of what people mean when they say that God the creator would be (or is) eternal.

Second – about making statements about the universe as a whole.

I see what you mean in terms of ‘internal’ qualifiers, quantifiers, descriptions, but I still think it’s OK to speak about beginning of the universe (which seems –at least at the moment– consistent with what we know of cosmology), and therefore to wonder about a cause/creator. And more than this, I’d want to suggest that we are not limited by our ‘internal-ness’ when we use things like reason and logic to think about things.

Oh, yes, I agree/understand that this is what people say about god. But the problem is that as soon as one tries to comprehend what these descriptive terms would actually mean they end in meaninglessness; they end merely in an exhortation of what god is not. I’m not sure if it is actually the right word, but it is ‘ad-hoc’ to postulate things beyond the universe; we simply can’t because all of our stimulus is within the universe. The alternative is if god is observable from within. Either way it only makes sense to talk of what is within the universe (including space-time). It doesn’t make sense to do otherwise. The funny thing is that, let’s say you’re right and god set up a subset of the universe for us with space and time which he was outside/independant of. Sounds rather like a………simulation :)

Yes, I am much dismayed at the way cosmologists talk. They talk of OUR universe and the multiverse, which gets confusing. To me the universe is everything, period. Cosmologists certainly DO talk of the beginning of the universe, but this simply doesn’t make sense with our present understanding of time. (Certainly, if time turns out to be beyond our ‘universe’ then I’m right with them.) I note that the Lane Craig has made use of this in his restatement of the Kalam cosmological argument. But no cosmologist would actually claim, when pushed, that our ‘universe’ came into being. If they do they are taking their model too seriously for we don’t have data from then!

From a Christian point of view, the Creator is known (indirectly, and partially) through the creation, so it’s not simply a matter of abstract logic-chopping about what might be outside of the universe. We look at creation and we discern things like purpose, value, responsibility, etc. Also from a Christian point of view, the Creator is continually (always) active within creation, bringing it toward its goal/completion.

But yeah, the point is that belief in a Creator/cause of the universe is logically sound and reasonable. It is not in the slightest bit in conflict with cosmology. (And I would add that if it is true that “no cosmologist would actually claim that the ‘universe’ came into being”, then its also the case that none would actually deny that it came into being either.)

Heh. Yes, the knowable but completely subjective (sorry to sound cynical). Given this, I put it to you that your adhesion to the created universe has nothing to do with logical veracities of beyond-time-nesses and everything to do with those internal experiences you speak of. Experiences that I wholeheartedly uphold, too.

I agree that belief in god is not in conflict with science or cosmology. That is religion’s job, I think.
(I certainly hope that no cosmologist claims that there is data suggesting that the universe is eternal.)

I’d say that the reasonable-ness of a created universe and the ‘internal’ (did you mean inside ‘me’ or inside the universe?) experiences are 2 of many things which give a sense of confirmation and resonance and/or ‘making-sense-ness’ to my beliefs. And I’m quick to add that it’s always an on-going journey of growth and sharpening.

Comments are closed.