Sunday, July 31, 2016

Why Is There Something Rather than Nothing?

Sailing into the sun - Lake Michigan, from Holland State Park (8/29/12)

Pourquoi y-a-t-il quelque chose plutôt que rien?

Why is there Something rather than Nothing?

This question became my own as an undergraduate philosophy major at Northern Illinois University. Philosopher Michael Gelven introduced me to The Question, via Martin Heidegger. I had just been converted from a weak deism and practical atheism (the same thing?) to Christian theism. Welcome to the Big Questions of life.

Jim Holt's book on this question, Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story, is both excellent and sad.  

It's excellent. Extremely well-written. Holt is a good scholar as he comes to grips with hard philosophical, theological, and scientific concepts. He really captures a representative, eclectic scholarly group. Big names are interviewed - Richard Swinburne, Adolph Grünbaum, David Deutsch, Andre Linde, Alex Vilenkin, Steven Weinberg, Roger Penrose, John Leslie, Derek Parfit, and the late John Updike. Wow!

Holt takes us on an intellectual and existential tour de cosmos. In reading his book I have again been captivated. The Big Question seems more important than ever. I think on such things and my soul feasts.

Holt's book ends in sadness. This is not all bad. He writes exquisitely about the death of his mother and the time he personally spent at her bedside, loving her with words and actions. I'm thankful he wrote about this. He writes of her last breath.

"I returned to the room to be alone with my mother’s body. Her eyes were still a little open, and her head was cocked to the right. I thought about what was going on in her brain, now that her heart had stopped and the blood had ceased to flow. Deprived of oxygen, the brain cells were frantically but vainly attempting to preserve their functioning until, with gathering speed, they chemically unraveled. Perhaps there had been a few seconds of guttering consciousness in my mother’s cortex before she vanished forever. I had just seen the infinitesimal transition from being to nothingness. The room had contained two selves; now it contained one." (p. 273)

Not according to me, or Richard Swinburne.

My mother's bones were musical. She moved, slightly and perceptibly, to music. She was grateful that her two sons played guitar and sang. A few days before she died I was with her in her room in the nursing home. It was bedtime. I brought my guitar to play for her. I played soft, beautiful, exquisite music on my guitar, in love and honor for her. She lay on the bed. She heard my guitar. I finger-styled with all the excellence I had. Suddenly a voice from the room next door shouted, "Shut that thing up!!!" I stopped playing for a moment. Then, with utmost softness, I played for her again. I wasn't going to deny her this pleasure and comfort.

A few days later I was in her apartment, and the call came that she was gone. Out of the foundational miracle of Somethingness grows the conviction that my mother had not now become "nothing." God created, in the beginning. The One who powerfully created and sustains all that is, is more than able to recreate and raise my mother on that Final Day. From nothing, nothing comes. Ex nihilo, nihil fit. Unless... God.

My new book is Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.