Letters to Nature

I’ve just finished listening to a debate between philosopher William Lane Craig and cosmologist Lawrence Krauss on the debate topic “Is there evidence for God?”. I have a load of these on my iPod – some are very good (Craig vs Austin Dacey is probably the best), while some represent 2 hours of my life that I’ll never get back. They get a bit repetitive after a while. The debate with Krauss was somewhere in the middle. Craig was polished and concise, presenting the same 5 arguments (contingency, Kalam, fine-tuning, moral, resurrection of Jesus) he’s presented for decades. Krauss was less organised and much less focussed. I’ve responded to some of Craig’s claims elsewhere. I’ll focus on some of what Krauss said.

First and foremost, I’m getting really rather sick of cosmologists talking about universes being created out of nothing. Krauss repeatedly talked about universes coming out of nothing, particles coming out of nothing, different types of nothing, nothing being unstable. This is nonsense. The word nothing is often used loosely – I have nothing in my hand, there’s nothing in the fridge etc. But the proper definition of nothing is “not anything”. Nothing is not a type of something, not a kind of thing. It is the absence of anything.

Some of the best examples of the fallacy of equivocation involve treating the word nothing as if it were a type of something:

  • Margarine is better than nothing.
  • Nothing is better than butter.
  • Thus, margarine is better than butter.

We can uncover the fallacy by simply rephrasing the premises, avoiding the word nothing:

  • It is better to have margarine than to not have anything.
  • There does not exist anything that is better than butter.

The conclusion (margarine is better than butter) does not follow from these premises.

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