The Dongola Times

(Anachronistic) Dispatches from the Kingdom of Makuria.
06th of June, 2013

Wrong in a Clever Way

Apparently, John Holt writes a proof for “why there is something, rather than nothing”, in the following way:


Suppose there were nothing. Then there would be no laws; for laws, after all, are something. If there were no laws, then everything would be permitted. If everything were permitted, then nothing would be forbidden. So if there were nothing, nothing would be forbidden. Thus nothing is self-forbidding.

Therefore, there must be something. Q.E.D.

It is quite typical of our times to be completely wrong, and yet incapable of self-correction, because we look to what has already failed, when we are searching for correction. Logic has not so much fixed our problems as shown us how many they are; logic will not fix them. To quote my favourite bald-headed man, “Therefore by the laws of logic shall no man be justified; rather, through these laws we learn that we are incoherent.” Al tahafut al falsafa.

In the proof above, he says “suppose there were nothing.” Now they think of “nothing” as a state, rather than a being. (In the same way that we think of death as a state, rather than a being. Being, as in it is; it exists.) From this little fundamental mistake comes the self-contradictory display that follows (and it spares neither Aquinas nor Holt). “There would be no laws …” Wrong. There would be the laws of nothingness, some of which are cited in the proof. Indeed, the proof says there would be … and in so doing, the proof says that even “nothing” is created by a “let there be”, and then “it was”. So, “Let there be no laws,” in this case, and “it was”. Such that our dear John Holt then comes and thinks about such a World, and says “There would be … no laws.” Of course; no-laws is a state that exists, and if it exists, it cannot also be true that there is nothing that exists.

“For laws, after all, are something.” Yes; including the law that nullifies the legalism, the law that John Holt is deliberating upon. (Interestingly, Paul also discusses this law at length in his epistles. Hence “Consider yourselves dead to the Law … you are not under the Law, but under Grace.” Nothing—or death, à la Paul—is a state where different laws hold. When we see them, we think that because they are as opposed to our laws as death is to life, then it is surely nothing.

Au contraire, there are strong laws in death, just as in nothingness. So it is not true that “everything would be permitted.” Why would people be scared of dying? And this freedom, this state where nothing is forbidden—which Paul puts as “it is for freedom you have been set free” on the one hand, and which the Corinthians phrased as “everything is permissible for me!”—is not nothing. It has its laws; and the Law is what James refers to as “the law of liberty”.
My counter-proof is here, in two parts:

Suppose there were nothing.

This is self-contradictory, because of the use of the existential verb (to be) in that expression. Therefore something exists. (Shadows exist just as much as light does.)
Therefore there must be something. QED.

That one, some people try to survive by changing their definition of nothing to become a constantly-self-devouring nothingness about which nothing can be said, except that it is nothing. Therefore I trot out the second part:

Suppose there were nothing.
[Insert argument, such as John Holt’s.]
If this state is consistent, where nothing does exist reliably, the reliability of its existence is something, rather than nothing (in the sense the thinker is using).
Therefore there must be something. QED.

All this is because we cannot think of nothing. We will have more luck thinking about imaginary somethings (which is itself a difficult problem), and we may call the things we imagine “nothing”, but we can never even vaguely imagine nothing.

John Holt concludes right: there must be something. It is just our good fortune that this is the case. We cannot prove our mother-state, that there is something rather than nothing, using the feeble results of the state itself. No self-referential system is both complete and consistent. So John Holt refers to our parent-state (there being something rather than nothing), and immediately his theory is given the hard Gödelian choice: on the one hand incoherence (as diagnosed by al-Ghazali), which the mathematicians call inconsistency, on the other hand humbleness (as diagnosed by 1 Corinthians, especially the first chapter), which the mathematicians call incompleteness. He has chosen incoherence; others of similar thinking would look at this analysis of his proof and say they have failed to prove why there is something rather than nothing.

But it is easy to prove this. You just have to put logic aside and use a system of thought that can actually reason about the parent-state (perhaps because it is the state of consciousness in which God dwells … who the fuck knows?), and that system of thought is called … faith. Faith is derided and looked-down-upon, but since it can sustain inconsistency (indeed, “inconsistent” cannot be expressed in a fideistic logic), it allows for a complete theory of anything. This is why the ancients, instinctively, opted for faith. We are the latest in a long line of civilisations to privilege learnt behaviour over instinct, and linear knowledge-generation over random (inspired) knowledge. Since I believe that Paul was right, I expect that we are soon to be humbled by an honest evaluation (well, as honest as normal humans can manage) of what indeed the truth is.

This is why Paul—who long ago dealt with the philosophical problems of “the disputers of this age”—says the righteous shall live by faith. This is why it is sola fide, whether or not the Latins hate the truth of it. “By faith, from first to last.”
When I was younger, I made a sport out of ruining every argument for God that I found. I have not yet found an argument I cannot tear up whenever it is not based on faith. When it comes to God (or the opposite of God—the nothing that John Holt was talking of as a state while in fact it is a being—the opposite of Life), we are going to have to use a logic that is not designed for matter and the seen Universe. If you ascend the heavens, do as the mystics do.