While preparing my earlier article about Ayn Rand, I came upon the following quote about a talk by uber-Randian Leonard Peikoff. (Actually Peikoff is far more reasonable than Rand.) The article noted that he said Obama was not a socialist but rather an egalitarian nihilist. It then describes this as “the form of Kantianism that gave us non-objective art, quantum mechanics, and progressive education.” So society is going to hell because of “liberal” science like quantum mechanics. See why I call Objectivism a religion? In this case, the writer doesn’t even seem to be an Objectivist—just a conservative. And this drives me crazy: if the loyal opposition is going to dismiss the last 80 years of physics because they have ontological problems with it, we are doomed.
Make no mistake: I am despairing today. And when I despair, I reach out for something I can grab onto—something that I have some control over. So I picked up Jim Holt’s new book, Why Does the World Exist?. It promises to provide me with insight into the only question that really matters, “Why does anything exist rather than nothing?” Actually, although I’d be happy with an answer to that question, I have a more fundamental question: do I exist. This is not as silly a question as you may think, and I’m sure that I will address it in various forms for as long as I “exist.”
Holt starts his book with a cheeky prologue, “A quick proof that there must be something rather than nothing, for modern people who lead busy lives”:
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. QED
I will explain why this proof is invalid by way of explaining what I think about this question. I figure I should get my basic thoughts down before reading the book. That way, I can see how my thinking has changed. So stay tuned!
I have problems with the God debate. Postulating God as the reason for everything simply pushes the problem back one step. It naturally raises the question, “How God?” And this puts believers in the same place as the non-believers: God is self-created or some variation thereof. This is the argument that Lawrence Krauss makes in A Universe From Nothing. But the believers and non-believers alike seem not to understand that they have not answered the question.
If God or the universe just sprang into being, that “nothing” from which it sprang must have had properties (or laws) that allowed it. And that begs the question: how was a nothingness that allowed something created?
In fairness, serious thinkers on both sides understand this problem. But neither have any good answers. They are all basically definitional. On the theological side they define God as some kind of mechanism that allows existence. On the scientific side they define the problem away. (Really, Krauss seems to think that “nothingness is unstable” is something other than an evasion.)
In the end, I think, we are left with a paradox. And so what?! I have no problem with that. We exist and yet we shouldn’t. I think this says a whole lot about how the brain works and a whole nothing about how the universe works. We know via Godel that even some deductive systems can be shown to be incomplete or inconsistent. Is it such a leap to suggest that the universe is the same way? That we are trapped by our perceptions to see problems where none exist?
And that brings us back to Holt’s cheeky proof: it is self-consistent. But everything we know about existence indicates that the universe does not feel obliged to follow Aristotle’s teachings. What’s more, at bottom, the proof is no more helpful than, “I exist therefore something much exist!” Although that is more or less what I believe.
I think that humans want to make sense of all things. But a lot of things just don’t make sense. And I think that’s a good thing. The universe would be a sad place if it were explicable. In conclusion: wow!
 I don’t mean to confine this discuss to our universe. Think of this as shorthand. I don’t see any reason why a single universe is any more likely than literally an infinity of universes. I say this because our universe seems to be around 14 billion years old. But that can’t be true of existence itself. (Or nonexistence, if you prefer.)
 Unfortunately, just about every believer and non-believer you’ve heard of does not fall into this category. I know the non-believers better, so let me name a few: Krauss, Dawkins, Hitchens.