How Can We Know Something Can’t Come from Nothing if We’ve Never Experienced Nothing?

by Jason Dulle

something-from-nothingTheists often use the basic metaphysical principle that something only comes from something as evidence for God’s existence.  We reason that if the universe (something) came into being, then it must have been caused to come into being by something else – it could not have simply materialized out of nothing without a cause because out of nothing, nothing comes.  The something that brought the universe into being must itself be immaterial, spaceless, and eternal, which are some of the basic properties of a theistic being.

I have heard a few atheists object to this argument by questioning the veracity of the basic metaphysical principle that something can only come from something on the grounds that we have never experienced nothing to know whether or not it is possible for something to come from nothing, and thus we cannot know that it’s impossible for something to come from nothing.  While we may not have any direct experience of something that comes into being from nothing, it does not mean it’s not possible.  Indeed, in the case of the universe it was not only possible, but it actually happened.

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There are multiple problems with this line of reasoning.  For starters, the objection assumes that the principle in question is an empirical principle formulated by inductive observations of a large collection of somethings (a posteriori).  Since every something we encounter was caused to exist by a prior something, we conclude that something only comes from something.  It is possible, however, that our experience is limited, and if we encountered a larger collection of somethings we would find at least one example of a something that came into being from nothing.  This characterization of the metaphysical principle misses the boat by a long shot…

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How Can We Know Something Can’t Come from Nothing if We’ve Never Experienced Nothing? « Theo-sophical Ruminations