Before the brain of any sentient species had evolved intelligent enough to ask the question "Why is there something instead of nothing", the universe did not require a purpose or reason to exist because nobody was there to ask the question, so why should it now?

Isn't this question selfish and arrogant? In my view, reality doesn't owe us a reason to exist as the 'mind' that is asking the question is physically composed of matter/energy that originated from the very something that is being questioned. We are made out of stardust are we not?

In broader terms, isn't existence asking itself why it exists?

I am very confused.

  • You are asking a philosophical question, but with a prior assumption of the veracity of our current scientific paradigm: the mind=brain is not a settled issue; that the universe existed before anyone that could question it is also a conjecture from available evidence... But even within your paradigm, "existence asking itself why it exists" is not really problematic: Us asking why there is anything, does not imply that the universe "owes" an explanation, and it could be seen as a consequence of natural development. - Welcome to Philosophy SE! – christo183 Dec 17 '18 at 16:37
  • I agree. No need to be confused. Existence always exists (is),here and now. Reality is our giving our experience of Existence 'meaning'. Then was 'then'. No need for confusion. – Gary Reist Dec 17 '18 at 18:17
  • 1
    Anthropic principles... Strong and weak aside... Nobody knows how or why the universe began . Because all tools we could use to probe the question break down in the conditions of the big bang. My personal theory is that we are a simulation.. but that just defers the question... Where did the reality in which our simulation is running come from. – Richard Dec 17 '18 at 19:41

As I see it, your argument is a correct application of the Anthropic Principle. It is a habit of correcting for the base-rate fallacies that people should develop and apply more often.

You can only ask the question because you exist. So there may be no better answer than that you exist. If that is the case, your question won't have an answer. However unlikely every argument may indicate your existence should be, it is a fact. Highly unlikely things do happen, given enough opportunities. We should not decide what we observe is an illusion, or that it is all designed, or that it is all simulated just because all of it is highly unlikely to come together naturally.

You might ask "Why are all intelligent beings bipedal" and somehow come to the conclusion that bipedality is what caused intelligence. But it is far more likely that intelligence is really rare, but will eventually arise in some being, and that being, at least on this planet happened to have two legs for a completely unrelated reason.

But people do assert those things. And they are not convinced by this argument.

The problem is that such arguments about what is likely in infinite or undetermined situations are not as easy to support as their finite analogs, which can be supported by guessing a reasonable base rate and doing some math. So this principle raises good insights, and produces fragile arguments.

It is, after all, possible that bicamerality and the need for the two hemispheres of the human brain to communicate very explicitly in order to make peace with one another is what led to our being the first animals to have the level of communication needed to support conscious intelligence. We have two brains for much the reason we have two legs. So bipedalism may make intelligence more likely. The argument has been made, and it points at some data, which remains inconclusive.

Our counterargument based on a sense of what is "far more likely" does not give us any indication where to look for evidence to support it.


Don't be confused! Asking the question "why is there something rather than nothing" is not an unfair or biased action: it's a straightforward path from the everyday observation that "everything I see has its cause" to the crucial question "so what's the cause of everything?"

It's a philosophically meaty question, though, as you expressed. The trivial solution seems to be a "god of the gaps" answer: "because God, silly!" But maybe that seems intellectually unsatisfying, like saying the solution to a parabola equation in first-year physics is 0.

Yes, OK, the equation is satisfied if both sides are multiplied by 0 but we haven't learned anything! Let's try to learn something instead of taking intellectual shortcuts, OK?

But the next problem is the turtles which go all the way down. It's a nice joke, at one time acknowledging the logical conundrum and sort of belittling anybody who claims to know the answer. Fine: we don't see the turtles, and it's impossible for turtles to cause the turtles, and "all the way down" is left undefined in a half-mystical half-joking way.

But don't be fooled! Having a little chuckle about the turtles and getting a cup of coffee isn't taking the problem seriously!

I think that the theologians who talk about the qualities of a real God who causes everything else are working very hard, not taking intellectual shortcuts, and certainly not isolating themselves to their acolytes and affirmers. Instead of reading Dawkins and Dennett, read Plantinga or Craig for once and see if they're as bad as you thought. Then read Hitchens or Harris, and see for yourself which camp does a better job.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.