Presupposition of the question. The question, "Does X exist?" is either trivial or empty. On the one hand, as Hume said one time, it seems as if in thinking of something, I always think of it as existing (if only in thought). On the other hand, as Kant said one time, it seems as if in describing something as X, I do not (qualitatively) describe less of it than when I describe it as an existent X. So the naively free-floating use of the word "exists" is ambiguated between inherently uninformative meanings. (Note: this does not mean that quantifiers are useless, just that their usefulness is independent on whether they are taken to recapitulate our ontological naivete.) In a slogan, "Nothing exists." The slogan explained: not, then, however, to say that things do the opposite of existing, either; or, just because something doesn't exist, doesn't mean that true statements about it cannot be made. The modern princess of Antarctica has not shaved her head, for instance, but she also has no head to shave and isn't actually a princess, for that matter, either.

Atheism. It would be pointless to say, "God does not exist," then. Of course It doesn't exist: nothing whatsoever exists! But it would not be pointless to say, "God did not create the world." That is what an atheist would say in this context; that or, then, "The world was not created by God."

What would justify an atheist in saying this, though? Now, there are many uses of the word "creation," and some are allowable, here, e.g., "Matter was rearranged into the form of X," is the from-prior-substance definition, and to reword that as, "X was created," would go through as such. But the general definition of "creation" is "to cause to exist," which then adverts to either the naive use of the word "existence" that was presuppositionally ruled out, or to sophisticated replacement assertions. It seems as though talk of "creation from nothingness" involves ontological naivete, as if nothingness too is a real predicate alongside somethingness, which after all we just said that we deny, here.

In other words: is saying, "God created the world from nothingness," the same as saying, "God predicated existence of the world"? Yet then if existence is not a predicate, or if it is pointless to talk about things existing as such, then our atheism would be stated as, "The world was not caused to exist from nothing," and even, "God did not create the world from nothing." But it seems strange to be able to deduce atheism, even in this form, from abstract premises.

Consider the peculiarity of asking, "Why is there something instead of nothing?" This doesn't seem so far from asking, "Why are there reasons-why for anything?" or anyway, the answer to the former would seem as if it would have to involve the answer to the latter. But if the latter is pointless, so too is the former; or, again, asking about things existing in such a free-floating way seems like not asking a real question.

  • What you ascribe to Hume is "Plato's beard", and the idea is hardly free-floating and dubious at best. Kant did not say that describing something as existent (in reality) is uninformative, only that it does not add to the concept. How you get from that to "nothing exists" is mysterious ( I assume that under Plato's version it should be "everything exists"), there is more to reality than concepts, after all. And the question "does God exist?" refers exactly to that, existence in reality, regardless of whether it is treated as a predicate or not.
    – Conifold
    Dec 28, 2022 at 0:46
  • For philosophers firmly believed in and subscribed to anti-essentialism, perhaps existence is the only real predicate worth one's care and contemplation... Dec 28, 2022 at 2:25
  • @Conifold, I really mean to argue that all sentences that refer to existence can be "paraphrased away.". At best, "exists" might be akin to "is true" on the prosentential theory of truth, a convenient collapsing term for a complex set of assertions about something, e.g. rather than saying, "If I look up at a clear night sky, or if I travel at X speed up a certain superorbital path, or... then I will perceive or even land on the moon," we can just say, "The moon exists." Beyond that, talk of existence would (allegedly) be pointless. Dec 28, 2022 at 2:44
  • And if, "Does X exist?" needs to be converted to, "Does X exist in reality?" to be substantially meaningful, why not just ask, "Is X real?" Or, then, the bare concept of something existing is not meaningful; the concept has to be relativized in some way, and the way that ex nihilo creationists try to relativize it would purportedly fail (the "nothingness" that is at stake is itself supposedly absolute, or else God's sovereignty would be compromised (see van Til, A Christian Theory of Knowledge, for this kind of assertion)). Dec 28, 2022 at 3:01
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    "Does X exist?" need not be converted to "Does X exist in reality?", the word is intentionally ambiguous for different contexts: reality, thought, mathematics, fiction, etc. (why? because there are enough common formal traits to make it efficient). But reality is the context when asking about God. If you want deflationary theory of existence, Thomasson proposed one, see some criticisms in Pompilla's thesis. But whether existence is treated as a predicate or deflated makes little difference to metaphysics.
    – Conifold
    Dec 28, 2022 at 6:27

1 Answer 1


But it seems strange to be able to deduce atheism, even in this form, from abstract premises.

Well of course it is. One is only ever an Atheist in reaction to a concrete stipulation about the realm of theology. The neutral, abstract position contains no realist content about god or gods at all, not even the possibility of their existence, until the semantics are introduced.

  • Perhaps I should have said, "But it seems strange to be able to deduce that the world was not created from nothingness." The nonexistence of God is of a piece with the nonexistence of everything else, here, per the presuppositions involved (but it would not be appropriate to describe oneself as an atheist merely because one did not think that the word "existence" had much use at all). Dec 27, 2022 at 16:42
  • I’m not even sure that gets around the semantic problem - what could it mean to “create the world”? Such an account seems to be properly theological, and I don’t think you can start down the path of theological metaphysics with a placeholder theology.
    – Paul Ross
    Dec 27, 2022 at 17:23
  • The only two other definitions of creation that I'm aware of are from-unorganized-matter and by-emanation. (Maybe three, depending on how Kant's notion of intellectual intuition can be cashed out.) Offhand neither seems to involve the transfer of a bare existence predicate to otherwise nonexistent objects, but they seem susceptible of translations that eliminate the naive/free-floating use of the word "existence." So for now, those flavors of theism seem admissible, here. Dec 27, 2022 at 17:53

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