Bede Rundle’s Obituary; Why There is Something Rather Than Nothing

Philosopher Bede Rundle has died.

If you hadn’t heard of him and you are reading this blog, then you will almost certainly want to read his book, Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing (Oxford University Press, 2004). Here’s a summary of Rundle’s argument, taken from his obituary:

Since this universe is contingent, that is to say it might not have existed, at some point it did not exist, and at a later point it came into existence. Since something can only begin to exist in relation to something else already existing (for instance, a football match can only start if the players are on the field), a non-contingent, necessary thing, God, must have existed for this universe to begin to exist. Had there been no necessary thing, God, there would be nothing now.

Unlike most recent philosophers, Rundle found some truth in this argument. In his version, we must indeed claim that if nothing had existed, nothing would exist now, in other words that it is impossible that nothing at all should have existed. For to say that there might have been nothing “then” (before the Big Bang) or “now” presupposes a temporal framework of reference, and thus space, motion and objects.

However, this does not fully vindicate Aquinas, for “the only thing which would provide a setting into which our universe might make an entrée would be another universe”. There is no necessary entity, God, but some physical thing or other must have always necessarily existed.

If correct, this argument has dramatic consequences for most humans and their religious or scientific beliefs about the origin of the world, for it undermines the idea of an absolutely first event of the world, whether Creation or Big Bang. Rundle also casts doubt on the notion of divine agency and indeed the coherence of the notion of God.

Rundle’s obituary may be found here. (HT: Leiter Reports)

Secular Outpost contributor Stephen Law’s review may be found on his blog here.