Taylor: A column all about nothing

There is no such thing as nothing. Because if there was such a thing as nothing, it wouldn’t be nothing, would it?

Here’s a brain-teaser for you—try to think of nothing.

You can’t.

In fact, there is no such thing as nothing. Because if there was such a thing as nothing, it wouldn’t be nothing, would it?

When the Big Bang happened, 14 billion years ago (give or take a few million years) it was not an explosion of something out into empty space. Rather, scientists say, it was an explosion of space itself. Beyond that bubble of expanding space, there was nothing to expand into.

The same with time. How long did nothing exist before something exploded into existence? It’s a meaningless question, because there was no time, either. Nothing couldn’t have been there forever, because it wasn’t there at all.

We can imagine a vacuum, from which every molecule of anything has been pumped out. But we have to imagine that vacuum existing within some kind of a container.

So we persist in wondering about the boundaries of the universe. What contains it? Answer: Nothing does.

How far does that nothing go? It doesn’t. Because going on forever implies both time and space.

But if there’s nothing there, there’s no time, no space, no matter.

Just nothing.

Our minds cannot imagine nothing. We can only imagine something.

That’s why Anselm of Canterbury, a thousand years ago, defined God as a “being than which no greater can be conceived.”

If we can imagine it, he argued, it can exist. Indeed, it must exist. Because, Anselm went on, we can’t not imagine such a being. If something can be conceived not to exist, then we have imagined something.

Consequently, as a Wikipedia entry puts it: “a thing than which nothing greater can be conceived cannot be conceived to not exist and so it must exist.”

Did you follow that?

I think Anselm was saying that because we can’t imagine nothing, we have to imagine something. We call that something “God.” He saw that as indisputable proof of God.

Sometimes, in my writing classes, I instruct students “Do not think of an elephant!” Of course, the first thing that pops into their minds is an elephant. My students giggle a little, and try to imagine something else. But that silly elephant keeps popping up.

Which is why strident atheism is self-destructive. You can’t keep denying the existence of God (by whatever name) without inviting people to think about God.

I read about an atheist church in London, England. It had huge success its first year of operation. It offered the social benefits of a conventional congregation, without the dogma that many attenders rejected.

But soon it developed a liturgy. It wove music, words, and ritual into a predictable pattern.

And it didn’t take long for it to set up a branch congregation in the U.S., who didn’t take long to disagree with their parent church over what they didn’t believe, and to split off into a new atheist church.

Just as you can’t think of nothing, you can’t believe in nothing. You have to believe in something. Even if it’s not God.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Armstrong’s Jesse Crowe, shown at the home of golf, St. Andrew’s in Scotland, has been named the Royal York Golf Course’s director of golf operations. (Facebook photo)
Armstrong golf pro soars to home course position

Jesse Crowe becomes director of golf operations at Royal York Golf Course

A nurse performs a test on a patient at a drive-in COVID-19 clinic in Montreal, on Wednesday, October 21, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson)
30 new COVID-19 cases, five more deaths in Interior Health

This brings the total number of cases to 7,271 since testing began

Interior Health officially declared a COVID-19 outbreak at Creekside Landing in Vernon on Jan. 3, which was followed by the first death from the virus 10 days later. (Kaigo photo)
Despite additional death, COVID outbreak over at Vernon care home

Creekside Landing cleared of coronavirus, despite additional loss in last day

Two North Okanagan-Shuswap rural communities, including Lumby, will receive B.C. government grants to support new jobs and economic opportunities to help them recover from the impacts of COVID-19. (Black Press file photo)
North Okanagan-Shuswap communities collect government grants

Lumby and Blind Bay to benefit to help recover from economic impact of COVID-19

Accelerate Okanagan has announced the six finalists for the 2021 OKGN Angel Summit. The remaining entrepreneurs will compete for a chance to receive a $145,000 investment in their business. (Eryca Stirling photo)
Finalists named for Okanagan entrepreneur summit

Accelerate Okanagan has named the final six competing entrepreneurs in the OKGN Angel Summit

Dr. Bonnie Henry talk about the next steps in B.C.'s COVID-19 Immunization Plan during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, January 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
456 new COVID-19 cases in B.C., 2 deaths

Since January 2020, 78,278 have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in B.C.

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)
Vaccinating essential workers before seniors in B.C. could save lives: experts

A new study says the switch could also save up to $230 million in provincial health-care costs

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

The late Michael Gregory, 57, is accused of sexually exploiting six junior high students between 1999 and 2005. (Pixabay)
Former Alberta teacher accused of sexually assaulting students found dead in B.C.

Mounties say Michael Gregory’s death has been deemed ‘non-suspicious’

According to a new poll, a majority of Canadians want to see illicit drugs decriminalized. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Majority of Canadians think it’s high time to decriminalize illicit drugs: poll

More than two-times the B.C. residents know someone who died from an overdose compared to rest of Canada

Ranchero Deep Creek firefighters respond to a blaze involving two adjacent structures at a property off of Deep Creek Road on Sunday, Feb. 21. The buildings were believed to have been used as part of a cannabis growing operation, and RCMP are investigating. (Sean Coubrough/CSRD photo)
Ranchero Deep Creek firefighters respond to a blaze involving two adjacent structures at a property off of Deep Creek Road on Sunday, Feb. 21. The buildings were believed to have been used as part of a cannabis growing operation, and RCMP are investigating. (Sean Coubrough/CSRD photo)
Shuswap firefighters responding to structure blaze find cannabis grow operation

RCMP investigating, attempting to track down owner of property

(Stock photo)
EDITORIAL: The freedom to read

Books have been challenged many times in the past

Most Read