Posted by: Brian Robinette | January 23, 2009

Why is There Something Rather than Nothing? On Getting the Question Right

Here is an extremely interesting discussion between Catholic theologian Denys Turner (currently at Yale) and Jonathan Miller, who produced the BBC documentary Atheism: A Rough History of Disbelief. This conversation was left out the documentary, but was included in a series called The Atheism Tapes, which features the original interviews that contributed to the documentary. It is somewhat ironic that is was left out, since Turner’s point — or at least one of them — is that many atheists (not all, of course) work very hard leave out the most important question, or at least consign it to the nonsensical: Why is there something at all rather than nothing?

This 30 minute video is one of the more interesting exchanges I’ve come across in a while. If you’re in a philosophical mood, this is good food.

Part One (Here); Parts Two and Three after the page break:

Part Two

Part Three



  1. Miller’s question at the end of Part Two about the purpose of having such a long time before the emergence of an appreciating recipient for God’s gift intrigued me and I didn’t particularly like the way in which Turner responded; so I might take the opportunity to offer my own thought since it somewhat relates to my paper:

    It seems that the presupposition that humanity is a worthy receiver for God’s gift and can appreciate it is ill-founded. Without going into a long analysis, it seems that anything which a transcendent and infinite God could give would be just as incomprehensible to the finite receiver as the giver is himself.

    If our own inadequacy is accepted and it is also conceded that it is appropriate and good that we appreciate the gift insofar as we are able to do so, then the question must become, “Why would it be less appropriate for animals and plants and anything else with a soul to appreciate God’s gift insofar as they are able to do so?”

    At this point, it seems the question falls close to the one raised by Miller midway through Part Three about an “aesthetic” purpose for the world.

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