We considered the concept of “nothing,” for example in Is Nothing Something, and in It’s Not Nothing. Instead of conceiving of truly nothing, we tend to think instead of a something. That something may be simple or minimal or invisible or insubstantial, but it is not nothing.
Something from Nothing
The tendency to mis-conceive nothing can trip us up when we try to understand the conundrum of why there is something rather than nothing. It can cause us to blow past a foundational question: why is there a physical universe at all? We begin to think of it as having transitioned from some other kind of “something,” rather than having blinked into being truly from nothing.
That same tendency can interfere with clear thinking about metaphysics, as well. When considering whether there is something beyond physical reality, we can slip into thinking about what it is we don’t believe, and then consider that non-belief to be the same as belief in “nothing.” Then, it is a short step to considering that “nothing” to be neutrality on the big question whether there is a spiritual reality.
Neutrality as to A and Z
Imagine two mutually exclusive ideas, A and Z. Assume the law of non-contradiction applies, because A is not Z, Z is not A, and together A and Z comprise the only two possibilities concerning the subject matter. If we disbelieve A, that means we must believe Z.
Muddled thinking might cause us to focus on our non-belief in A, rather than affirmative belief concerning Z. We might describe our rejection of A as being only non-belief in A, rather than affirmative belief in Z. We might come to think of non-belief in A as being belief in “nothing,” rather than belief in Z. We would then be prey to confusing that “nothing” with neutrality on the question of which is true as between A and Z. That is not neutrality, however. That is just adoption of Z without acknowledging it.
Neutrality as to Theism and Materialism
Now suppose A stands for theism, and Z stands for materialism. Materialism means that reality is comprised entirely of that which is bounded by space and time; there is nothing beyond the physical. Theism means that there is also a supernatural reality; a reality beyond the physical. By definition, theism and materialism cannot both be true. They are each defined in opposition to the other. They are mutually exclusive.
Theism and materialism also comprise all of the possibilities on the subject matter. Either there is a reality transcending the physical which includes the physical, or the physical is all there is. All of reality = A; or all of reality = Z.
If we disbelieve theism, that means we should believe materialism. Muddled thinking might cause us to focus on our non-belief in theism, rather than affirmative belief concerning materialism. We might describe our rejection of theism as being only non-belief in God, rather than affirmative belief in materialism. We might come to think of non-belief in God as being belief in “nothing,” rather than belief in the principles of materialism. We would then be prey to confusing that “nothing” with neutrality on the question of whether there is a God or not.
That is not neutrality, however. That is just adoption of materialism without acknowledging it.