Difference between 'nothing' and a 'vacuum'


why should there be a universe at all? why is there anything? i often hear the continual misinterpretation of quantum virtual particles as a possible explanation for the existence of the universe. people commonly misunderstand that this is more than a theory about the behavior of virtual particles in a vacuum.

people tend to think that a ‘vacuum’ is the same thing as ‘nothing’. its not! a vacuum, even a perfect vacuum, is a dimensionally defined space.

there is no physical reason why anything should exist at all. not even a vacuum. i wonder by what method an atheist may say we came into existence? if there be no physical reason for existence, we shouldn’t be here should we?


HOW the universe came into existence is not, in my opinion, a matter of concern for most atheists. Once you get to a certain point, the how and the why come crashing together and you can’t really discern the difference between them. So here’s the problem…
*]Science deals with the observable.
*]Prior to the creation of the universe, nothing was observable. In fact, we can only “see” back to the begining of the universe.
*]Therefore, science cannot deal with what happened before the creation of the universe (i.e., the HOW the universe came into being).
*]Since science can’t deal with this, what else do we have that can? Theology.
*]Belief in the concepts behind theology requires a belief in God.
*]Atheists don’t believe in God…so they’re left with only going back so far as science can take them.

So really, atheists don’t really care so much about giving any sort of explanation…go figure.

God Bless!



I saw this thread a few days ago and I thought it would be quite an interesting topic and I was going to join in if someone took up the challenge.

However, as no one else has posted, I may take the position of devil’s advocate.

I would say there is no objective purpose to the universe, but a purpose is not a prerequisite for existence. The existence of the universe is simply a chance event (as are most things on a quantum scale) but it is a chance event that we are very lucky to have.

We make our own purpose in life, it is not governed by some mystical being in the sky.


Could you explain how is a vacuum just “a dimensionally defined space?” If there is nothing within a vacuum, it is a nothing place. (“Place” being defined as the innermost surface of a surrounding body.)



A vacuum is a volume of space that does not contain any matter. If it is a volume of space, it has to have some dimension. The fact that it doesn’t contain anything does not, in fact, make it nothing. A vacuum is still a thing.


There is no explanation for the most basic “plane”, if you will, of existence. It simply exists as a brute fact.

[quote="warpspeedpetey]people tend to think that a ‘vacuum’ is the same thing as ‘nothing’. its not! a vacuum, even a perfect vacuum, is a dimensionally defined space.

Just because a space is recognized and defined does not mean that it is something.

[quote=warpspeedpetey]there is no physical reason why anything should exist at all. not even a vacuum. i wonder by what method an atheist may say we came into existence? if there be no physical reason for existence, we shouldn’t be here should we?

Whatever the root node of existence is, I say that it came to be the same way that your Yahweh came to be.

The circumstances prior to the beginning of the universe may not have been observable by today’s science in practice, but it is still an issue concerning reality, and has a concrete answer.

Just because a particular way of thinking can offer an explanation does not necessarily mean that it is correct.

The dimensions that we may attribute to it do not exist in reality - they are abstractions.


That still does not answer my question. May I explain: “place” is the innermost surface of a surrounding body. Within that surface there is nothing. Nothing is nothing. Period. That there is a space, is simply an epistemological convention, due primarily, I think, to our native language insufficiencies.

Now, I understand that there may well be no place where some matter is not extant. But, there could be such a place. I further understand that we could postulate some type of matter, or, “virtual” matter, or, energy, however sparse, and thus there could be causation. But, of course, we would still be left with the theorem that from nothing nothing can come (to be, that is).

A distinction is being made herein, and in many other threads that I have read. If nothing exists within a defined place, why is it not still nothing? Is the nothing-vacuum dependent upon the surrounding body? Is it dependent upon the “stuff” of the universe? How about outside of the universe? What is that nothingness dependent upon? Or, is it not dependent at all?



I have to disagree with you strongly. (Despite perhaps taking this slightly off topic.) I see the words,“brute fact,” as being nothing more than an easy-out. They beg the question AND the conclusion is unsupported.

I find this statement simply beyond comprehension.

Here, we have an unsupported assertion that, again, is beyond comprehension. You sound as though you are so anxious to smack down God that you’ll say just about anything.

Are you willing to share it with us?

I don’t think so.



If we accept that something cannot come from nothing, then at some point, there is some sort of irreducible something that does not depend on anything else for its existence.

[quote=JDaniel]I find this statement simply beyond comprehension.

I mean to say that labels are abstractions.

[quote=JDaniel]Here, we have an unsupported assertion that, again, is beyond comprehension. You sound as though you are so anxious to smack down God that you’ll say just about anything.

…I’m not trying to smack down God. I’m using something similar to the “first cause” argument.

[quote=JDaniel]Are you willing to share it with us?

I didn’t say that I had the answer. I said that as an aspect of reality, it *has *an answer. It is reachable in principle by science.

[quote=JDaniel]I don’t think so.

If I say that an object or space is three meters long, it does not change the qualities of that object or space. “Three meters” is an idea that means a certain amount of space - but the measurement itself doesn’t exist in reality.


I see what you are saying now. However, what I am putting forth is that the vacuum itself IS the space that is full of nothing, and space has a dimension. Therefore, the vacuum must include the boundary between the nothing and the something that contains it. As the OP said, the vacuum is a dimensionally defined space. And as I said before, a vacuum is a volume of space containing nothing…the vacuum itself isn’t nothing, it is a container for nothing.

At least, that’s my take on it.


But how do we know? I think what I was trying to say originally is that, nothing existed, that we know of, prior to the creation of the universe, not even time. So the science that we now measure our universe with now may not be able to measure anything prior to the start of the universe. Again, science is a tool for measuring what we can observe. If nothing existed, there is nothing to observe, and never will be. I think that it’s a matter that cannot be answered by science.



An article in “Discover” I found interesting and it related to this topic. Does the universe exist unless there is life? The author thinks(I think) in pantheistic terms, which man as simply a conscious form of life. IAC, we have to start from man. There is no perception without a perceiver. I think it odd, though, that he did not at least take up the theological notion that the universe exists “in the mind” of God, or try to deal with the theological approach to Creation. God as being conveys being to his creatures , and man as the “image” and “likeness” of God knows this creation. Man is a reed, but a thinking reed said Pascal. Here we are, specks on dust on a speck of dust in a universe of unimamagiable size, yet we know. Whence cometh this power?


I would guess that the universe came from something rather than nothing, as the creation of something out of nothing seems to be impossible, as far as we can tell.

If it came out of nothing, then we have some philosophical/scientific re-thinking to do.


I absolutely agree, and I certainly don’t mean to disparage anyone’s particular thought process. My point is only that science is a discipline, and when it is no longer able to be used (as I believe it cannot here, for reasons stated above) other disciplines, such as theology, take over where that leaves off.


Well to be able to use theology with confidence we need to be able to ascertain that it produces results that line up with reality. With science, it’s easy - a theory is used to make a prediction which is later verified - but can theology do the same thing?


I’d say that’s a safe guess :slight_smile:

I really misspoke when I said “nothing” existed before the creation of the universe. But let me at least say that nothing existed as we know it. We had none of the four forces, no time…nothing as we know it. The thing we call science relies upon universal truths that may not have existed or existed in a different reality, as they would seem to be dependent upon an existent universe. If that is the case, can we hope to measure what once existed before science was able to measure it? If not, we need to move to a different discipline, and that is where, I believe, theology comes into play…and for someone else, maybe a completely different discipline comes into play. Maybe science stays in play for some. But all of it is, I would argue, a form of faith, because we can’t truly know, because we can’t truly measure it.



No, in order to use theology to accomplish the same thing science is trying to accomplish we need to ascertain that it produces results that line up with the natural world. However, that’s not the goal of theology. Theology deals with the supernatural, and so any comparison is an exercise in futility. All that I am saying (and The Church is saying) is that we believe that the supernatural is what caused the natural. If science has to end somewhere (we believe it does) what then? If theology deals with the supernatural, it would seem that theology would come into play.

At the same time, I’m not aware of any theories as to what happened before the beginning of the known universe that anyone expects to be able to ever measure. That’s not saying much…there’s a lot in science going on that I’m not aware of. Are there any?



Interesting. And. all the more intereting that you found it in Discover! I’d love to read it.



True, nothingness is not empty space. Empty space can be described or imagined but nothingness cannot. When you try to describe or imagine nothingness you automatically make it something.

So nothingness is undefined and that’s why we cannot know why it produces something. To us observers something emerges as unpredictable (random) energy fluctuations out of nothing. As if there was a reservoir of undefined energy which becomes defined as it unpredictably “shoots out” along with space and time.

An interesting thing is that it seems that in the process of creation of defined energy (the energy that makes up our universe), no energy is actually created in total. That is, the total energy of the universe seems to be zero, because the positive energy of matter (E=mc^2) is compensated by the negative potential energy of gravity that pulls matter together. Here is an article about it:

A Universe From Nothing


All right, but then how do you know that theology is correct and true?

I heard about the LHC being used to re-create the Big Bang, or the conditions leading to it…sounds a bit unrealistic, though.

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