Metaphysical nihilism and theology

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This paper sets out, firstly,  to present recent discussions of "metaphysical nihilism" in the context of philosophy of religion, and secondly, to offer a contribution to those ongoing discussions, based on elements from Wittgenstein's Tractatus.


The question "why is there something rather than nothing?" continues to be influential in philosophy of religion. The sentence suggests two genuine possibilities and given the fact that the former is the case, explanations are called for. "Metaphysical nihilism" is the position that "there is nothing" is a genuine possibility, in spite of problems, originally raised by Lewis and Armstrong, of offering a possible worlds analysis of this sentence. 

The paper shows how more contributions to the discussions make use of the predicates "is a thing" and "is selfidentical". In the Tractatus, the former predicate is characterized as a formal concept, whose use issues in nonsense when it tries to say what is shown, while the surface grammar of the identity sign as a relation is rejected.

After making explicit the Tractarian criticisms, the concluding section of this paper shows how such discussions of metaphysical nihilism are of relevance to debates regarding natural theology. In short, metaphysical nihilism features centrally as a premise in a widespread style of argument for the existence of God. I outline a suggestion to the effect that the Tractarian category of showing might be a suitable middle ground for the heated discussion between catholic and protestant theology regarding the cognitive potential of natural theology.


Period27. Sept 2008
Event titleAustralasian Philosophy of Religion Association - Inaugural Conference
Event typeConference
LocationCanberra, AustraliaShow on map