to the medieval antipathy to nothing
anxiety about nothing--which has long been pregnant with heretical
implications--has been a major theme of Western thought for
close to three millenniums. it was hated, even feared, by the
ancient Greek philosophers and medieval Christian theologians
alike, and for much of our history, the mere possibility of
nothing was strenuously denied. "nature abhors a vacuum,"
Aristotle declared in the 4th-century BC, effectively silencing
dissent for the next 2,000 years.
Christian attitudes were inherited not only from the Greek philosophers
(many of whom agreed with Aristotle) but also from the Jewish
tradition, which saw nothing as the antithesis of God: he whose
defining act had been to create the world out of nothing. what
stronger evidence could there be that Nothing was something
undesirable: a state without God, a state which He had acted
to do away with.
for Christians, nothingness was the characteristic of being
apart from God, hence it was considered atheistic to speak seriously
of the void. St. Augustine equated nothing with the Devil; for
him nothing represented the greatest evil. how then could it
exist before the creation of the world? the prior existence
of nothing implied there was something God lacked before He
created the universe, an idea so heretical it had to be combated.
Augustine's solution to this dilemma remains one of the great
leaps in Western intellectual history: the universe was not
created in time, he declared, but with time. that is, when God
created the world so too He created time. there was no nothing
before creation because there was quite simply no before. more
than 1,500 years later, physicist Stephen Hawking proposed the
same idea, albeit outside the theological context, in his bestselling
book, "A Brief History of Time."
christianity, however, is a dynamic system, and by the late
13th century, the existence of nothing--or at least the possibility
of true empty space--was being championed by some of the most
- based on a text by Margaret Wertheim
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