A review of Lawrence Krauss’ book “A Universe From Nothing”

Lawrence Krauss is a physicist who affirms that the entire physical universe appeared out of nothing. How well does his theory hold up?

This review of Krauss’ book was written by a non-theist in the liberal New York Times.

Excerpt:

Lawrence M. Krauss, a well-known cosmologist and prolific popular-science writer, apparently means to announce to the world, in this new book, that the laws of quantum mechanics have in them the makings of a thoroughly scientific and adamantly secular explanation of why there is something rather than nothing.

[…]Never mind. Forget where the laws came from. Have a look instead at what they say. It happens that ever since the scientific revolution of the 17th century, what physics has given us in the way of candidates for the fundamental laws of nature have as a general rule simply taken it for granted that there is, at the bottom of everything, some basic, elementary, eternally persisting, concrete, physical stuff. Newton, for example, took that elementary stuff to consist of material particles. And physicists at the end of the 19th century took that elementary stuff to consist of both material particles and electro­magnetic fields. And so on. And what the fundamental laws of nature are about, and allthe fundamental laws of nature are about, and all there is for the fundamental laws of nature to be about, insofar as physics has ever been able to imagine, is how that elementary stuff is arranged. The fundamental laws of nature generally take the form of rules concerning which arrangements of that stuff are physically possible and which aren’t, or rules connecting the arrangements of that elementary stuff at later times to its arrangement at earlier times, or something like that. But the laws have no bearing whatsoever on questions of where the elementary stuff came from, or of why the world should have consisted of the particular elementary stuff it does, as opposed to something else, or to nothing at all.

The fundamental physical laws that Krauss is talking about in “A Universe From Nothing” — the laws of relativistic quantum field theories — are no exception to this. The particular, eternally persisting, elementary physical stuff of the world, according to the standard presentations of relativistic quantum field theories, consists (unsurprisingly) of relativistic quantum fields. And the fundamental laws of this theory take the form of rules concerning which arrangements of those fields are physically possible and which aren’t, and rules connecting the arrangements of those fields at later times to their arrangements at earlier times, and so on — and they have nothing whatsoever to say on the subject of where those fields came from, or of why the world should have consisted of the particular kinds of fields it does, or of why it should have consisted of fields at all, or of why there should have been a world in the first place. Period. Case closed. End of story.

What does it mean? It means this. Physical laws are merely a description of how physical entities operate. They do not explain where the physical entities being described came from. Physical laws are like traffic laws – they describe how cars are supposed to drive around on roads – but they don’t create the cars!

In any case, if you would like to find out how well Krauss’ ideas hold up in a debate, you can watch him debate William Lane Craig right here:

Or listen to the debate and read my very very snarky summary here.

The debate itself was a slaughter. Krauss was one of the least rational opponents Craig has ever faced.

12 thoughts on “A review of Lawrence Krauss’ book “A Universe From Nothing””

  1. Perhaps someone can explain something to me. Why is it that when theists and non-theists discuss the KCM, they sound like they are talking about different things. One side says that the universe came from nothing and since nothing comes from nothing with out a cause, God did it (that’s putting it roughly). But the other side says that something can come from nothing without God’s intervention but when they describe this ‘nothing’, it sounds a lot like ‘something’.

    So, here’s my question. Was the universe preceded by something or nothing? if it was nothing, can someone please describe this nothing to me and tell me how they know this to be the case? This situation is resulting in a lot of confusion on my part?

    Thanks

      1. Thanks for the response, so how do we know that it really was non-being as opposed to something (the building blocks of space, I can’t remember what they are supposed to be called).

        Pardon my ignorance but my knowledge of cosmology is mediocre and I have heard this argument made by an atheist.

        1. It’s fine. All the matter in the universe emerged from a singularity, which is just a mathematical point. At the singularity, density approached infinity. Density is mass divided by volume. That means that the mass was extremely large and the volume was zero. Zero volume means nothing. Also, the Big Bang states that the universe is 14 billion years old – that means that it came into being. It’s the beginning of all matter, energy and space. Space expands from that one point. Causally prior to the Big Bang, there was NO SPACE. That’s what people mean by nothing. No space = nothing existed in space = nothing material existed.

          Here is a good introduction from Caltech – one of the top universities for experimental science:
          http://www.ugcs.caltech.edu/~yukimoon/BigBang/BigBang.htm

          1. Thanks for the link. Let’s see if I can articulate your point.

            Anything material occupies space. If the density of the universe was once infinite, then at that point, it had zero volume and hence, no space. Therefore, nothing material could have existed.

            But you mention that the mass was extremely large. Doesn’t that imply that there was something? Or does non-being have mass?

            By the way, you haven’t approved my previous comment, only responded to it. :)

          2. All the mass in the universe comes into being out of nothing at t=0. The universe is incredibly massive, but it all comes into being at the first instant of the Big Bang. This is why people can use this as an argument for God’s existence, since the evidence shows matter coming into being, and yet this violates a physical law – the law of conservation of mass.

            It’s actually kind of exciting when you think about it, and yet Christians do such a crappy job of telling people in the church about it. Not to mention the fine-tuning and the origin of life and origin of major body plans in the fossil record arguments. The churches just don’t talk about these things.

          1. I can see how if true, this would be remarkable. So, why do atheists then speak as if something preceded the universe? Surely they’re not just stupid.

          2. You need to see what happens to them in debates… when they try to defend their view. They never, ever appeal to science. They just speculate about unobservable, untestable possibilities, for which they have no experimental evidence. God has decided to leave them in the unenviable position of having to hope that all the good experimental science we have today will be overturned. Just 50 years ago, the majority of scientists thought that the universe was eternal. They fought tooth and nail against the Big Bang, and they are still doing it today. They are desperate to restore an eternally-existing cosmology. As desperate as a child who first begins to doubt the existence of Santa Claus.

    1. Nothing can precede the universe because time was initialized at the big bang and time is required for precedence. Nothing can be outside the universe because space was created at the big bang. This should prove to you that nothing really is nothing.

  2. Have appreciated listening to the debate. Krauss is currently visiting Australia as part of the Australian Atheist Convention in Melbourne this month and was given air time on local radio, trying to explain how something [the cosmos] could come from “nothing”. Though Krauss argued at the start that he was a teacher while Craig was a professional debater (??? – I thought philosopher, primarily), I was quite surprised at the convoluted, obfuscatory and stumbling ways that he [Krauss] expressed his arguments, when hopefully as a teacher he has more perspicacity in the classroom.

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