Dina sent me news of Saturday’s episode of Unbelievable, which features Lawrence Krauss, who debated William Lane Craig. Krauss’ book was also reviewed in the New York Times.
Lawrence Krauss is a Cosmologist at Arizona State University who describes himself as an “anti-theist”. His latest book “A Universe From Nothing” has received both acclaim and criticism for its attempt to answer the question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” Debating the issue with Krauss is Rodney Holder, Course director at the Faraday Institute, Cambridge. An astrophysicist and priest by background. In a lively exchange they debate whether Krauss’ “nothing” is “nothing”, fine tuning and multiverses, scientific knowledge, miracles and the usefulness of theology and philosophy.
This debate is quite entertaining, and do not be intimidated if your don’t understand science. You can understand pretty easily who is arguing based on facts and who is speculating about unobservable, untestable entities. At one point, Krauss actually denies that there is any fine-tuning in the universe, so please see this link to refute that claim as well as this podcast which explains some examples of fine-tuning. Krauss gets a bit angry at the beginning, but calms down.
Quotation marks are for direct quotes, italics is for made-up snark. See below the summary for more posts that are related to this one.
Summary of the discussion: (picked up at 9:30 when they start talking about the book)
- explain your theory of how the universe can come into being from nothing
- the nothing that preceded the universe is “no space, no time, no universe”
- theists say that God is responsible for creating the universe out of this nothing
- but the laws of nature can create the universe uncaused out of nothing
- Krauss sometimes writes that the nothing is really a quantum vacuum, but that is not nothing
- He even acknowledges in his book that a quantum vacuum is not nothing
- He thinks that the nothing has properties, even though it has no being
- It has the property of being unstable
- It has the property of being acted on by quantum fields
- It has the property of being acted on by gravity
- But nothing can have the potential to do things inside it
- For example suppose you have an electron, which is not nothing
- If it jumps from one level to another, it emits light
- There was no potential for the light in the electron, but it was there as part of atomic structure
- But in cases like that, there is something physical that has the potential
- Well, how did God makes the universe then if it had no potential?
- God existed, and the potential for creating the universe in himself
- Consider the critical review of your book in the New York Times
- It was written by a philosopher, so I dismissed it
- Consider the critical review of your book in the Scientific American
- These book reviewers have not even read my book!
- Science will be able to figure out how to make something from nothing in the future
- We are even now speculating about interesting questions, like is there a multiverse?
- Consider the critical review of your book in the New York Times
- The author of the review claims that you equivocate on the term “nothing”
- In order to get things to pop into being, you have to make “nothing” mean “something”
- Reviewer: none of Krauss’ theories explain how something can come from actual nothingness
- In physics, something and nothing are not that different
- The reviewer doesn’t understand the physics
- He doesn’t understand quantum field theory
- You could call a quantum vacuum “nothing”, (this is the vacuum fluctuation model, refuted by William Lane Craig in a peer-reviewed publication in an astrophysics journal – get the full text of the article here)
- Maybe there is an eternally existing multiverse that we can’t observe or test scientifically
- Maybe it has laws that we don’t know about which allow our universe to pop into being
- Maybe this popping into being is uncaused
- (alarmed) Who made God? Who made God?
- God is eternal and necessary
- (interrupting, angry) What does it mean for something to be necessary?
- Basically, you have to decide whether there is more evidence that the necessary being God or a multiverse
- So Dr. Krauss are you willing to say that the universe is a brute fact, in some sense, and requires no explanation
- (angry) Religious people are stupid because they just assume brute facts, not like me and my unobservable, untestable multiverse
- (angry) Religious people are against the progress of science, they don’t want to figure out how things work
- But isn’t it possible that naturalists can be opposed to the progress of science?
- What about the way the Fred Hoyle opposed the Big Bang because he wanted an eternal universe
- (angry) But naturalists like me let the facts determine our beliefs, like the facts about the eternal unobservable, untestable multiverse
- (angry, shouting) Philosophers are stupid, they know nothing!
=== Break ===
- Do you see any evidence of purpose in the universe?
- Well maybe I would believe if the stars lined up to spell out a message from God
- Actually no, that wouldn’t be evidence for God on your multiverse view
- if there an infinite number of universes existing for an infinite amount of time, then anything can happen no matter how unlikely it is
- therefore, no evidence could convince you that God exists, since the unobservable, untestable, eternal multiverse can make anything it wants
- That’s a true statement, and very convenient for atheists who don’t want to be accountable to God, don’t you think?
- Back to the multiverse, how does it solve the fine-tuning?
- “We have no idea if the universe is fine-tuned for life”, even though the atheist Martin Rees who endorsed Krauss’ book wrote his own book about the fine-tuning of the universe called “Just Six Numbers”
- Inflationary theory does suggest a way to create multiple universes, (this is the chaotic inflationary model, refuted by William Lane Craig in a peer-reviewed publication in an astrophysics journal – get the full text of the article here)
- But this theory is still very much a hypothesis, isn’t it? We can’t observe or test this hypothesis can we?
- “No, and that is really important to state”
- “I’m an empiricist, so if you can’t falsify it and if you can’t test it then it’s not science”
- In my book, I speculate about a way that we could test the multiverse theory
- Yes, in principle, the multiverse would be scientific if you could test it through other theories like inflationary theory
- There are a lot of speculations about multiverse theory, but no evidence from predictions that were validated in the lab
- “I agree completely with everything you just said”
- Roger Penrose agrees with Holder that the multiverse theory is too speculative
- (To Holder) Isn’t the multiverse theory better than positing a completely different kind of being, which is God?
- The multiverse theory is extremely speculative
- Even if the multiverse were true, you would still need to explain the multiverse
- People don’t oppose my book because it’s full of self-contradictory speculations
- People oppose my book because they are stupid and ignorant
- There are things that exist that science cannot measure, like objective morality
- It’s possible to give explanations for moral behavior by appealing to evolution
- But that does not ground self-sacrificial morality, such as what occurs in the Christian life
- Dawkins says there is no purpose or morality in in the universe, do you agree?
- “There is certainly no evidence of any of that”
- In the book, you talk about how we live in a special time in the universe’s history to be able to do science, (i.e. – The Privileged Planet hypothesis)
- You also write about how all the discoveries were are making will not be communicated to anyone in other places in the universe
- So what is the meaning of doing science on your view? And why are you sad at the knowledge that will not be available to people in the future?
- Are you longing for some kind of purpose?
- No, I just get enjoyment from studying the universe with science to gain understanding
- What do you make of Einstein’s statement about the unexpected comprehensibility of the universe
- Theists would say that this is because God wanted us to study and understand and gain knowledge
- “It is remarkable that the universe is comprehensible”
- Why is the universe comprehensible?
- Well, maybe the universe just has to be that way
- What do you make of the heat death of the universe, when all life in the universe will die out?
- That’s the way the universe is
- I wouldn’t want to live in a universe where there was a God
- God is a cosmic Saddam Hussein
- “Religious people turn their minds off” and believe in God for consolation
- First, Jesus is the revelation of God and he is no Saddam Hussein
- Second, the Christian life is anything but easy, we are facing some persecution already in the UK
- Third, there is also the problem of being accountable to God when we die
- It’s very much like science – Christianity is the way it is, not the way we want it to be
- “If you don’t believe in him, you don’t get any of the benefits, so you have to believe”
- “And then if you’ve done something wrong, you’re going to be judged for it”
- “So I don’t want to be judged by God, I want to be… that’s the bottom line”
- Well, Jesus has died to pay the price for those things we’ve done wrong
- Although we will have to face the charges for what we’ve done, believers will ultimately be forgiven
UPDATE: Peter Sean Bradley note that Krauss is now walking back his rhetoric in response to criticisms from people like atheist John Horgan.
7 thoughts on “Lawrence Krauss debates “A Universe From Nothing” with an astrophysicist”
Krauss puts you to mind of a statement by Alfred North Whitehead
“Scientists animated by the purpose of proving that they are purposeless constitute an interesting subject for study.”
To take an epistemological approach, Krauss starts right off with a deft bait and switch. He starts talking about “nothing” and then proceeds to describe a non-nothing reality. When we talk about “nothing” in relation to the origin of “everything” we truly mean NOTHING. That is the absence of space-time. The absence of zero point energy. The absence of virtual particles. So he is not really addressing the idea of “something” arising from “nothing”. He’s playing a shell game.
Next, were these energies and virtual particles operative in the non-material, non-spatial, non-temporal reality that preceeded the universe’s coming into existence? We dont know. There’s no way to know. To assume they were is a HUGE leap of faith. And if we DO assume they were operative where did they come from? The question of origins is still not answered.
Then there’s the problem of these subatomic particles whixh appear and disappear at random. Here’s the thing, are these “new” particles that are appearing out of nowhere? Or are they old particles that are disappearing somewhere else and then reappearing where observed? Again, we dont know. There may actually be nothing new arising from this quantum state. And did you notice that the only thing appearing and disappearing are the simplest expression of matter? Nothing ever more complex. There aren’t any elephants randomly appearing in people’s homes. To make the stretch from the simplest form of matter randomly appearing to the whole entire universe appearing out of nowhere is just too ridiculous to consider. Of course, that doesn’t stop people who rather believe anything than face the consequence of a creator God.
4 things wrong with Krauss thesis
1. He doesn’t really start from “nothing”.
2. He assumes the existence of conditions for which he has no evidence and cannot answer the questions , “if these energies exists without space-time, where do they come from”?
3. He points to an observation (random appearance of particles) but cannot explain the mechanism of their appearance and cannot prove that this is “new” matter.
4. He jumps from the simplest form of matter to the most complex of systems without justification.