Science & Faith
3/27/12 at 11:22 PM 0 Comments

Columbia University Professor Challenges Krauss' Book: A Universe From Nothing (Reason Rally Rhetoric)

text size A A A
Lawrence M. Krauss

Columbia University Philosopher of Science David Albert published a devastating review of Lawrence Krauss' book A Universe From Nothing in the New York Times on March 23, one day before Krauss appeared on stage with Dawkins at the Reason Rally atheism festival in DC. In the book's afterword Dawkins provided this lofty pronouncement: "If 'On the Origin of Species' was biology's deadliest blow to super-naturalism, we may come to see 'A Universe From Nothing' as the equivalent from cosmology."

David Albert, an accomplished philosopher of physics (Ph.D in Theoretical Physics, Rockefeller University) is far more qualified to judge the merits of Krauss' book than is biologist Richard Dawkins. You might want to ignore the ungrounded Reason Rally styled chants of Dawkins and take a careful look at what Albert has to tell us about Krauss' book. Albert's expertise is in quantum mechanics, the very subfield of physics that Krauss claims can tell us how everything came from "nothing."

Albert writes:

Lawrence M. Krauss ... apparently means to announce to the world ... 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. Period. Case closed. End of story. I kid you not.

Albert strains to maintain a serious tone in his review despite the empty assertions he finds in Krauss' book.

Where, for starters, are the laws of quantum mechanics themselves supposed to have come from? Krauss is more or less upfront, as it turns out, about not having a clue about that. He acknowledges (albeit in a parenthesis, and just a few pages before the end of the book) that everything he has been talking about simply takes the basic principles of quantum mechanics for granted. "I have no idea if this notion can be usefully dispensed with," he writes, "or at least I don't know of any productive work in this regard."

The "laws of quantum mechanics" and their operation within a patch of space are not "nothing." To take such for granted in a book that claims to tell how a universe can come from nothing is simply to fail to deliver on the book's main thesis.

Physicists at the end of the 19th century took ... [the] elementary stuff [of the universe] to consist of both material particles and electro-magnetic fields. ... And what the fundamental laws of nature are about, and all the 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.

This is largely consistent with Philosopher of Science Stephen Meyer's point in TrueU: Does God Exist? that the big bang creation event is a theory about the effects of a extremely fine-tuned event that gave rise to our universe, not a causal theory of how it happened. This big bang theory is based on observation data detectable today that point back to an absolute beginning. Given that space-time and matter-energy themselves came into existence at that singularity, the cause of out universe even would need to be non-spatial, immaterial, and beyond the constraints of time. The laws of nature have no bearing on how the universe and its laws originated.

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 [generalization that natural laws have no bearing on where those laws came from]. ... 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.

Albert continues:

According to relativistic quantum field theories, particles are to be understood ... as specific arrangements of the fields. Certain arrangements of the fields, for instance, correspond to there being 14 particles in the universe, and certain other arrangements correspond to there being 276 particles, and certain other arrangements correspond to there being an infinite number of particles, and certain other arrangements correspond to there being no particles at all. And those last arrangements are referred to, in the jargon of quantum field theories, for obvious reasons, as "vacuum" states. Krauss seems to be thinking that these vacuum states amount to the relativistic-quantum-field-theoretical version of there not being any physical stuff at all. And he has an argument — or thinks he does — that the laws of relativistic quantum field theories entail that vacuum states are unstable. And that, in a nutshell, is the account he proposes of why there should be something rather than nothing.

But of course such vacuum states are not "nothing" as Albert explains:

Relativistic-quantum-field-theoretical vacuum states — no less than giraffes or refrigerators or solar systems — are particular arrangements of elementary physical stuff. The true relativistic-quantum-field-theoretical equivalent to there not being any physical stuff at all isn't this or that particular arrangement of the fields — what it is (obviously, and ineluctably, and on the contrary) is the simple absence of the fields! The fact that some arrangements of fields happen to correspond to the existence of particles and some don't is not a whit more mysterious than the fact that some of the possible arrangements of my fingers happen to correspond to the existence of a fist and some don't. And the fact that particles can pop in and out of existence, over time, as those fields rearrange themselves, is not a whit more mysterious than the fact that fists can pop in and out of existence, over time, as my fingers rearrange themselves. And none of these poppings — if you look at them aright — amount to anything even remotely in the neighborhood of a creation from nothing.

This is an explanation with home-spun analogies that even grandpa can understand on a good day.

[Krauss] complains that "some philosophers and many theologians define and redefine 'nothing' as not being any of the versions of nothing that scientists currently describe," and that "now, I am told by religious critics that I cannot refer to empty space as 'nothing,' but rather as a 'quantum vacuum,' to distinguish it from the philosopher's or theologian's idealized 'nothing,'" and he does a good deal of railing about "the intellectual bankruptcy of much of theology and some of modern philosophy." But all there is to say about this, as far as I can see, is that Krauss is dead wrong and his religious and philosophical critics are absolutely right.

William Lane Craig comes to mind here, who is a better philosopher of science than Krauss. Albert is supporting what Craig, John Lennox, and many others have been saying for years about atheistic attempts to get a universe for free.

It seems like a pity, and more than a pity, and worse than a pity ... to think that all that gets offered to us now [in regard to reasons for atheism], by guys like these, in books like this, is the pale, small, silly, nerdy accusation that religion is, I don't know, dumb.

Krauss, Dawkins and other atheist leaders spoke at the Reason Rally last Saturday to support the idea that religion is dumb. About 20,000 ralliers listened to the sort of intellectually vacuous secular preaching that David Albert critiques in his New York Times review of Krauss' book.

CP Blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of The Christian Post. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author(s).