The Universe Created From Nothing Says Lawrence Krauss

Lawrence KraussThis fragment of conversation was reported to me by a reliable witness. It occurred between a gentlemen we will call “Daffy” and Lawrence M. Krauss upon the occasion of the publication of his A Universe From Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing.

Daffy So you claim that the universe was created “from nothing”?

Krauss I do. God is a hypothesis which is not needed. Forget Jesus. The stars died so you could be born.

Daffy Strong words, dear boy. How can I know what you say is true?

Krauss I take it you are not willing to take my word for it?

Daffy I see that you are pleased to be jocose. No, sir. I will need to be convinced from simple premises and valid arguments. I am not a physicist, you know.

Krauss The astounding progress of the last forty years has led us to highly developed physical theories. Why, there is M-theory, quantum field and loop theories, even relativistic quantum field theories. We have field theories for everything. Fields are responsible for all that you see: it’s fields all the way down. All these field theories taken together clearly show that stuff can arise from nothing, from natural processes. In fact, nothing can create something all the time due to the laws of quantum mechanics.

Empty space is a boiling, bubbling brew of virtual particles that pop in and out of existence in a time scale so short that you can’t even measure them. Gravity allows positive energy and negative energy, and out of nothing you can create positive energy particles, and as long as a gravitational attraction produces enough negative energy, the sum of their energy can be zero. God just isn’t necessary.

Daffy I’m sure you’re right. But what I want to know is how we know those theories of which you spoke are true.

Krauss Oh that’s easy, the math proves it. And so does observation. The laws of physics say so, too.

Daffy The laws of physics?

Krauss Well, our universe might not be the only one, and actually the laws of physics might change from universe to universe. The laws of physics we have came into being by accident.

Daffy But how do we know that all these laws, or the law that directs that different “laws” will be found in different universes, and the math that proves all this, are themselves true? Why quantum mechanics and not something else?

Krauss I don’t know. Nobody does. It just is. I do know that the real story of the universe is far more interesting than any myths or fairy tales that people wrote thousands of years before they even knew the Earth went around the sun.

Daffy Let me see if I can summarize what you have told me. Our knowledge of mathematics is built upon certain axioms, which we take for granted. These axioms lead to theorems, from which we derive still other, more complicated theorems. These theorems, postulates, and lemmas in turn split, grow, and are adorned in a manner most resplendent, such that the entire edifice becomes monumental and is, in fact, a kind of monument to mankind’s creativity.

We use these mathematical derivations and marry them with still other axioms about how nature works from which we deduce certain “laws” of nature, which can be thought of as unbreakable, unavoidable universal rules. We supplement these laws and principles with observation, built over long periods and with ever-increasing sophistication. From these we derive physical theories, such as a probabilistic quantum mechanics and relativity which we claim govern how matter is created and energy behaves. But these theories are not the end, for they are often joined together and modified, and we imagine that they will continue to be joined and modified by other observations, insights, and mathematical apparatus, to explain even more basic fundamentals.

And to all this we add the metaphysics of knowledge itself, for though we start with all these axioms we cannot say from where they come, nor how they came to be true and why no others are true. Nor can we know how the basic rules of deduction function and why others do not, nor can we know how the laws of the universe we have deduced are true and why no others are. The best we can do is to say that some rules are true for our universe and others are possible for different universes, but saying this is still to claim that baser, more foundational truths exist which govern laws across universes. Finally, and most importantly, the axioms do not explain why causality acts the way it does.

But, like Nelson, we will turn a blind eye to all these uncertainties and unknowns and just accept that things are the way they are because that is the Way Things Are.

And so if we take this burgeoning, bloated, brimming pile of stuff, if we accept as true all these beliefs and call it “nothing”, we deduce from this nothing that the universe can arise, as we observe that it obviously has.

That okay?

Krauss That’s it! Nothing is exactly that!

The vast majority of Krauss’s dialog was directly from the man, and in context, including especially those comments he made about religion. Pay attention to David Albert’s New York Times review, which is devastating (“Krauss is dead wrong and his religious and philosophical critics are absolutely right”). This post was inspired by something Ed Feser wrote.

22 Comments

  1. Well, that nothing exists “outside” the universe (defined as that which encompasses everything) is a tautology. I think the error comes in believing that the word “universe”, qualified with the word “physical” means the same thing as the word “universe” taken without qualification.

    Let us postulate a “time” when the physical universe did not exist. We must admit that, at that hypothetical moment, the *potential* for the physical universe to come into existence had to have been present (i.e. existed). That potential must be part of the universe (in the unqualified sense of the word).

    For a potential to be converted to an actual, there must be a driving force, and a capacity for realization of the potential. So, therefore, there are at least two more realities that must precede the physical universe.

    So what is it that encompasses the potential, the driving force and the capacity for the creation of all reality?

    BTW: nice allusion to turtles.

  2. Krauss may have said a lot of things, but one thing I haven’t heard him say is that he knows Objective Truth. What he seems to have been saying is that we don’t need no God to explain “ex nihilo”, since we have a working theory that has been empirically validated that already explains it.

    That is, if you take both hypothesis, one of them is filled with some empirical validation while the other is filled with superstition.

    All this wacky defense of “BUT WHERE DID U GET REASONING??? GODDIDIT!!” really annoys me for its childish tone. The null hypothesis is not god did it. Get over it.

  3. Luis,

    I see that you have taken argument from nothing to its logical extreme. And that you have neglected to read the book review linked. For your edification:

    But that’s just not right. 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.

  4. As I understand it the empirical validation of the quantum explanation is that we observe particles appearing, apparently spontaneously from nothing. The conclusion – pace Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer – is that something can come from nothing. But I don’t see what precludes the conclusion that the nothing wasn’t the nothing that we thought it was but something we can’t yet detect or measure that produces particles.

  5. I have now read the review.

    Yeah, the guy babbles a lot that quantum void is not exactly “real” void. Except we never saw anything remotely like that “real” void anywhere, and it assumes that “nothingness” must obey some classical definition of “emptiness”, which is an arbitrary and obsolete assumption, one that is not even supported by any empirical data (where in the hell is this “nothingness”? Nowhere to be seen, as a matter of fact). Curious innit? After showing that the universe is quantum mechanical, not “classical”, these theologians and “philosophers” still cling to classical definitions of terms in order to maintain their philosophical prejudices against the universe.

    But then if one is to make the case that “real emptiness” obeys to classical rules and not quantum ones, we should be aware that the case that “classical rules” actually have any semblance to anything happening out there has failed throughout the 20th century.

    And then his final paragraph is silliness to the extreme. Let different people “attack” religion how the hell they want it. Why demand from an astrophysicist that he should “attack” religion from a sociopolitical point of view, when others like Christopher Hitchens have done so in a brilliant way already?

  6. This reminds me of an anti-nuclear skit the comedian George Carlin did — at one point poking fun of scientists for falsly claiming the “half life” of a sample of radioactive material is independent of the sample’s mass.

    The critique of Krauss’ work reads pretty much the same.

    Krauss’ flaw isn’t in what he tried to say, its that he tried at all — Some things technical cannot be “dumbed down” enough for the ignorant masses to understand accurately, or at all.

  7. Krauss’ flaw, long noted, it to take something and call it “nothing.” As physicist Stephen Barr put it:

    Another class of ideas involve explaining the Big Bang as a quantum event. In quantum mechanics one can have particles being “created out of the vacuum.” That is, there can be transitions from a state with no particles to a state with one or more particles. By analogy it has been suggested that spontaneous transitions can occur from a state with “no universes” to a state with one (or more) universes.

    Whether this makes sense as physics is not yet clear. But if it does, will it give us creation ex nihilo…? Only if one equivocates about what “nothing” and “universe” mean. A quantum state without any particles or even without any “universes” is not nothing — It is a quantum state.

    Perhaps the distinction can be illustrated with an analogy. There is a difference (if not a spendable one) between a bank account with no dollars in it and no bank account at all. To have a bank account, even one with a momentarily zero (or negative) balance, requires having a bank, an agreement with that bank, a monetary system, a currency, and banking laws. Similarly, to talk about states with various numbers of “universes” requires having a quantum system with different possible “states,” and laws determining the character of those states and governing the transitions among them. The term “the universe” should really be applied to this whole system with its laws, and not, as is misleadingly done in such discussions, to “space-times” that are coming into and going out of existence.

  8. Primitive religious superstition: “In the beginning there was nothing at all. As in Nothing. At. All. Then there was around 1e55 kg of stuff, a universe to put it in, and a whole mess of ‘laws’ in place to keep the whole shebang running smoothly.”

    Learned, state-of-the-art scientific theory: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

    Or do I have it backwards?

    Sigh! I’ll NEVER get this straight.

  9. “In the beginning there was nothing, which exploded.” Terry Pratchett, Lords and Ladies, 1992

  10. Hume I think in one of his minor criticisms of religion pointed out the use of words for things of which we have little or no experience. The same criticism can be levelled at scientists talking about the ‘universe’ or ‘void’ as if they are bags of onions and entirely familiar to all.

    The man is an arse.

  11. As for the existence of God, who knows?

    Religion attempts to answer some basic questions: From whence did we and the universe arise, and why? After we die (or appear to die, to the non-religious eye), where, if anywhere, do we go?

    There is but one honest answer to all these questions: “We don’t know.”

    People don’t like this answer. Hence, religion.

    As for the veracity of the Holy Bible, the Book speaks for Itself. There is no way It is the Word of God revealed. By the way, Luis Dias, I’m glad you’re still commenting in these pages.

  12. It’s all cosmology. One isn’t any better than the other until it becomes engineering.

    I have yet to see any engineering come from the super string idea, the big bang idea, or p-branes. Untestable they are, so theories they aren’t. As real as your average Unicorn.

    It irks me when I read, or hear, science myth being presented as science fact. It’s juvenile and pompous.

    P.S. Higgs-Boson is still “missing”.

  13. “In the beginning there was nothing, which exploded.” Terry Pratchett, Lords and Ladies, 1992

    Rod, your quote wins a thousand internets. Thanks for making my day 😉

  14. A few years ago, I found that a JavaScript program I had been working on had a bug in it: Some of the variables had not been initialized and, instead of being empty strings, printed out “undefined” when I tried displaying them. There appears to be some evidence that the universe may have started from the equivalent of an empty string. That does not mean it started from undefined.

    To a physicist, the difference between undefined and nothing might seem like quibbling. To a mathematician or a computer programmer, it’s not.

  15. Read “God and Stephen Hawking” by Professor John Lennox of Oxford University (PHD in Mathmatics and a DPhil[osophy] and also a DSc[ience]) , for a thorough refutation of this type of thinking. These geniuses don’t understand the philosophical meaning of ‘Nothing’ and think that the laws of whatever actually do something versus describe something.

  16. “The astounding progress of the last forty years has led us to highly developed physical theories.” Hm: my chum The Particle Physicist tells me that physics has been stuck for thirty years. So I suppose the last episode of astounding progress must have occurred between roughly 1972 and 1982. But back then I knew Peter Higgs and he didn’t alert me to any astounding progress. How remiss of him.

  17. Ye Olde Statistician says: Krauss’ flaw, long noted, it to take something and call it “nothing”. Ye Olde Statistician’s flaw is to take “nothing” and call it something.

    mbabbitt says: read “God and Stephen Hawking” by (Professor) John Lennox. After reading the review by W. Scott “elenkus” on Amazon, I don’t think I’ll bother. He is able to demolish Lennox’s feeble arguments in a few paragraphs. I can’t believe Lennox actually uses such a weak argument as: “if every possible universe exists, then there must be a universe in which God exists, since his existence is logically possible.” LOL

    dearime quotes: “physics has been stuck for thirty years” That’s nothing (pun intended) – philosophers and theologians have been stuck for thousands of years.

    Krause’s critics here (and in the New York Times) are stuck on the idea that there must have been a “real” nothing (which they have really just invented) “before” the big bang – why? I think the correct view is that the universe just “is” and that there was no “before”. Philosophical “nothing” is, by definition, nothing so has no existence. Sorry for all the quotation marks (-;

    Q: What existed “before” the universe?
    A:

  18. The God have created everything from nothing. Even if, the other universes have existed, at the very beginning, we need a creator. Physicists have to accept that universe cannot create themselves. One must have created it. Otherwise, logic stops.Is it at all possible that at the same time something exists and non-exists ?
    non-exists does not have anything, and so, it cannot exists without some intervention. One intervening must have evrything, that is he should be the GOD (Allah ).

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