This 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.
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.