Lawrence Krauss and creation from nothing

Lawrence Krauss

Creation out of nothing (ex nihilo) is one of the fundamentals of the christian faith. The Cosmological argument attempts to use the universe to show that God exists. The universe couldn’t cause itself to exist, the argument says, nor could it exist for no reason, so an external agent (what else but God?) must have caused it.

Despite various attempts to refute the argument, it remains a strong one, not least because of its basic common sense. But some atheists have argued that quantum physics shows that the universe could indeed have arisen out of nothing.

Quantum physics

Quantum physics is a difficult subject to understand, and many of its conclusions apparently defy logic. For example:

  • Entanglement – if two particles have interacted with each other, they become connected, so that what happens to one has an immediate effect on the other, even if it is far away and there appears to be no physical link between the two – sometimes described as action at a distance. There shouldn’t logically be such an effect we might think, nevertheless it occurs.
  • Uncertainty – we can never know the position and momentum of a quantum particle, because measuring one changes the other.
  • Light can appear as both waves and particles, yet we would think logically it must be one or the other.
  • In a quantum field, particles can come into existence and go out of existence.

Yet despite these strange facts, scientists say quantum physics is one of the most well-established areas of science.

A universe from nothing?

The propensity for particles to come into and out of existence forms the basis of an argument that this could explain the universe without God. For example, physicist Lawrence Krauss (an amusing and engaging speaker on science and religion) argues this way in his latest book A universe from nothing. The book apparently gives a good outline of current understandings in cosmology, but the claim that has drawn the widest attention is that, not only can something as big as the universe arise from nothing, but that something inevitably will arise from nothing.

Criticisms of Krauss’s logic

Critics say that Krauss is being either dishonest or at least misleading. He hasn’t shown, they say, how a universe could come from nothing, but how particles can come from a quantum field. But a quantum field is not ‘nothing’, and if a quantum field exists, a universe already exists. He hasn’t at all shown what he says he has shown.

Physicist Luke Barnes, in his blog Letters to Nature, calls Krauss’s conclusions “sophomorically irrelevant”. Prof David Albert (who has qualifications in both quantum physics and philosophy) says in a review of the book, that none of these appearances of particles “amount to anything even remotely in the neighborhood of a creation from nothing.”

Eminent cosmologist Martin Rees is quoted as endorsing the book with this statement (my emphasis): “In this clear and crisply written book, Lawrence Krauss outlines the compelling evidence that our complex cosmos has evolved from a hot, dense state and how this progress has emboldened theorists to develop fascinating speculations about how things really began.” Rees’ emphasis agrees with his comments on creation from nothing in his book Just Six Numbers:

“Cosmologists sometimes claim that the universe can arise ‘from nothing’ – but they should watch their language, especially when addressing philosophers. We’ve realised ever since Einstein that empty space can have a structure such that it can be warped and distorted. Even if shrunk to a ‘point’, it is latent with particles and forces – still a far richer construct that the philosophers’ nothing.”

A ‘heads up’ for apologists

Unbelievers naturally want to defend their conclusions just as we christians do. So expect this book to be quoted extensively in the coming months and years as a justification for denying the force of the cosmological argument, and to argue against creation by God. It seems that the argument is not scientifically true, but I don’t expect that to stop it being used.

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9 thoughts on “Lawrence Krauss and creation from nothing

  1. IgnorantiaNescia says:

    This argument from nothing always reminds me of this video clip:

    I think Lawrence Krauss, who confuses something with nothing, is therefore actually making a mistake similar to the poor contestant’s, who also confuses the two.

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  2. Sir Ian says:

    2 things that bother me in this post :
    * It assumes one can use this argument and criticize it without knowing much about the field. I mean I would use this as well it *is* possible, but I wouldn’t say therefor it happened this way.
    * How do you know common sense works in this situation ? I mean I can barely imagine what 20 people look like in my head. I can’t give them any depth. Yet here you are discussing things far more peculiar to you using “common sense”. I don’t think that’s an argument anymore.

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  3. unklee says:

    But Ian, I didn’t use “common sense” or my own knowledge. Rather, I quoted some experts in the subject – Rees & Albert are recognised experts, and Barnes is a post-doctoral researcher. I could also have quoted John Polkinghorne, another respected particle physicist.

    Besides, I didn’t make an argument here, just pointed out where the experts say Krauss is conning us.

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  4. IgnorantiaNescia says:

    “It assumes one can use this argument and criticize it without knowing much about the field.”

    It’s possible to criticise this argument because it really doesn’t require knowledge about quantum vacuum cosmology, since Krauss is having a bit of a Dunning-Kruger trip here. The problem with his argument is that he equivocates his “virtually nothing” with “nothing”. This is not a scientific error or a common-sense error, but a simple logical error. To grant Krauss his point here would be to invalidate illogic, which is to invalidate science because science presupposes logic. Being rather pro-science, I simply can’t agree with Krauss here.

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  5. IgnorantiaNescia says:

    Of course, “To grant Krauss his point here would be to invalidate illogic” should read “To grant Krauss his point here would be to invalidate logic”.

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