Thursday, January 10, 2013

Review and Debnucking of Lawrence Krauss's A Unvierse From Nothing.


The closest thing to a “smoking gun” for anti-God evidence is presented by Lawrence Krauss in his book A Universe from Nothing.[1] Krauss merely argues something that every Christian apologist on message boards has been dealing with since the late 90s, that is the notion that the idea that Quantum theory means that the universe popped into existence from nothing based upon the assumption that Quantum particles do the same. This is really nothing new. When I first became aware of message boards and of the strife between atheists and theists on message boards, they were arguing about this. Yet the book has be lauded by atheists like it’s their version of the advent of Christ. Almost as quickly as it manifest it was shot down again by a philosopher. I’ll come t that in a moment. Why Krauss’s book got the glamour and not some of the physicists a decade ago who were saying the same thing I don’t know. Perhaps it’s because they didn’t write whole books about it. In any case, Krauss argues that the eternal laws of Quantum mechanics produce particles out of nothing when the instability of vacuum states causes quantum fields to shift and produce different kinds of particles.[2] This seems like it’s blessed with the aura science and thus cannot be questioned, yet a philosopher dared to question. David Albert exposed the meaning of terms in this senero and exploded the whole project.
Albert first points out that tracing the universe back to some physical property or cause is not an explanation as to why there is something rather than nothing.
What if he were in a position to announce, for instance, that the truth of the quantum-mechanical laws can be traced back to the fact that the world has some other, deeper property X? Wouldn’t we still be in a position to ask why X rather than Y? And is there a last such question? Is there some point at which the possibility of asking any further such questions somehow definitively comes to an end? How would that work? What would that be like?[3]
Secondly, moving on form that difficulty, he points out that since the enlightenment science has always assumed that at the “bottom of everything” there is “some basic, elementary, eternally persisting, concrete, physical stuff.”[4] Newton had it that this “stuff” consisted of particles. At the end of the nineteenth century it was 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.”[5] The laws don’t tell us where the elementary “stuff” came from. The laws concerning quantum mechanics are not exception. The laws do not tell us where the fields came from. Moreover, every previous theory counted particles among concrete stuff and quantum theory does not. In quantum theory particles are understood as arrangements of fields. Some arrangement correspond to certain numbers and kinds of particles, come correspond to no particles.[6] This latter arrangement, Albert tells us, is what they call “vacuum states.” According to Albert, Krauss is arguing 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.”[7]
In other words because the state of no particles is “unstable” (it’s hard to keep nothing from becoming something) “nothing” blows up into something so to speak. There are problems with this account. First, we have just seen, it assume a whole set up of laws and fields with no real reason for them to be there (the fact that none of the theory explains a real “why” I’ll put off until latter). Secondly, the issue of what is meant by “nothing” is the crux of the matter. When physicists say “nothing,” they don’t mean real actual nothing as in a lack of anything at all. What they really mean is vacuum flux, that this pre existing framework of law and field and the arrangement there of the and the sporadic popping in and out of prior existing particles. As Albert says, “Relativistic-quantum-field-theoretical vacuum states — no less than giraffes or refrigerators or solar systems — are particular arrangements of elementary physical stuff..”[8] This is most crucial because Albert is arguing that “nothing” in terms of no particles does not mean “nothing” in terms of now fields, or no laws. Thus “nothing” doesn’t mean “nothing,” it means something for which we still must account. That really blows the whole argument because it’s not a universe from nothing, it’s a universe form something else for which we must account, and can’t. So that means it’s just a rehash of status quo. The book originally was introduced with a media splash and created a sensation. Albert taking out the argument created anther sensation. Op ed writers and bloggers began crediting Albert with victory and a sense of hoopla began.
What would a universe from true actual nothing really prove? If it could be shown that the universe just started up, something form nothing (real actual nothing) there would be no way to really demonstrate that it’s not the Christian concept of creation ex nihilo. In fact that would actually fit the qualifications for the basic Christian doctrine of creation. There would be no way to prove it one way or the other because we could never go back to the other side of nothing and demonstrate that something isn’t causing this “something from nothing.” The impression is given the hype about Krauss’s book that there is some control that screens out metaphysical causes such as God. There in fact no such control. Now of course if this were the case we could not use that as an argument to demonstrate the existence of God. If we wanted to use that as a God argument we would have to push the logic of it on the grounds that something form total actual nothing is illogical and flies in the face of every single observation we can ever make about the real world. That would not demonstrate the reality of God. It might be a good conjecture but it would still only be a conjecture. At that rate it could go ether way. Yet it’s not disproof of God either. In fact, examining the arguments made by the three atheists expositors above, none of them actually says “here is proof there is no God.” Dawkins say “almost certainly” and Stenger says God is a failed hypothesis. Krauss imitates we don’t’ need him as an explanation. Something else is going on other than disproof.
What they are really getting at is not about proof or disproof but control of knowledge. They actually want to replace epistemology with ideology. They want to shut down forms of knowledge such as philosophy and phenomenology and replace them with the atheist fortress of facts idea. This is all really saying, all three books make the argument “we have the fortress of facts and theism has no facts.” Of course “facts” in this sense mean nothing more than the information that can be controlled by atheist expositors and that supports the atheist straw God concepts. It’s a switch from a global knowledge which includes philological thinking about science as a respectable partner in learning and centers everything on their realm of discourse. Thus Dawkins reduces God to the level of a biological organism, Stenger reduces belief to the level of a scientific hypothesis (even though belief is about something totally removed form the workings of the physical world), and Krauss asserts that knowledge of the physical world is the only knowledge worth knowing. All three are reducing theological ideas to a point where they take on physical attributes and become part of the scientific domain, thus they can be controlled by scientists.
What is even more blunt and telling is Krauss who gives away the whole store in an op-ed piece for the Los Angeles Times:
The illusion of purpose and design is perhaps the most pervasive illusion about nature that science has to confront on a daily basis. Everywhere we look, it appears that the world was designed so that we could flourish.
The position of the Earth around the sun, the presence of organic materials and water and a warm climate — all make life on our planet possible. Yet, with perhaps 100 billion solar systems in our galaxy alone, with ubiquitous water, carbon and hydrogen, it isn't surprising that these conditions would arise somewhere. And as to the diversity of life on Earth — as Darwin described more than 150 years ago and experiments ever since have validated — natural selection in evolving life forms can establish both diversity and order without any governing plan.
As a cosmologist, a scientist who studies the origin and evolution of the universe, I am painfully aware that our illusions nonetheless reflect a deep human need to assume that the existence of the Earth, of life and of the universe and the laws that govern it require something more profound. For many, to live in a universe that may have no purpose, and no creator, is unthinkable.
But science has taught us to think the unthinkable. Because when nature is the guide — rather than a priori prejudices, hopes, fears or desires — we are forced out of our comfort zone. One by one, pillars of classical logic have fallen by the wayside as science progressed in the 20th century, from Einstein's realization that measurements of space and time were not absolute but observer-dependent, to quantum mechanics, which not only put fundamental limits on what we can empirically know but also demonstrated that elementary particles and the atoms they form are doing a million seemingly impossible things at once.[9]
Wait a minute, something’s wrong here. He’s taking a kind of thinking that is used as a tool to inform us about the workings of the physical world, and saying “because to use this tool we must assume the subject matter of the tool is all there is, that proves that’s all there is.” That proves nothing. Perhaps the subject matter of the tool is irrelevant to the consideration of concepts like “purpose” and “meaning” because these are not part of the domain in which that tool is meaningful. When the concept of the tool becomes the only form of knowledge then of course all other considerations must be put aside, by why should we allow that to happen? Actually science has not taught us “to think the unthinkable—that the universe has. No can it ever do so. To even ask the question is beyond the scope of science. To do science one must not assume purpose or meaning in the workings of the physical world, yet one need not always be doing science. This is truly what we call “ideology.” One idea fits all and all sense data must be herded into that rubric in order to be considered “valid.” It’s really ideological struggle between reductionism which seek to cut off all aspects of reality save those that can be controlled by reductionism, vs. the assumption that human aspirations are worth considering in some way other than reductionsitically. The driving force behind the fortress of facts is the assumption that only one kind of thinking can be pursued. This one idea of reductionism must control and filter all knowledge. This is nothing more than a totalitarian ideology.
Krauss really gets blunt about the ideological ramifications in interview. Ross Andersen publishes in the Atlantic an interview he had done with Krauss for another project. He entitles the article “Has Physics Made Philosophy and Religion Obsolete?”[10] Krauss had just come from Christopher Hitchen’s memoral service, and even he descriges as: “It was a remarkable event for a remarkable man, and I felt very fortunate to be there. I was invited to give the opening presentation in front of all of these literary figures and dignitaries of various sorts, and so I began the only way I think you can begin, and that's with music from Monty Python..”[11] Asked why the sudden public antagonism between physics and philosophy he answers:
Krauss: That's a good question. I expect it's because physics has encroached on philosophy. Philosophy used to be a field that had content, but then "natural philosophy" became physics, and physics has only continued to make inroads. Every time there's a leap in physics, it encroaches on these areas that philosophers have carefully sequestered away to themselves, and so then you have this natural resentment on the part of philosophers. This sense that somehow physicists, because they can't spell the word "philosophy," aren't justified in talking about these things, or haven't thought deeply about them---[12]
Philosophy can only have “content” in so far as it reflects the workings of the physical world? As though that’s all the content there is to have. That’s all there is to think about. Only science is about anything. But wait how is it that physics has encroached upon anything philosophy is about if philosophy a bunch of made up flights of fancy. Science was never about the meaning of life and philosophy was never about the workings of the physical world. It’s true that science used ot be called “natural philosophy” but hat was far from being the major section of philosophical thought. He seems embarrassed about not being in philosophy. He resents the idea that he can’t talk about the meaning of life. He can talk about the meaning of life he just can’t claim scientific authority to make pronouncements informing us all of the meaning of life, or lack thereof.
Here is his statement on the importance of philosophy:
Krauss: Well, yeah, I mean, look I was being provocative, as I tend to do every now and then in order to get people's attention. There are areas of philosophy that are important, but I think of them as being subsumed by other fields. In the case of descriptive philosophy you have literature or logic, which in my view is really mathematics. Formal logic is mathematics, and there are philosophers like Wittgenstein that are very mathematical, but what they're really doing is mathematics---it's not talking about things that have affected computer science, it's mathematical logic. And again, I think of the interesting work in philosophy as being subsumed by other disciplines like history, literature, and to some extent political science insofar as ethics can be said to fall under that heading. To me what philosophy does best is reflect on knowledge that's generated in other areas. [13]
He arbitrarily reduces logic to mathematics just because math is in the domain of science. We could just as easily relegate math to a subordination under philosophy on the grounds that math is based upon logic. Russell and Whitehead proved that logic is the basis of math, and since logic started as philosophy it would be more logical to put math under philosophy.[14] Besides formal logic is not mathematics. Moreover, major logicians such as Hartshorne and Plantinga who achieved authoritative status in the use of S5modal logic could, by Krausses logic, be seen as mathematicians and by extension of that association as physicists. Thus their takes on the modal argument for God must be scientific. Remarkably he actually attributes something to fields such as history and literature. He does that to parcel out philosophy. Of course this drive to end the very existence of philosophy is just a bid to take over knowledge so that one ideology prevails as the only way to think, it just happens to be the one in which Krauss is credentialed. He wants to pretend that philosophy is really just leeching off other disciplines when in reality he’s moving beyond the accepted domain of science to poach on the territory of theology, philosophy, ethics history and probably other disciplines (mathematics and logic). It’s also worth nothing that he missed the point on nothing in terms of the history of ideas. He claims it was the philosophers who re-write nothing and have constantly changed its definition when in reality it’s the philosophers who have continually defined nothing as nothing but science Newton scientists have been re-writing the meaning of the term to define it as “something.”15
A humorous exchange occurs when Andersen points out that philosophy offers a basis for computer science. Krauss says: “Well, you name me the philosophers that did key work for computer science; I think of John Von Neumann and other mathematicians, and---.” Andersen says: “But Bertrand Russell paved the way for Von Neumann..”
Karauss says: “But Bertrand Russell was a mathematician. I mean, he was a philosopher too and he was interested in the philosophical foundations of mathematics, but by the way, when he wrote about the philosophical foundations of mathematics, what did he do? He got it wrong.” So not only can we take him over as one of the science boys since he did math but (which would just as easily mean math is part of philosophy again) but he also got it wrong about math (yet that reflects on his philosophical side not on his math side, not real sure how that works since it would be the math side that got it wrong). Andersen remarks “Einstein got it wrong.” To which Krauss replies:
Krauss: Sure, but the difference is that scientists are really happy when they get it wrong, because it means that there's more to learn. And look, one can play semantic games, but I think that if you look at the people whose work really pushed the computer revolution from Turing to Von Neumann and, you're right, Bertrand Russell in some general way, I think you'll find it's the mathematicians who had the big impact. And logic can certainly be claimed to be a part of philosophy, but to me the content of logic is mathematical.[16]
Science guys are happen when they are proved wrong? I guess he must be ecstatic since Albert’s article? We’ll have to ask him how happy he’s been since his book was panned. It means there’s more to learn, such as the meaning of life and the value of philosophy. He admits logic is part of philosophy and Russell was into both it just eludes him that this also means philosophy is the foundation of computer science and math together that makes it the foundation of physics. Now that’s the “unthinkable” we should be taught to think. Maybe the fortress of facts is a house of cards and maybe there’s more than one form of knowledge in the universe? His answer is supercilious because a scientist being happy when he get’s it wrong doesn’t change the fact under discussion it doesn’t change the fact that scientist get it wrong just as philosophers sometimes do.
Kruass referred to Albert as “a moronic philosopher.” That doesn’t sound happy to me. Nor does it sound very acute. Albert is so moronic in fact he is not only a well thought of philosopher at Columbia he also holds a Ph.D. in theoretical physics.[17] He might to reconsider his castigation of Albert when we take a deeper look at Karuss’s argumentation skills. He essentially gives away the store, and thinks he’s bested his opponents.
But I am certainly claiming a lot more than just that [something from nothing]. That it's possible to create particles from no particles is remarkable---that you can do that with impunity, without violating the conservation of energy and all that, is a remarkable thing. The fact that "nothing," namely empty space, is unstable is amazing. But I'll be the first to say that empty space as I'm describing it isn't necessarily nothing, although I will add that it was plenty good enough for Augustine and the people who wrote the Bible. For them an eternal empty void was the definition of nothing, and certainly I show that that kind of nothing ain't nothing anymore.[18]
That’s really the point Albert made and he says this as though he just doesn’t understand the opponent’s argument. He does bring up the issue of St. Augustine and creation ex-nihilo. He doesn’t seem to get that the issue cuts both ways. Yet the Christian is not something from nothing, it doesn’t post that the universe just popped into being from true absolute nothing without a cause and for no reason. He admits that his “nothing” is actually something, and something must be explained, something must have caused it. What could that something be but God? That would be the argument. He’s not answering it by throughing back the issues ex-nihilo misunderstood (minus God) then admitting that his own views leaves an origin form an unexplained “Something.” Andersen raises the prospect that he’s arguing physics with Saint Augustine (who presumably worked form Aristotelian physics thus making his view 2000 years out of date). Krauss states:
It might be more interesting than debating some of the moronic philosophers that have written about my book. Given what we know about quantum gravity, or what we presume about quantum gravity, we know you can create space from where there was no space. And so you've got a situation where there were no particles in space, but also there was no space. That's a lot closer to "nothing."
But of course then people say that's not "nothing," because you can create something from it. They ask, justifiably, where the laws come from. And the last part of the book argues that we've been driven to this notion---a notion that I don't like---that the laws of physics themselves could be an environmental accident. On that theory, physics itself becomes an environmental science, and the laws of physics come into being when the universe comes into being. And to me that's the last nail in the coffin for "nothingness."[19]
He seems not to understand what these “moronic philosophers” are driving at. He keeps talking like he’s proved something if he shows that there is no “nothing” but in fact that’s the only way his argument would work. If no actual nothing then he has no argument at all. Then he’s just saying “the universe came from something that we can’t account for.” Implication: it might have needed God to create it. It only appears to be that God is unnecessary if things can spontaneously pop up out of true absolute nothing. Even that would not be proof since we can’t prove there really is no cause. Yet if we could prove that that would be the only real way to prove that God is not needed or not present. The real answer he has that might work is based upon pure speculation. He appeals to natural law and a supposition not in evidence that they are some kind of accident. This just puts the atheist back at square one saying “maybe there could be an alterative to God, maybe.”

[1] Lawrence M. Krauss, A Universe from Nothing: Why There is something Rather Than Nothing. New York, NY: Free press, a division of Simon and Schuster, 2012.
[2] Ibid 189.
[3] David Albert, “On the Origin of Everything ‘a Universe form Nothing’ by Lawrence Krauss,” New York Times Sunday Book Review (March 23, 2012). On line version URL: visited June 20, 2012. David Albert also has a Ph.D. in theoretical phsyics.
[14] ibid.
[5] ibid
[6] ibid
[7] ibid
[8] ibid
[9] Lawrence M. Krause, “A Universe Without Purpose.” Los Angeles Times, Opinion. (April 1, 2012). On line copy URL:,0,4136597.story visited 7/2/12.
[10] Ross Andersen, “Has Physics Made Philosophy and Religion Obsolete?” The Atlantic (April 23, 2012). Pm et 396. Online URL: visited 7/2/12.
[11] Ibid.
[12] ibid.
[13] ibid.
[14] Principia (find)
[15] find
[16] Krauss in Andersen, ibid.
[17] Massimo Pigliucci, “Lawrence Krauss Another Physicist with an Anti-Philosophy Complex,” Rationally Speaking, blog. URL: visited 7/4/12
Massimo Pigluicci is a philosopher at City University of New York..
[18] Krauss In Andersen, ibid.
[18] ibid

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