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A Universe From Nothing

A Universe From Nothing
Why there is something rather than nothing

by Lawrence M. Krauss

Copyright, 2012 by Lawrence M. Krauss

224 pages, hardback

Review by Jim Walker

Every once an awhile I get emails from Christians questioning how something can come from nothing. Here is a recent example:

  How was it ever possible for something to come from nothing? This is your theory correct, so how? Infinity is infinitly infinite, if not there is no sense in anything. Something always was and the all of that something and all things is YHWH.

I have long thought that the question of something from nothing appears tautological because the fact that we know things exist, already answers the question. There is something rather than nothing simply because things exist. And yes, it does seem to imply infinity, but jumping to the conclusion that all things are God (YHWH) makes no sense because most of the things that exist in the universe have no intelligence or consciousness whatsoever (since God has always been defined as intelligent).

As a non-physicist I usually give an answer from my understanding from popular scientific literature along the lines of: According to quantum mechanics, even in empty space, subatomic particles pop in and out of existence all the time and since the Big Bang was once the size of a subatomic particle (according to the theory), it therefore stands to reason that, it too, could have popped into existence out of nothing. And note that subatomic particles are among the most unintelligent things that one can ever imagine, so the concept of an intelligent god has no meaning here at all. At all.

Of course, according to this hypothesis, empty space does not actually mean nothing, because subatomic particles represent something. Even empty space without particles represents something even if I label it with the mathematical symbol 0. Even physicists describe space as having dimensions.

Now a well known theoretical physicist has written an entire book on the subject and I can now point my Christian questioners to his brilliant book. There is also an excellent video of a speech by Krauss from an AAI meeting in 2009. It is perhaps what inspired him to write this book. It is an enlightening speech and I highly recommend everyone watching it (click here to see it). The book, however, goes into more depth and explains the details of his theory.

Lawrence M. Krauss has published works on physics and cosmology and was one of the first to suggest that most of the energy resides in "empty" space, now known as dark energy. Krauss has also written several popular books addressed to us commoners such as: The Physics of Star Trek, Quintessence: The Mystery of the Missing Mass, Quantum Man: Richard Feynman's Life in Science, just to name a few.

I feel glad to report that my initial answer to my Christian questioners appears consistent with Krauss' interpretation.

Now I've heard it said that publishers don't like writers of popular science to include equations in their books because they will scare off readers and the books will not sell well. So before I purchased the book, I flipped through the book to see if there were any scary equations, and low and behold, right smack in the middle of page 165 was an equation (E=mc2). I almost didn't buy the book! I'm kidding.

What's remarkable about this book is that Krauss has taken the results of extremely complicated quantum mathematics and telescopic and subatomic observations to form an explanation about how something might come from nothing in a way that non scientists like myself can understand. And all without requiring the complicated math! This is the sign of a good science writer and I now consider him in the same league as Feynman, Sagan, Dennett, and Dawkins.

In the chapter, "Nothing Is Unstable" Krauss explains that quantum fluctuations imply that nothing always produces something. The very notion that nothing is unstable suggests that it would appear impossible for nothing to occur forever and this leads to the idea that something is always eternal even if there are moments of nothingness. This gives a ying-yang interpretation of reality where nothingness always coincides with something. Although Krauss doesn't mention Georg Cantor, Cantor mathematically proved there can be an infinite number of possibilities (somethings) but also an infinite number of non-possibilities (nothings). If nothing is unstable then nothingness eventually leads to something and that something eventually decays into nothing. Even a universe can decay into nothing (as Krauss explains about the future of the universe as space expands while eventually even the protons and neutrons will decay into nothingness).

I don't see the eventual decay of the universe as bleak as Krauss does because if, indeed, a universe can come from nothing, that period of nothingness contains no life. All the conscious entities in the universe that will eventually perish, regardless of how long it will take, will not experience a time delay (even if this is only a thought experiment) because the next universe would appear instantly from the perspective of those that lived before. (See Death and Time Traveling for more explanation.)

From the evidence of a flat universe and the quirky nature of quantum uncertainty, Krauss concludes that if our universe does come from nothing (and the evidence suggests that it did) then the one thing that could not have been there at the start is a real god. Why? Because a god is supposed to be something, and a very complicated intelligent something at that. And yet when Christians describe their god, (not of this world, unseen, etc.), this is entirely consistent with nothing! And that is the best definition I can think of for the god of theology: God equals nothing. Only in that sense then, can everything have come from a god.


A few quotes from the book:

Surely, invoking "God" to avoid difficult questions of "how" is merely intellectually lazy.

[E]ssentially no nuclei -- beyond lithium, the third lightest nucleus in nature -- formed during the primeval fireball that was the Big Bang.

This is one of the most famous, significant, and successful predictions telling us the Big Bang really happened. Only a hot Big Bang can produce the observed abundance of light elements and maintain consistency with the current observed expansion of the universe.

These myriad stars sacrificed themselves, if you wish, so that one day you could be born. I suppose that qualifies them as much as anything else for the role of saviors.

[W]e find that the quarks themselves provide very little of the total mass and that the fields created by these particles contribute most of the energy that goes into the proton's rest energy and, hence, its rest mass.

[W]e can confirm that there is no way that a universe with the measured expansion rate today could be this old without dark energy, and in particular, dark energy that behaves essentially like the energy represented by a cosmological constant would behave. In other words, it is energy that appears to remain constant over time.

Special relativity says nothing can travel through space faster than the speed of light. But space itself can do whatever the heck it wants, at least in general relativity. And as space expands, it can carry distant objects, which are at rest in the space where they are sitting, apart from one another at superluminal speeds.

Inflation is the only currently viable explanation of both the homogeneity and flatness of the universe, based on what could be fundamental and calculable microscopic theories of particles and their interactions.

The pattern of density fluctuations that result after inflation -- arising, I should stress, from the quantum fluctuations in the otherwise empty space -- turns out to be precisely in agreement with the observed pattern of cold spots and hot spots on large scales in the cosmic microwave background radiation.

[I]t can be truly said that we all are here today because of quantum fluctuations in what is essentially nothing.

If we are all stardust, as I have written, it is also true, if inflation happened, that we all, literally, emerged from quantum nothingness.

In a flat universe, and only in a flat universe, the total average Newtonian gravitational energy of each object moving with the expansion is precisely zero!

This is what makes a flat universe so special. In such a universe the positive energy of motion is exactly canceled by the negative energy of gravitational attraction.

[I]n discussions with those who feel the need for a creator, the existence of a multiverse is viewed as a cop-out conceived by physicists who have run out of answers -- or perhaps questions. This may eventually be the case, but it is not so now. Almost every logical possibility we can imagine regarding extending laws of physics as we know them on small scales, into a more complete theory, suggests that, on large scales, our universe is not unique.

I want to stress that a multiverse is inevitable if inflation is eternal, and eternal inflation is by far the most likely possibility in most, if not all, inflationary scenarios.

I think it is extremely significant that a universe from nothing -- in a sense I will take pains to describe -- that arises naturally, and even inevitably, is increasingly consistent with everything we have learned about the world.

I have challenged several theologians to provide evidence contradicting the premise that theology has made no contribution to knowledge in the past five hundred years at least, since the dawn of science. So far no one has provided a counterexample.

[I]t has been argued that the statement that the average total Newtonian gravitational energy of every galaxy in a flat, expanding universe is zero is arbitrary, and that any other value would be just as good, but that scientists "define" the zero point to argue against God. So claimed Dinesh D'Souza, anyway, in his debates with Christopher Hitchens on the existence of God. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Our observable universe is as close to being flat as we can measure. The Newtonian gravitational energy of galaxies moving along with the Hubble expansion is zero -- like it or not.

Empty space can have a non-zero energy associated with it, even in the absence of any matter or radiation.

These "quantum fluctuations" imply something essential about the quantum world: nothing always produces something if only for an instant.

[A]ll of these phenomena imply that, under the right conditions, not only can nothing become something, it is required to.

As Stephen Hawking has emphasized, a quantum theory of gravity allows for the creation, albeit perhaps momentarily, of space itself where none existed before.

Aristotle felt that equating First Cause with God was less than satisfying, in fact that the Platonic notion of First Cause was flawed, specifically because Aristotle felt every cause must have a precursor -- hence, the requirement that the universe be eternal.

Under the general principle that anything that is not forbidden is allowed, then we would be guaranteed, in such a picture, that some universe would arise with the laws that we have discovered.

[T]here could be an infinite number of regions, potentially infinitely big or infinitesimally small, in which there is simply "nothing," and there could be regions where there is "something."

"Why is there something rather than nothing?" must be understood in the context of a cosmos where the meaning of these words is not what it once was, and the very distinction between something and nothing has begun to disappear, where transitions between the two in different contexts are not only common, but required.

Without science, everything is a miracle. With science, there remains the possibility that nothing is.




  1.  A Cosmic Mystery Story: Beginnings

  2.  A Cosmic Mystery Story: Weighing the Universe

  3.  Light from the Beginning of Time

  4.  Much Ado About Nothing

  5.  The Runaway Universe

  6.  The Free Lunch at the End of the Universe

  7.  Our Miserable Future

  8.  A Grand Accident?

  9.  Nothing Is Something

10.  Nothing Is Unstable

11.  Brave New Worlds


       Afterword by Richard Dawkins


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A Universe From Nothing