The ABC’s opinion pages has posted my introduction to the debate between Lawrence Krauss and William Lane Craig, happening this evening at the Sydney Town Hall. The debate topic is “Why is there something rather than nothing?”. Can science answer the question? Can God? Can anyone? Read on.
The article I submitted had a few footnotes, cut from the ABC’s version. I’ll put them here, for completeness.
“The beliefs of the makers of the scientific revolution …”
As Margaret J. Osler has said,
“.. the entire enterprise of studying the natural world was embedded in a theological framework that emphasized divine creation, design, and providence. These themes are prominent in the writings of almost all the major seventeenth-century natural philosophers.”
One mustn’t claim too much. The scientific revolution owes a lot to the efforts of Arabic, Greek, Roman, and Babylonian thinkers, amongst others, as well as commercial, civil and military interests in new technology. My point is that historically, God did not jump on the science bandwagon. The opposite is closer to the truth.
This is also not to deny the existence of a strong anti-science tendencies within some strands of religion. Religions that make claims about the physical universe may find themselves in science’s cross hairs.
“The universe as a whole may have zero net energy.”
Krauss spends most of Chapter 6 of his book telling us that the universe has no Newtonian energy if it is exactly spatially flat, as our universe appears to be. “A universe from nothing … indeed”, he says. He then undoes all his good work by noting that inflation erases any information about whether the universe as a whole is flat or not, as the observable universe will always look flat. He further admits in Chapter 10 that the Newtonian energy is irrelevant, as we should be using Einstein’s theory of general relativity (GR). In GR, the energy of the universe (and gravitational energy in particular) is not well-defined, and energy is not conserved in an expanding universe.
“I’m with Albert and my reasons mirror his”
When Jerry Coyne agreed with Albert, Krauss claimed that his book was not “focusing on the classical question that has bother[ed] philosophers, but I don’t think I ever claim to”. That “classical question” is “why is there something rather than nothing?”. The subtitle of Krauss’ book is “Why there is something rather than nothing”. Go figure.
Inconsistency with “nothing” abounds. Having admitted that it would be “disingenuous to suggest that empty space endowed with energy … is really nothing”, just a few pages later he is telling us that in a universe emptied by expansion “nothingness would reign supreme”, and that the creation of particle from the empty space around a black hole shows that “under the right conditions, not only can nothing become something, it is required to”.
The book descends into the ridiculous. Krauss tells us that, ‘“Something” may not be very special or even very common in the multiverse’. So, in the totality of physical existence, it might be that only some things are “something” but most things aren’t “something”. That is exactly as daft as it sounds. This nonsense has no warrant from modern cosmology.
“If universes that can sustain the complexity required for intelligent life forms are rare in the set of possible universes”
In the past 40 years, this is exactly what scientists have discovered about the laws of nature. This is known as the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life, sometimes discussed under the heading of “the anthropic principle”. Some seemingly minor changes in the laws of nature (in particular, the constants that appear in those laws) would have rather catastrophic effects on the universe – all solids melt, atoms fall apart, stars fail to shine, chemistry (and thus biochemistry) doesn’t work, planets don’t form or spiral into their stars, universes collapse into oblivion or blast into emptiness, all is black holes. The interested reader is referred my review paper of the scientific literature on fine-tuning, which appeared in the Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia.