A Krauss cheat sheet: things to know before Thursday (part 1)

Credit: Flickr/smalljude

Lawrence Krauss will be in Perth this week for an event with our St Matthew’s City Church minister, Rory, on Thursday. If you’re going along (or just interested) here are some notes to help you get up to speed with the Krauss roadshow.

Krauss has largely assumed the mantle of atheist-that-Christians-love-to-debate, taking over from Christopher Hitchens (who passed away in 2011) and Richard Dawkins (who everyone got bored with around the same time).

He’s written a shelf of pop-science books, including the very popular The Physics of Star Trek. His latest book is A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather Than Nothing.

It’s in aid of this book that Krauss is speaking at the moment, and has been in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne over the last couple weeks with William Lane Craig.

As the title of the book hints (twice), Krauss’s big point is that the universe came from nothing, all by itself – no God required. In our culture, it’s taken for granted that once there was once nothing and now there is something. (This is actually not as obvious as it sounds – there are a lot of cultures that think the universe has always been here and will always be here.)

The big question is, of course, why is there something rather than nothing? As anyone who has done first year philosophy knows, nothing comes from nothing. So why is there something? The Christian answer (as well as the Jewish and Islamic one) is that God created the something.

Krauss, on the other hand, says that something can come from nothing, all by itself. To make this argument, Krauss uses a particular definition of nothing. Nothing doesn’t mean nothing-nothing, he says. Instead, there are three types of nothing:

1. Nothing is empty space. This is what Krauss (erroneously) argues Christians and philosophers have always thought ‘nothing’ meant. But as Einstein showed, empty space is still something. So then you ask, where did the empty space come from? And Krauss says:

2. Nothing is just the laws of physics. But then you ask, where did the laws of physics come from? So Krauss says (and this is the important bit):

3. Nothing is a ‘quantum field’. It’s just the laws of quantum mechanics.

It’s from this last type of nothing – the laws of quantum mechanics – that everything comes. Particles, Krauss says, can pop in and out of existence in a ‘quantum field’, and once the particles get popping, it’s only a matter of time before you get a universe.

There’s still one obvious question: where did the laws of quantum mechanics come from? According to this review, Krauss doesn’t get to this question until the end of the book, where he admits he hasn’t a clue where they come from – they’re just there.

So the universe can come from nothing, all by itself, as long as ‘nothing’ is the laws of quantum mechanics.

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Part 2 will look at why Krauss thinks that this is the best answer to the question of where everything came from.

In the meantime, you might like to watch Krauss try to explain his idea to Colbert (skip to 13:28 for the interview).

If you want a more detailed look at Krauss’s argument, there’s a great review  in the NYT.

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What are your thoughts on Krauss’s explanation? What questions would you have for him?

A Krauss cheat sheet: things to know before Thursday (part 1)