Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Lawrence Krauss debates “A Universe From Nothing” with an astrophysicist

Dina sent me news of Saturday’s episode of Unbelievable, which features Lawrence Krauss, who debated William Lane Craig. Krauss’ book was also reviewed in the New York Times.

The MP3 file is here.

Details:

Lawrence Krauss is a Cosmologist at Arizona State University who describes himself as an “anti-theist”. His latest book “A Universe From Nothing” has received both acclaim and criticism for its attempt to answer the question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” Debating the issue with Krauss is Rodney Holder, Course director at the Faraday Institute, Cambridge. An astrophysicist and priest by background. In a lively exchange they debate whether Krauss’ “nothing” is “nothing”, fine tuning and multiverses, scientific knowledge, miracles and the usefulness of theology and philosophy.

This debate is quite entertaining, and do not be intimidated if your don’t understand science. You can understand pretty easily who is arguing based on facts and who is speculating about unobservable, untestable entities. At one point, Krauss actually denies that there is any fine-tuning in the universe, so please see this link to refute that claim as well as this podcast which explains some examples of fine-tuning. Krauss gets a bit angry at the beginning, but calms down.

Quotation marks are for direct quotes, italics is for made-up snark. See below the summary for more posts that are related to this one.

Summary of the discussion: (picked up at 9:30 when they start talking about the book)

Brierley:

  • explain your theory of how the universe can come into being from nothing

Krauss:

  • the nothing that preceded the universe is “no space, no time, no universe”
  • theists say that God is responsible for creating the universe out of this nothing
  • but the laws of nature can create the universe uncaused out of nothing

Holder:

  • Krauss sometimes writes that the nothing is really a quantum vacuum, but that is not nothing
  • He even acknowledges in his book that a quantum vacuum is not nothing
  • He thinks that the nothing has properties, even though it has no being
  • It has the property of being unstable
  • It has the property of being acted on by quantum fields
  • It has the property of being acted on by gravity

Krauss:

  • But nothing can have the potential to do things inside it
  • For example suppose you have an electron, which is not nothing
  • If it jumps from one level to another, it emits light
  • There was no potential for the light in the electron, but it was there as part of atomic structure

Holder:

  • But in cases like that, there is something physical that has the potential
Krauss:
  • Well, how did God makes the universe then if it had no potential?

Holder:

  • God existed, and the potential for creating the universe in himself

Brierley:

Krauss:
  • It was written by a philosopher, so I dismissed it

Brierley:

Krauss:
  • These book reviewers have not even read my book!

Krauss:

  • Science will be able to figure out how to make something from nothing in the future
  • We are even now speculating about interesting questions, like is there a multiverse?

Brierley:

  • Consider the critical review of your book in the New York Times
  • The author of the review claims that you equivocate on the term “nothing”
  • In order to get things to pop into being, you have to make “nothing” mean “something”
  • Reviewer: none of Krauss’ theories explain how something can come from actual nothingness

Krauss:

  • In physics, something and nothing are not that different
  • The reviewer doesn’t understand the physics
  • He doesn’t understand quantum field theory
  • You could call a quantum vacuum “nothing”, (this is the vacuum fluctuation model, refuted by William Lane Craig in a peer-reviewed publication in an astrophysics journal – get the full text of the article here)
  • Maybe there is an eternally existing multiverse that we can’t observe or test scientifically
  • Maybe it has laws that we don’t know about which allow our universe to pop into being
  • Maybe this popping into being is uncaused
  • (alarmed) Who made God? Who made God?

Holder:

  • God is eternal and necessary

Krauss:

  • (interrupting, angry) What does it mean for something to be necessary?

Holder:

  • Basically, you have to decide whether there is more evidence that the necessary being God or a multiverse

Brierley:

  • So Dr. Krauss are you willing to say that the universe is a brute fact, in some sense, and requires no explanation

Krauss:

  • (angry) Religious people are stupid because they just assume brute facts, not like me and my unobservable, untestable multiverse
  • (angry) Religious people are against the progress of science, they don’t want to figure out how things work

Brierley:

  • But isn’t it possible that naturalists can be opposed to the progress of science?
  • What about the way the Fred Hoyle opposed the Big Bang because he wanted an eternal universe

Krauss:

  • (angry) But naturalists like me let the facts determine our beliefs, like the facts about the eternal unobservable, untestable multiverse
  • (angry, shouting) Philosophers are stupid, they know nothing!

=== Break ===

Brierley:

  • Do you see any evidence of purpose in the universe?

Krauss:

  • Well maybe I would believe if the stars lined up to spell out a message from God

Brierley:

  • Actually no, that wouldn’t be evidence for God on your multiverse view
  • if there an infinite number of universes existing for an infinite amount of time, then anything can happen no matter how unlikely it is
  • therefore, no evidence could convince you that God exists, since the unobservable, untestable, eternal multiverse can make anything it wants

Krauss:

  • That’s a true statement, and very convenient for atheists who don’t want to be accountable to God, don’t you think?
Brierley:
  • Back to the multiverse, how does it solve the fine-tuning?

Krauss:

  • “We have no idea if the universe is fine-tuned for life”, even though the atheist Martin Rees who endorsed Krauss’ book wrote his own book about the fine-tuning of the universe called “Just Six Numbers”
  • Inflationary theory does suggest a way to create multiple universes, (this is the chaotic inflationary model, refuted by William Lane Craig in a peer-reviewed publication in an astrophysics journal – get the full text of the article here)

Brierley:

  • But this theory is still very much a hypothesis, isn’t it? We can’t observe or test this hypothesis can we?

Krauss:

  • “No, and that is really important to state”
  • “I’m an empiricist, so if you can’t falsify it and if you can’t test it then it’s not science”
  • In my book, I speculate about a way that we could test the multiverse theory

Holder:

  • Yes, in principle, the multiverse would be scientific if you could test it through other theories like inflationary theory
  • There are a lot of speculations about multiverse theory, but no evidence from predictions that were validated in the lab

Krauss:

  • “I agree completely with everything you just said”

Brierley:

  • Roger Penrose agrees with Holder that the multiverse theory is too speculative
  • (To Holder) Isn’t the multiverse theory better than positing a completely different kind of being, which is God?

Holder:

  • The multiverse theory is extremely speculative
  • Even if the multiverse were true, you would still need to explain the multiverse

Krauss:

  • People don’t oppose my book because it’s full of self-contradictory speculations
  • People oppose my book because they are stupid and ignorant

Holder:

  • There are things that exist that science cannot measure, like objective morality
  • It’s possible to give explanations for moral behavior by appealing to evolution
  • But that does not ground self-sacrificial morality, such as what occurs in the Christian life

Brierley:

  • Dawkins says there is no purpose or morality in in the universe, do you agree?

Krauss:

  • “There is certainly no evidence of any of that”

Brierley:

  • In the book, you talk about how we live in a special time in the universe’s history to be able to do science, (i.e. – The Privileged Planet hypothesis)
  • You also write about how all the discoveries were are making will not be communicated to anyone in other places in the universe
  • So what is the meaning of doing science on your view? And why are you sad at the knowledge that will not be available to people in the future?
  • Are you longing for some kind of purpose?

Krauss:

  • No, I just get enjoyment from studying the universe with science to gain understanding

Holder:

  • What do you make of Einstein’s statement about the unexpected comprehensibility of the universe
  • Theists would say that this is because God wanted us to study and understand and gain knowledge

Krauss:

  • “It is remarkable that the universe is comprehensible”

Brierley:

  • Why is the universe comprehensible?

Krauss:

  • Well, maybe the universe just has to be that way

Brierley:

  • What do you make of the heat death of the universe, when all life in the universe will die out?

Krauss:

  • That’s the way the universe is
=== BREAK ===

Krauss:

  • I wouldn’t want to live in a universe where there was a God
  • God is a cosmic Saddam Hussein
  • “Religious people turn their minds off” and believe in God for consolation

Holder:

  • First, Jesus is the revelation of God and he is no Saddam Hussein
  • Second, the Christian life is anything but easy, we are facing some persecution already in the UK
  • Third, there is also the problem of being accountable to God when we die
  • It’s very much like science – Christianity is the way it is, not the way we want it to be

Krauss:

  • “If you don’t believe in him, you don’t get any of the benefits, so you have to believe”
  • “And then if you’ve done something wrong, you’re going to be judged for it”
  • “So I don’t want to be judged by God, I want to be… that’s the bottom line”

Holder:

  • Well, Jesus has died to pay the price for those things we’ve done wrong
  • Although we will have to face the charges for what we’ve done, believers will ultimately be forgiven

UPDATE: Peter Sean Bradley note that Krauss is now walking back his rhetoric in response to criticisms from people like atheist John Horgan.

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15 Responses

  1. Dude says:

    Krauss is a great counter example to Sam Harris’ charge that science always corrects religion and never the other way around. His position is so clearly incoherent I’m amazed anyone takes him seriously. found myself wishing I was on the show so I could further question Krauss.

  2. djrodger says:

    Listened to this on the way to work this morning, very entertaining aswell as packed with good content. Krauss is pretty sharp but Holder and Justin did a good job of keeping him in check.

  3. eyem4christ says:

    I read Krauss’ book and what he describes as “nothing” is really not nothing. He simply hijacks the term. But I think this illuminates a bigger problem: In what way are scientists qualified to be experts in whether or not God exists? The cause of the universe is not a scientific question. Science is for “in” the universe studies, not outside the universe.

    • pradela says:

      I totally agree that Krauss doesn`t do a good job on accurately describing his definition of nothing. And also agree that scientists are certainly not supposed to judge religion. But, and I hope you agree with me, how can religion then judge the work of science as a whole? As far as I saw, the bible was a book written by men like us, who acquired their knowledge from a mysterious source, by them named God. And that was a long time ago. Men did question those words vastly motivated by curiosity, and reached some quite interesting theories. This discussion we’re seeing here, the origin of the universe, is simply an extraordinary defense of God when faced by science.
      Think about it, men are the only intelligent life form we know capable of deceiving. The bible was written by men, thousands of years ago. We constantly see archaeologists finding something new about the past, either from a passage out of context, or from just new evidence. What I`m trying to say is, not related to the astrological discussion itself, it seams wrong to me to give that must trust into something so remote, unless it is convenient to do so.
      Science, on the other hand, bases its theories on empirical evidence, which sometimes can be reassuring and sometimes brutal from a moral and philosophical perspective.
      What Krauss is really trying to do, as I see it, is not to prove God wrong, but to prove men as capable of getting to the answers without constantly recurring to a convenient response.

    • JV says:

      I disagree. This really only makes sense if you assume that anything “outside” the universe is somehow supernatural. Science covers the entire scope of the natural. Just because we do not yet have a good idea about certain things at the edges of our current understanding does not mean they are outside the scope of science.

      • The cause of the universe exists outside space and is therefore non-material. Please explain to me, on atheism, which non-material entity brought the universe into being.

        • JV says:

          This is beyond our current understanding, as I said. My point is that when you have something that is not yet understood it is fallacious to fill the gap with whatever you want. The whole idea of “first cause” might sound rhetorically powerful to some people but it doesn’t go anywhere toward defending the idea that you probably want to defend: God of the Bible. Even if you were able to somehow make a slam dunk argument that some entity created the Universe it would in no way point to a Christian God. “First Cause” arguments are really just God of the Gaps fallacies. “Here’s a thing we don’t understand…therefore God.”

          I don’t know if Krauss’ “Universe From Nothing” idea will stand up to intense scrutiny from the scientific community over time. In some ways it seems impossible to verify. But regardless of that, what I see on a lot of these types of blog posts is an assumption that God exists and a search for any gap in knowledge in which that God can live.

          When/if we get to a point where our understanding of the origin of the universe is expanded beyond the limits of the Big Bang will these arguments for God simply be pushed back to the next unknown?

          • The Big Bang theory is not beyond our current knowledge.
            We understand the standard model quite well, because of 70 years of studying it.
            We have 6 lines of experimental evidence to prove the Big Bang theory, e.g. – cosmic microwave background radiation.
            This argument is based on what we know from the progress of science, not what we don’t know.
            The problem is just that atheists oppose science when science shows things they don’t like.
            They start to assert that we “don’t know” about redshift, light element abundances, and the expanding universe.
            They start to assert that things that they cannot see or test or prove are in fact true. (i.e. – multiverse)
            Atheists “just want to be left alone” while they pursue pleasure. Krauss even says so. That’s what’s really going on.
            Atheists don’t want to believe what science has shown. They would prefer to believe in their own speculations.
            Atheists hope that all the science that we have today will be torn down and replaced with science fiction. (i.e. – Star Trek)
            That’s why atheists believe that the entire universe popped into being out of nothing.
            They would rather believe that than have to re-prioritize their lives to account for God and morality.
            To be an atheist is to believe in self-serving speculations and to oppose the progress of science.

            You can’t re-invent the objective world based on what you want to be true. You can’t make your desire for happiness cloud the findings of science. We have to believe what science shows us, not invent comfortable delusions. We have to deal with the science we have today, not speculate about warp drives and transporters and holodecks. We have to live in the real world. Not a comfortable fantasy world.

            You can’t make a worldview out of science fiction. At some point, you have to believe in science. The science we have NOW, TODAY.

  4. tesfaye says:

    As Ravi Zacharias has said, disbelief in God is not intellectual problem but moral and I have seen clearly that in Krauss’s responses. He doesn’t have enough reason to disbelief in God but hatred towards God and intolerance.

  5. I just want to let everyone know that Lee Strobel – LEE STROBEL!!!!! – re-tweeted this post:

    https://twitter.com/#!/LeeStrobel

    —-
    Lee Strobel @LeeStrobel
    RT @wintery_knight: Atheist Lawrence Krauss debates his book “A Universe From Nothing” with an astrophysicist: http://wp.me/pqyhO-7PD

    6 RETWEETS
    8 FAVORITES
    11:40 AM – 30 Apr 12 via HootSuite

  6. Goodly amount of work you put in there, WK. Nicely done, I almost don’t feel I need to listen!

  7. [...] week I was reading this debate and review of the book “A Universe From Nothing” by Lawrence Krauss. I’m sure that all three of the [...]

  8. Tracy says:

    Lawrence Krauss: “Why does something have to be necessary? I don’t feel unnecessary.”

    Funniest debate ever.

    Here’s some advice for those atheists who care. Before you debate a philosophical question, read about it.

  9. JV says:

    I did not see a “reply” button after your last reply to me. So I will post this as a reply to the main article.

    If you have spent five minutes reading blogs or listening to podcasts based on atheism you’ll know that atheists tend to be HUGE science geeks. We love that stuff. So it is very weird that you would argue the opposite.

    I did not say the Big Bang is beyond our understanding. I was replying to your statement that “The cause of the universe exists outside space and is therefore non-material. Please explain to me, on atheism, which non-material entity brought the universe into being.” The “cause” is the unknown. That is what is beyond our current understanding. My point is that you cannot insert whatever you want into that void of knowledge. That isn’t how science works. You won’t find any published theories about which “entity” caused the universe because there isn’t any evidence for an “entity” that could do that.

    The rest of your post is odd. I’m an atheist, which means I have to deal with the reality around me pretty straightforward. I know that when a loved one dies they are probably not going to exist in an afterlife, and neither will I. I also know that morals come from humans so we have to be diligent about getting them right. Meanwhile you, as a theist, probably believe you will go to Heaven and meet your lost loved ones and that all your moral questions were answered in the Bible. Yet I am somehow the one living a fantasy?

    That is some strange logic right there.

    Anyway, my only real point in posting was to point out that – regardless of the strength of Krauss’ idea – it is fallacious to insert a deity or any other thing into a void of knowledge unless you have strong evidence to support it. We do not have a good idea of what might have come “before” the Big Bang, if such a statement can make any sense at all. So it is a fallacy to assume there is a God in that void of knowledge. You would first need to demonstrate the existence of gods in general or at least a good probability of their existence, then show some clear signs of a god’s presence prior to the Big Bang. I am not aware of any scientist who has done this.

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