The column about the origin of the universe from nothing generated all kinds of great email from readers. The letters revealed how differently people respond to uncertainty. It’s amazing that what feels crazy and delusional to one camp feels rational and solid to the other.
I’ve sorted the letters into three piles. One group took me to task, I think rightly, for glossing over the question of where the empty space came from in the first place. Somewhere I described the theory of inflation as the blowing up of a “speck” of empty space into a universe.
What “speck” is that? “The notion of negative energy allows our universe to spring into existence from a speck.” What speck is that? Where did it come from? Curious in Manheim,
The way I understood it from reading Larwence Krauss’ book A Universe from Nothing, little bits of space and time can pop into and out of existence spontaneously thanks to the laws of quantum mechanics. Once in a while, such a speck doesn’t disappear, but undergoes a burst of super-expansion called inflation, and therein our universe is born.
The scientists don’t know what existed before inflation blew up our universe. We may be one bubble amid a foam of other universes. That so-called multiverse may have had a beginning to, or it may have always existed.
Under the other picture that’s been proposed by Paul Steinhardt and colleagues, the big bang was the birth of a new universe from the collapsed remnant of a previous one. That theory doesn’t say whether universes have been cyclically expanding and collapsing forever. Two other books that might help clear this up are “The Big Bang” by Simon Singh, and “From Eternity to Here” by Sean Carroll. These are high on my 2012 reading list.
Another group of readers accused the main subject of much of the story, Lawrence Krauss, of focusing his efforts on the wrong nothing. He should have looked at the other nothing!
The “nothing” of quantum fluctuating space is not the “nothing” everyone has in mind and wants to understand. …. But that’s just not the “nothing” we’re all talking about, and just pushes the issue back one more step: where did the not-really-nothing-after-all itself come from? Surely not nothing.
I’m going to quote from the preface of the book, where Dr. Krauss addresses this very question: “Now I am told by religious critics that I cannot refer to empty space as “nothing, but rather as a quantum vacuum to distinguish it from the philosopher’s or theologians’ idealized nothing. ….As I shall describe we have learned that space and time can themselves spontaneously appear, snow now we are told that even this “nothing” is not the real nothing that matters.
The other letter writers insisted that it’s impossible for the universe to exist at all without a creator God:
You said that empty space is not really empty. So what is in it ? And from where did it com? …I certainly believe in our progression, from the unknowable to our today but SOMETHING, maybe called God, created us… But I think your columns reflect an intense struggle to prove that there is no God, and it can’t be done.
It defies reason that something can come from nothing. . IT IS JUST IMPOSSIBLE that being come from non-being.
Professor Lawrence Krauss posits a state in which time and space don’t exist. “Either type of nothing can spontaneously produce stuff” , he says. He then says that according to the laws of physics, space can not be empty . There are , he says, positive and negative particles that could have produced the “big bang’.
Now if there was such a “state” , it had to exist, did it not? Who created it? For such a state to exist, it had to be brought into existence. If it had being, who endowed it with being…..
Essentially what you are saying is, “We don’t understand the first principle so we will set that that we do understand as the first principle.” You lost the argument when you pulled the Clintonesque “you have to define nothing.” Nothing cannot produce stuff. And physical laws are after the fact. ….
With the help of special theory of relativity we can explain God’s spacelessness. With the help of special theory of relativity we can explain God’s timelessness. With the help of special theory of relativity we can explain God’s changelessness. With the help of special theory of relativity we can explain God’s immortality. With the help of special theory of relativity we can explain how God can be everywhere. With the help of special theory of relativity we can explain all the major attributes of God. When we find that science can explain God, why shall we have to think then that God is non-existent? If God is non-existent, then why has science explained God? Is it the job of science to explain a non-existent entity like God? So either that particular science is faulty that explains God; or, if that particular science is not faulty, then God is not non-existent.
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Who knew there was a scientific GOD journal? The important point that Lawrence Krauss made in his book and in his lecture last week was that the origin of the universe need not be a miracle. There’s no physical law that must be suspended for a universe to come from nothing. The readers posing the initial question felt they had proof of God in the big bang because they thought it violated natural laws, but the laws actually allow it.
The question of “Who” created the universe makes about as much sense as asking who created giraffes or lions or tigers. There’s a story behind their existence but it involves processes, not magical beings.
For those of us who are not inclined to think of a “who” creating anything in nature, the appeal to gods is unsatisfying. What created the gods? If they were always here, why can’t the universe have always been here? I found myself agreeing with this reader:
Do any of your astute creator-god-believing correspondents explain where their god(s) came from if they believe everything must be created from something? Or does logic not enter in At all?
I hope I’ll gain some insight into our different ways of thinking from Michael Shermer’s latest book, The Believing Brain. Shermer is in a special position to shed light on this, since he was once a “born again” Christian but had a very big change of mind and heart.