Lawrence Krauss Refuted: Why there is something rather than nothing?

Today, I would like to talk about the purpose of life. Why are we here? Many years ago, I went to the city of Agra in India to see the famous Taj Mahal. There were long lines of visitors pushing and pulling on each other. Finally I made it through the main gate. When I had the first glimpse of Taj Mahal, it was a marvelous sight to behold. I said to myself, ‘Wow, what a beautiful building this is!’ A perfectly symmetrical building its ivory white marbles glistening in the sunlight. The hues and shades of its stones contrasted so beautifully against the lush green landscape below a blue sky above. Taj Mahal was built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. I asked myself, ‘How could he build such a magnificent building almost 400 years ago? Why did he build? 

   When we see the beauty of nature, we ask similar questions. How did this beauty come to be? Why is it here? These two primordial questions of our existence morphed into two fundamental questions in philosophy. The first question is, Why is there something rather than nothing? The second question is, Why are we here? The first question addresses the existence of the universe. Why is the universe here? The second question addresses our existence. Why are we here? 

    Philosophers have been struggling to answer these two questions for thousands of years. In modern times, physicists and biologists also gave their own answers to these questions. Let us call them, scientist-philosophers. Recently I had a conversation with one of these scientist-philosophers. His name is Lawrence Krauss. He founded Origins Project at Arizona State University to investigate the questions of origin. He wrote two books to address these two questions. Just look at the titles of these two books. The first book, ‘The Universe from nothing: Why there is something rather than nothing?’ The second book, ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told: Why are we here?’ 

    When I first saw these two books, I thought within myself, ‘Are you kidding me?’ I regularly talk to prominent philosophers of science who are hard core atheists. They do not pretend to have an answer to ‘Why there is something rather than nothing’. Michael Ruse, professor of philosophy at Florida State University, told me that he cannot possibly answer this question. 

He said, ‘I don’t believe in a Creator God. So, I say –  for me, it is a mystery.’ Michael Shermer is a professor of skepticism at Chapman University. He told me that this question cannot be answered at least for another one hundred years. Michael Ruse and Michael Shermer. Michael and Michael. Two angels of atheism. Both told me they have no answer to this question.

      But here comes Professor Lawrence Krauss. He brought science to explain these two philosophical questions. In his view, there is nothing in this world which cannot be explained by science. He argues that all truths must be established by science, including the truth about our origins and purpose. But you see, that is only a belief, because science never pretends to be the answer to all questions about reality. ‘Now, Johnny, you are looking at all the reality about this universe’ No scientific method could tell you, ‘Now, Mary, this is all the truth about the universe, there is nothing you cannot know using science’. In fact, science cannot tell you, ‘Now, Johnny, you are looking at reality’. When we do science, we accept it with faith that we are looking at reality using its methods. So, please note those two things: Science cannot tell us that we are looking at reality when we use science. It cannot tell us that it is the only method to discover reality. 

    Science deals with only what can be known by sense experience. It cannot answer what is beyond our sense experience. Can any scientist take us beyond what can be known from our sense experience? Well, the moment you step beyond the sense experience, you are no longer a scientist, you are a philosopher. But Lawrence Krauss does not admit he is doing any philosophy. He thinks that science alone can answer these questions. 

    He titled his book, ‘Universe from nothing’. Did he take us to that ‘nothing’? At the end of this book, he takes us to a multiverse and quantum mechanics. Let me quote his words, 

‘Nevertheless, a multiverse, either in the form of a landscape of universes existing in a host of extra dimensions, or in the form of a possibly infinitely replicating set of universes in a three-dimensional space as in the case of eternal inflation, changes the playing field when we think about the creation of our own universe and the conditions that may be required for that to happen’ 

   He took us to the multiverse and eternal inflation. Then he says, ‘we generally assume that certain properties, like quantum mechanics, permeate all possibilities. I have no idea if this notion can be usefully dispensed with, or at least I don’t know of any productive work in this regard’. Listen to those words. ‘We assume quantum mechanics permeate all possibilities. I have no idea if this notion can be usefully dispensed with….’

    That is quite anticlimactic because he titled his book, Universe from nothing, but he did not take us to ‘nothing’. He took us to the laws of quantum mechanics. But he did not answer, ‘Where did the laws of quantum mechanics come from?’ He did not answer, ‘Where did themultiverse come from?’ 

     I called Mr.Krauss and asked him what prompted him to write these books. I was not surprised when he said that he got the inspiration from his friend Richard Dawkins. He told me, ‘I and Richard Dawkins meet regularly, we eat lunch, and talk about science and religion’. Consequently, Richard Dawkins wrote the afterword to this book. He wrote these words: 

“Even the last remaining trump card of the theologian, ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’, shrivels up before your eyes as you read these pages. If ‘On the Origin of Species’ was biology’s deadliest blow to supernaturalism, we may come to see ‘A Universe From Nothing’ as the equivalent from cosmology. The title means exactly what it says. And what it says is devastating’ 

     But if you read this book, you would realize, there is nothing devastating in this book. It is completely dead on arrival. My wife listened to Professor Krauss’s lectures and played a trick on me. One day she made a delicious chicken curry. When I went home in the evening, I asked her, ‘Wow, the chicken curry is so delicious. How did you make it?’. She said, ‘I did not make it. It came from nothing’. I asked her, ‘Where are you going with this?’ 

     She said, ‘Professor Krauss says the universe came from nothing! You can’t even believe a chicken curry came from nothing!’ I got her point. A simple chicken curry needs a lot of planning. You got to go shopping for different ingredients. You need chicken, oil, water, salt, chilli powder, coriander, cumin,cilantro, turmeric, fennel seeds, pepper, ginger, garlic, onions, tomatoes etc. You should mix them in the right amounts at the right times to make a spicy, delicious chicken curry. Similarly, many things need to fall in place in right amounts and at right times to create this particular universe. 

     Be that as it may, Professor Krauss says that the universe came from nothing. Universe is physical stuff, if ‘nothing’ produced this physical stuff, then that ‘nothing’ must be physical stuff too. It does not matter what is in that nothing, whether it is a quantum field or some other energy field, it is still a physical stuff. When I looked inside the book, I found praise from several scientists. One of them, Neil deGrasse Tyson, popular astrophysicist, at the American Museum of Natural History, wrote these words, “Nothing is not nothing. Nothing is something. That’s how a cosmos can be spawned from the void – a profound idea”. So, the very people who were supposed to praise this book were debunking the basic premise of this book, ‘Nothing is not nothing. Nothing is something’. If ‘nothing’ is ‘something’, why did you write a book entitled ‘universe from nothing’ with a subtitle ‘why is there something rather than nothing’? 

2. Why are we here? 

     Then the second greatest question in philosophy is, Why are we here? Professor Krauss wrote another book to answer this question. He titled it, The Greatest Story Ever Told – so far. Why are we here?  He starts the book attacking the Bible as ‘pathetically inconsistent and outdated’. The book starts from Plato’s Cave and ends with the Large Hadron Collider. I read this book from cover to cover. Professor Krauss tells us how physicists made great discoveries of nature over the centuries. He says, Einstein revolutionized our ideas of space and time; Schrodinger and Heisenberg revolutionized our picture of atoms; Paul Dirac revolutionized our view of matter at much smaller scales. We do not dispute it. That’s a beautiful story of science. 

    But, is it the greatest story ever told? Then, he talks about the beauty of unifications. The unification of electricity and magnetism revealed the hidden nature of light. Unifying light with Galileo’s laws of motion revealed the hidden connections between space and time embodied in relativity. The unification of light and matter revealed the strange quantum universe. And the unification of quantum mechanics and relativity revealed the existence of antiparticles.” 

Then he talks about the power of mathematical symmetries in the discovery of great scientific truths. He says, ‘“But every known theory describing nature at a fundamental scale reflects some type of gauge symmetry. As a result, physicists now tend to think of symmetries of nature as fundamental, and the theories that then describe nature as being restricted in form to respect these symmetries, which in turn then reflect some key underlying mathematical features of the physical universe.” 

“The beautiful order of the periodic table governing phenomena on atomic scales gave way to the mystery of the nucleus and the inscrutable nature of the forces that governed it” “The gauge symmetry has become the most important symmetry we know of in nature” 

    There is nothing to dispute. Then he goes on to described how mathematical symmetries led us to discover conservation laws. 

“-the conservation of electric charge reflects that the laws of nature don’t change if the sign of all electric charges is changed.

-the conservation of energy reflects that the laws of nature don’t change with time 

-the conservation of momentum reflects that the laws of nature don’t change from place to place

-the conservation of angular momentum reflects that the laws of nature don’t depend on which direction a system is rotated” 

     He tells about great mathematician Emmy Noether who discovered these laws of conservation using her mathematical genius. I enjoyed reading all those fascinating details. The beautiful symmetries in the universe. I thought of the symmetries I saw in the Taj Mahal. At the end of the book, he summarizes his argument in this way.  It is a long quotation, but please bear with me. 

    “For most people, the central questions of existence ultimately come down to transcendental ones: Why is there a universe at all? Why are we here? Whatever presumptions one might bring to the question, “Why?,” if we understand the “how” better, “why” will come into sharper focus. I wrote my last book to address what science has to say about the first of the above questions. The story I have related here provides what I think is the best answer to the second. 

    Faced with the mystery of our existence, we have two choices. We can assume we have special significance and that somehow the universe was made for us. For many, this is the most comfortable choice. It was the choice made by early human tribes, who anthropomorphized nature because it provided them some hope of understanding what otherwise seemed to be a hostile world often centered on suffering and death. It is the choice made by almost all the world’s religions, each of which has its own claimed solution to the quandary of existence. 

   The choice of which tale to embrace has led one culture’s sacred book, The New Testament, which has sometimes been called “the greatest story ever told” – the story of that civilization’s putative discovery of its own divinity. Yet when I witness wars and killing based on which prayers we are supposed to recite, which persons we are supposed to marry, or which prophet is the appropriate one to follow, I cannot help but be reminded, once again, of Gulliver, who discovered societies warring over which way God had intended man to break an egg. 

    The second choice when addressing these transcendental mysteries is to make no assumption in advance about the answer. Which leads to another story. One that I think is more humble. In this story we evolve in a universe whose laws exist independently of our own being. In this story we check the details to see if they might be wrong. In this story we are going to be surprised at every turn. 

    The story I have written here describes a human drama as much as a universal one. It describes the boldest intellectual quest humans have ever undertaken. It even has scriptural allegories, for those who prefer them. We wandered in the desert for forty years after the development of the Standard Model before we discovered the Promised Land. The truth, or at least as much of the truth as we now know, was revealed to us in what for most people seems to be incomprehensible scribbles: the mathematics of gauge theories. These have not been delivered to us on golden tablets by an angel, but rather by much more practical means: on pieces of paper in laboratory notebooks filled through the hard work of a legion of individuals who knew that their claims could be tested by whether they correctly modeled the real world, the world of observation and experiment. But as significant as the manner by which we got here is that we have gotten this far” 

    What is the Greatest story ever told? Professor Krauss says, ‘Christians claim that the greatest story ever told is in the New Testament. But I cannot accept it because Christian history is full of violence’. He threw a non-sequitur. The greatest story of the Bible is that God of the universe came to this world as Jesus of Nazareth. He showed us how to live, how to serve, how to love and how to even die for others. 

     Christians committed all those atrocities when they ignored or violated basic ethos of Jesus Christ our Lord. Professor Krauss’s argument goes like this: You say the greatest document of American Republic is the Declaration of Independence. Well, I am rejecting it because America waged many wars since it was written. If there is one person who taught pacifism and non-violence to the Western Civilization, it is Jesus of Nazareth. Read the history of Romans, Anglo-Saxons and Celts, war was their life-style by default. The Celts were the hardest to convert to Christianity because Jesus’ pacifism did not make sense to them. Here comes Lawrence Krauss saying, I am rejecting the New Testament because Christians  waged many wars.

    So, what is the greatest story ever told? He writes, “The second choice when addressing these transcendental mysteries is to make no assumption in advance about the answer. Which leads to another story. One that I think is more humble. In this story we evolve in a universe whose laws exist independently of our own being. In this story we check the details to see if they might be wrong. In this story we are going to be surprised at every turn.” 

    There is a false dichotomy here. Krauss says, If we reject Christian faith and embrace naturalism, we can be more humble, we recognize that laws of the universe exist independent of our own being, we can check the details to see if they might be wrong, we can be surprised at every turn. But, if you look into the history of science, nothing could be further from the truth. Sir Isaac Newtonembraced the ‘greatest story ever told’ of the Bible, and also did everything Mr.Krauss boasted about. Newton remained humble, independently verified his theories, and surprised at every turn. 

     Where is Krauss’ greatest story of science going? “ The story I have written here describes a human drama as much as a universal one. It describes the boldest intellectual quest humans have ever undertaken. It even has scriptural allegories, for those who prefer them. We wandered in the desert for forty years after the development of the Standard Model before we discovered the Promised Land. The truth, or at least as much of the truth as we now know, was revealed to us in what for most people seems to be incomprehensible scribbles: the mathematics of gauge theories.” (Italics mine) 

    The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years and discovered the Promised Land. That is the story of the Bible. But in this story, we wandered in the desert for forty years from the Standard Model until we discovered the Higgs boson. What is the truth in this story? 

     “The truth, or at least as much of the truth as we now know, was revealed to us in what for most people seems to be incomprehensible scribbles: the mathematics of gauge theories.” 

    The end of this great journey is mathematics. But you see, many great scientists did not end there. They looked beyond mathematics. For example Galileo Galilei said, ‘Mathematics is the language in which God has written the universe’. Lawrence Krass is saying, we found the book of mathematics, that is the end of the story. Galileo says, ‘No, mathematics is not the end of the story. Behind the language of mathematics, there is a mathematician, there is a designer, there is a Creator’.

This Creator God came to this world as a human being – our blessed Savior Lord Jesus Christ. He lived a simple yet sublime life. He went to the cross to die for our sins. Then he rose again from the grave to give us hope and eternal life. I pray that you receive Jesus into your life

To be continued in Part 2

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