A Universe From Nothing

A Universe From Nothing

Dr. Craig looks at the basic claims of Lawrence Krauss' new book A Universe From Nothing. What are the philosophical and scientific definitions of "nothing". Is this something only science can consider?

A Universe From Nothing (part 2)

Dr. Craig continues to analyze the basic claims of Lawrence Krauss' book A Universe From Nothing. Is God just a "cop out" used to answer cosmological questions?

A Universe From Nothing (part 3)

Dr. Craig concludes a discussion of Lawrence Krauss' book and addresses Krauss' claim that theology has no place in the universities.

Transcript A Universe From Nothing

Part 1

Kevin Harris: This is the podcast of Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig. Glad to have you here. I'm Kevin Harris. A Universe From Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing—that's the latest book by Lawrence Krauss. He's a theoretical physicist and professor of physics at Arizona State University, very influential atheist, and you can check the podcast concerning the debate that Dr. Craig had with Dr. Krauss.[1] Just go back a few weeks in the podcast. Bill, the title in the book is quite a familiar phrase. I think we already know where this is going.

Dr. Craig: Well, it plays off of Leibniz's famous question: why is there something rather than nothing? Leibniz said this is the first and most fundamental question that ought to be asked: why does anything at all exist? And Leibniz argued that the ultimate reason for the existence of anything is that there must be a necessary being, a being who's non-existence is impossible, and this is the sufficient reason for why anything else exists. And Leibniz identified this metaphysically necessary being as God.

Kevin Harris: What we like to do today is listen to some excerpts from Dr. Krauss on this particular book. In our limited time in the podcast we can be as succinct as possible and hit the highlights. His first segment talks about why he wrote the book.

Lawrence Krauss: The question 'why is there something rather than nothing?' is one obviously that is at the basis of all the world's religions at some level, and is often used as a crutch that there must be a creator. And I want to use the hook of that fascination with that topic to get people actually interested in the real universe. You know, the book is not designed to necessarily attack religion. While it is true it will point out what I view is the truly remarkable fact that the revolutionary developments in science over the last fifty or sixty years have brought us to the cusp of the plausibility of understanding just how a universe could come from nothing.

Kevin Harris: Well, he says he doesn't want to attack religion, but he already calls it a crutch.

Dr. Craig: Exactly. And that simply shows, I think, his lack of understanding of the history of philosophy. The question of why anything at all exists is a question that philosophers have struggled with for millennia. It is not an attempt to be a crutch for religion. This is a philosophical question: why do contingent beings exist when their non-existence is perfectly possible? Given that it's possible that things don't exist, why do they exist? Why is there a universe at all? Why is there anything at all rather than just nothing? And so you cannot, I think, denigrate this fundamental, philosophical, and metaphysical question by characterizing it as a crutch for religion.

Kevin Harris: All worldviews try to answer this question. Metaphysical naturalism and naturalism, they try to answer this question; this book tries to answer this question.

Dr. Craig: Yes, exactly. The fundamental contention of the book is that it's plausible that the universe came from nothing. Now, I think it's very important, Kevin, to understand or to say a word about the word nothing because I think that Professor Krauss misunderstands and misuses this word throughout his work. The word “nothing” in English isn't the name of something. It's simply a term of universal negation. It means not anything. So when you say “I had nothing to eat for lunch” you mean “I did not have anything for lunch.” You don't mean that you did eat something and it was nothing.

Kevin Harris: I ate some nothing and it was delicious.

Dr. Craig: Right, it would be utterly inappropriate for you to say, “I had nothing for lunch,” and somebody said, “Well, how did it taste?” And you said, “Oh, it was real tasty; it was great.”

Kevin Harris: Yeah, nothing tastes better with a little whipped cream. [laughter]

Dr. Craig: Right, or if you say, “I saw no one in the hall, and then he directed me to the office.” That would be obtuse. You mean, “I did not see anyone in the hall.” So, the word nothing is simply a term of universal negation, meaning not anything. And so when you say it's plausible that the universe came from nothing what you would have to mean is it's plausible that the universe did not come from anything. Now that could mean that either the universe is eternal, that it's always been there, or you could mean that it popped into being uncaused. But it is simply a misuse of language to, shall we say, nominalize nothing or to reify nothing as though it were something,[2] and then say that that thing is responsible for bringing the universe into existence. That is simply a failure to understand how the word nothing works.

Kevin Harris: In that segment that we just heard he also is setting up his contention that science is coming to the rescue on this. You can throw away the crutches in that this is the realm of science and not theology and philosophy and so we're starting to do some research on this whole thing.

Dr. Craig: Yes, and I think what we'll see, Kevin, is that in fact he's not really talking about nothing at all. He is using the word nothing in a nonstandard way to actually refer to something that exists, so that it's not true on his view that the universe did not come from anything. It most certainly did come from something, and he will simply use the word nothing as a name for that entity but he is misusing the word nothing as it's standardly used in English.

Kevin Harris: We'll see how he defines it a little bit later. Let's go to the next segment.

Lawrence Krauss: Much like, although we should try not to be as pretentious, perhaps, as to make the comparison, but at least in some sense it's comparable to what Charles Darwin was trying to do, and what he did, by showing that the origin of the diversity of life on earth didn't require divine intervention but could be understood from natural physical laws. And just from the fact that evolution happened and that diversity did arise because of that, of course doesn’t immediately rule out or make impossible the idea that there's some divine purpose to the universe, nevertheless it tells us that it's certainly possible that the universe, and in this case life, arose naturally by physical laws. And what I'm talking about is the fact that the universe could arise naturally by laws that we're beginning to understand, and in the process have discovered that the universe is far more remarkable than we ever thought it was before.

Kevin Harris: So in the same way that Darwin showed that biological diversity can be explained apart from God, the universe from nothing, Big Bang cosmology and everything can also be explained apart from God due to all the new research or where the research is going.

Dr. Craig: Right, which is a remarkable claim on the face of it if 'nothing' is understood in its standard usage because science only deals with what exists. Science by its nature is an exploration of the physical natural world and its properties, and there is no such thing as a physics of non-being. Science only studies what exists, so the whole claim that science could explain how something came from nothing, when that word is used in its standard meaning, is absurd.

Kevin Harris: Here's segment number two.

Lawrence Krauss: Pure thought, philosophy and theology, are kind of impotent on these questions. Because if you're asking the question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” you have to ask what is something and what is nothing. And those are scientific questions; they're not philosophical or theological ones.

Kevin Harris: Do you agree with that? [laughter]

Dr. Craig: That is fundamental to this whole issue. He says that what is something, what is nothing, are not philosophical questions; these are scientific questions. And here he is simply mistaken. One of the tasks of philosophy is to analyze the terms that we use; to make distinctions and to help us understand and use them properly. In an article by Gary Gutting, who is a professional philosopher who we're going to discuss on another podcast, he makes this point so well. I wanted to just read a portion of Gutting's article because I think it speaks to this issue. Gutting says,

In addition to defending our basic beliefs against objections, we frequently need to clarify what our basic beliefs mean or logically entail. . . . Answering such questions requires careful conceptual distinctions . . . Such distinctions are major philosophical topics, of course, and most non-philosophers won’t be in a position to enter into high-level philosophical discussions. . . . It’s true that philosophers do not agree on answers to the “big questions” like God’s existence, free will, the nature of moral obligation and so on. But they do agree about many logical interconnections and conceptual distinctions that are essential for thinking clearly about the big questions. . . . Such distinctions arise from philosophical thinking, and philosophers know a great deal about how to understand and employ them. In this important sense, there is body of philosophical knowledge on which non-philosophers can and should rely.[3]

Now that is absolutely fundamental to this claim by Lawrence Krauss. He ignores the philosophical distinctions between something and nothing,[4] and says science is going to define these terms; it's going to tell us what nothing is. And what he winds up doing is not using the word nothing as a term of universal negation to mean not anything, he just uses the word nothing as a label for different physical states of affairs, like the quantum vacuum, which is empty space filled with vacuum energy, which is clearly not nothing as any philosopher would tell you. It is something. It has properties. It is a physical reality. So this is, I think, one of the most powerful object lessons, I think, Kevin, that I could think of about how ignorance of philosophy can lead otherwise intelligent people into cul-de-sacs and absurd conclusions because they don't understand fundamental conceptual distinctions that need to be philosophically clarified. And certainly the distinction between something and nothing is one such metaphysical distinction.

Kevin Harris: What is this trend that I am seeing among physicists to try to divorce themselves from philosophy, and philosophy of science all the while engaging philosophical speculations about it?

Dr. Craig: I think it's a result, Kevin, of what Harvard philosopher W. V. O. Quine called naturalized epistemology. In the aftermath of the collapse of verificationism earlier in this century – verificationism, remember, was the view that the only sentences which are meaningful are those which can be scientifically verified, and that soon collapsed as a theory of meaning – in the aftermath of the collapse of verificationism came naturalized epistemology which says that we shouldn't ask these deep fundamental metaphysical questions. Instead you just begin with what science tells you and then you try to work out your worldview based upon the teachings of science, and treats metaphysics as led by the nose by naturalistic science. And so I think that this has led to this sort of hubris on the part of certain scientists, plus the fact that they have no training in university in philosophy, to think that they have the answer to all of the fundamental questions of life. And as Gutting points out, that is simply wrong-headed. There are deep conceptual distinctions and logical implications that need to be made and isolated and that is the work of philosophers, and those who are not trained in this discipline will often simply become muddled in their thinking because they don't have these conceptual distinctions clear.

Kevin Harris: Let's continue with this segment.

Lawrence Krauss: And you don't make any progress just sitting either staring at your navel or coming up with musings about what being or non-being is. The question is, and I try to elaborate on this in my book, really, when we ask for 'why' what we really mean is 'how.' We mean: how could the universe come into existence from nothing, if it did? And until we explore the universe – which is what science is all about – until we measure and observe and test our ideas, we don't get anywhere. And so if these are really not philosophical questions then science has completely changed the whole fabric of understanding the whole playing field of the question of something and nothing. It's changed what we mean by something and nothing.

Kevin Harris: Now, he really views philosophers and theologians as those in dark towers shut off from any research and exploration, contemplating their navels, as he will say, and he says that's totally counterproductive. You got to have men in the field, the scientists.

Dr. Craig: Yeah, he doesn't understand philosophy. For example, philosophy of science is itself a burgeoning discipline today where philosophers reflect upon the data of science. So it's not navel gazing and it's not at all isolated or cut off from the real world in which we live. Rather we want to ask what are the philosophical implications of certain scientific views? What are the philosophical presuppositions of certain scientific theories?

Kevin Harris: Oh, like cloning. I mean, if scientists found out how to clone you or me there would be philosophical speculations on what the ramifications of that bald research and experiment does—right?

Dr. Craig: Sure, ethical implications, also implications about human personhood. That's right. And we would want to reflect on those, and we will need to draw certain conceptual distinctions in order to keep our thinking clear. And what Dr. Krauss does is simply fail to keep these distinctions clear by using the word nothing in an aberrant sense as a name or a label for something that actually exists.[5]

Kevin Harris: He continues in this segment:

Lawrence Krauss: . . . and made the question very different than what it was before. It's like, to some extent, it's like that certain questions that once seemed important are not. It used to be in the old days, why are five planets so important? And people thought of the five platonic solids and thought that there was some profound reason. And now we understand this is really an accident of the formation of our solar system and there's no profound purpose or meaning behind it. And our understanding of something and nothing has changed that question so that in some sense we now understand that there's really not a great deal of difference between something and nothing, that nothing can turn into something all the time, that nothing is unstable, that not only can space produce particles but space itself can spontaneously come into existence, and as I say, and as you pointed out, science has changed the whole fabric of the discussion.

Dr. Craig: This is almost laughable, Kevin. Here he admits that the question that he is dealing with is not the same question. He says, it's a different question than before, the question has changed. So he's not addressing Leibniz's question “why is there something rather than nothing?” Why does anything at all exist? Rather, he's asking the question how does our material universe that we observe today emerge from, say, the quantum vacuum state, this state of empty space filled with this sea of energy? And so it's a different question, but he retains the same words as the original question so that it makes it look like he's answering the original question, and therefore has disposed of the need for any sort of a cause for the universe or sufficient reason for why there are contingent beings at all. But he actually admits that he's answering a different question. So when he says there's not a great deal of difference between something and nothing it's very evident that he's not talking about nothing in the sense of universal negation – not anything. He means the quantum vacuum or a state of affairs, a physical state of affairs, where classical space and time don't exist.

Kevin Harris: Yeah, Bill, and also when he mentioned that about the five planets I think what he's leading to is that we no longer need to impose some kind of a meaning on why there are five planets rather than six. You know, people try to derive some kind of a platonic significance, and so on. And I'm sure that what he's getting at is that we don't need to impose God upon cosmology and physics any longer.

Dr. Craig: Right, it's a totally different question – isn't it Kevin? – the analogy is not good. The question is still very important: why are there these planets? Why do these planets exist? There's just no symbolic significance in the number five, as you say. But we still ask the question why do these five planets exist? That is a question that astronomers will want to know the answer to. Similarly, why does anything at all exist when it could have failed to exist? That question still remains to be asked. So his analogy is simply not a good one; they're not parallel questions.

Kevin Harris: Let's listen to one more segment in this podcast.

Lawrence Krauss: We don't have a theory of what the universe is like at the very earliest moments because we don't have a quantum theory of gravity. So we have many ideas about what may have happened, but as we develop new theories that are tested and shown to be correct obviously we'll change our picture greatly. I mean, it won't change the fact that the Big Bang really happened. We can understand the Big Bang back to the earliest moments, microseconds after the Big Bang, and we can test those ideas. And so we can understand the universe back to a fraction of a second after the Big Bang, and so those ideas aren't going to change. But the idea of what happened at t=0 or maybe even what produced that and whether our universe is one of a multiverse of an infinite number of universes. All of these ideas are going to develop as our understanding of nature develops.

Kevin Harris: Well, Bill, Dr. Krauss seems pretty confident that our basic understanding of Big Bang cosmology is not going to change.

Dr. Craig: Right, he says right back to the first microsecond we have a firm knowledge of the history of the universe. What could change, he says, is what happened at t=0, if there even was a t=0. Is the universe part of a wider reality? A multiverse? He says this could change, and that's certainly a question in which we'll be interested. We want to follow the science where it leads. We have no ax to grind in these discussions and are open to follow the evidence where it leads.

Kevin Harris: Let's continue this discussion on our next podcast as we look at this new book from Lawrence Krauss A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing on Reasonable Faith. Thank you for joining us.[6]

[1] For a video of this debate, see http://www.reasonablefaith.org/media/craig-vs-krauss-north-carolina-state-university (accessed March 29, 2014).

[2] 5:03

[3] Gary Gutting, “Philosophy — What’s the Use?” New York Times, January 25, 2012. See http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/25/philosophy-whats-the-use/ (accessed March 25, 2014).

[4] 10:00

[5] 15:03

[6] Total Running Time: 19:50 (Copyright © 2012 William Lane Craig)

Transcript A Universe From Nothing (Part 2)

By nothing I don't mean nothing; I mean nothing.

Nothing is nothing—nothing is nothing—nothing is nothing.

By nothing I don't mean nothing; I mean nothing.

The answer is nothing isn't nothing anymore.

Let's calculate the energy of nothing where there's nothing else—nothing is nothing.

That's sounds ridiculous.

So there's nothing there. If that nothing weighs something, and we know the answer.

Kevin Harris: Welcome to Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig. I'm Kevin Harris. This podcast is about – you guessed it – nothing. Well, okay, we're continuing to look at Lawrence Krauss' new book A Universe From Nothing, and we're doing this by listening to some interview segments that he did on his new book. So, Dr. Craig, here's what Krauss says next:

Lawrence Krauss: The Big Bang may not be the beginning of everything. Again, it could be that time itself arose out of the Big Bang and the question 'what happened before the Big Bang?' is not a reasonable question. General relativity does tell us that space and time are related to matter and when everything is incredibly dense even time itself may come into existence. But it's also equally likely that our universe is indeed . . . almost many of the ideas from modern physics suggest that our universe is one of a plethora of universes in each of which the laws of physics could be different. And, moreover, this multiverse could be eternal and there could be universes that are just now being created and other universes that are dying.

Kevin Harris: One thing that he says there, Bill, is that if time is a result of the Big Bang, concomitant with time-space universe, then there was no time before the Big Bang.

Dr. Craig: Right, exactly. It would be a meaningless question to ask “What happened before the Big Bang?” if time began at the moment of the Big Bang.

Kevin Harris: Yet, he seems to think that the multiverse will account for that. Let's continue this segment.

Lawrence Krauss: And so in that sense things are eternal, and, you know, that addresses one of these questions about a prime mover and a creator. Even if there is a creator you might say, “Well, if there's a beginning what happened before the beginning?” And that's why some people have driven to this sort of semantic cop-out which is God, which is someone or something that exists outside of time. Well, it could be that the multiverse fulfills that role, but it wasn't that scientists were driven to this because we didn’t like the idea of God. We've been driven to the idea of a multiverse because of results in physics and cosmology, and that's driven us to the idea that there are very plausible reasons to believe, as I discuss in the book, why there may be many universes.

Kevin Harris: There are two things in that segment. One is that the multiverse could account for an infinite universe. And the second thing he brought up was God's being a cop-out.

Dr. Craig: Right. Certainly multiverse theories are possible, but he's wrong, factually incorrect, when he says that the evidence is that it just as well could be eternal in the past as finite in the past. In fact that's not correct. No mathematically consistent and empirically adequate physical model of the universe is capable of being extrapolated to past infinity. The Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem shows that even if there is a multiverse, Kevin, it too must have had a beginning at some time in the finite past. So the evidence is that the universe or the multiverse, any wider realms of reality you might want to consider, must have had a beginning and are not infinite in the past. In fact it's interesting, at the recent conference at Cambridge University in honor of Stephen Hawking's seventieth birthday, Alexander Vilenkin presented the results of a new paper at the conference in which he closes the door on two other attempts to avoid the absolute beginning of the universe. And Vilenkin concludes by saying, “all the evidence says that the universe had a beginning.” Now, think about that statement—all the evidence says that the universe had a beginning. It's not that the evidence for a beginning outweighs the evidence that the universe is beginningless—no. There is no evidence that the universe is beginningless. All of the evidence we have says that the universe had a beginning. So while certainly these models are possible, it is simply factually incorrect to say that the evidence supports an eternal universe as much as it supports a universe which has a beginning.

Kevin Harris: He kind of put a damper on the birthday party there because many who were in attendance don't like the idea.

Dr. Craig: Well, Hawking certainly didn't like the idea.[1] He issued a pre-recorded statement at the conference saying that if there was a creation event then we would have to appeal to religion and the hand of God. And then Vilenkin comes along with this paper.

Kevin Harris: I know, it's like he jumped out of a cake and said, “Guess what? [laughter] The universe had a beginning and so did the multiverse if there is one, and happy birthday!”

Dr. Craig: And it's interesting when Krauss says that God is a semantic cop-out, and then he says the multiverse fulfills that role. I thought, yes, that's right, the multiverse is a semantic cop-out as much as God. [laughter] For many atheist physicists the multiverse is a sort of God substitute.

Kevin Harris: Surrogate.

Dr. Craig: Yes, I was talking to one philosopher recently who was at a conference dealing with fine-tuning, and when he came back he said to me, “Bill,” he said, “you've got to understand when these fellas talk about the multiverse this is their way of doing metaphysics without using the G-word.” You don't have to use the G-word, God, to do metaphysics. You just talk in terms of multiverse. So really the multiverse is a semantic cop-out as much as God is.

Kevin Harris: And they give it the same superlative attributes of God—it's awesome, it's wonderful, it's mysterious, it's beautiful. This has captivated my own son's imagination—the beauty of the universe. And what he's trying to put together is whether it can actually be beautiful and awesome apart from God.

Dr. Craig: Ah, I think the beauty of the universe redounds to the glory of its creator. I marvel when I see these photos from the Hubble telescope; this fantastic cosmos in which we have our being. And I think it bespeaks the greatness and the majesty of God. The question is, if the universe began to exist and there was not anything before it then how did the universe come into being? It seems to me you have to postulate some sort of a transcendent, immaterial, non-physical reality to bring the universe into existence. So that far from being a cop-out, the appeal to God is very plausible, I think, in light of the evidence.

Kevin Harris: The interviewer on this particular interview isn't himself an atheist. I think he catches this God substitute thing because he brings up later in this interview, as we'll hear, well, are we just using a multiverse of the gaps type argument? Let's finish this segment here.

Lawrence Krauss: What's interesting is that there are many different theories, many different ideas, from inflation, which really is well-motivated based on everything we can see, which naturally predicts many different universes, to even string theory which is less well-motivated but does suggest there may be extra dimensions in which there could be other universes. And so from many different directions physics is being driven in that regard.

Dr. Craig: Multiverse theories attempt the marriage between inflationary cosmology and string theory, both of which remain extremely speculative boundary areas of science. But the important thing is, Kevin, that even given an inflating universe that uses string theory for its fundamental physics such a universe cannot be eternal in the past. I mentioned earlier the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem which shows that any universe or multiverse which on average is in a state of cosmic expansion throughout its history cannot be infinite in the past but must have a past spacetime boundary. So one can be perfectly open to inflationary models of the universe and its marriage with string theory and even multiverse scenarios, none of this serves to establish the past eternality or infinity of the universe. Quite the contrary it was these very theories, these very inflationary models, that revealed that an inflationary universe cannot be extrapolated to past infinity.

Kevin Harris: Bill, my observation of this is that quite often scientists, atheistic naturalistic scientists in particular and spokesmen, say basically one thing that I hear over and over and over: science, quantum theory and things like that show us things that are counter-intuitive all the time.

Dr. Craig: I think that's about all that the skeptic can say. The arguments, I think, are good arguments, and so all you do is simply bite the bullet and say, yeah, I accept these absurd conclusions even though I don't have an answer. And it seems to me that that's really the cop-out. There's nothing in quantum theory that would justify you, I think, in accepting results that would seem to be absurd like a Hilbert's hotel or the idea that you could traverse an infinity one step at a time.[2] There's just nothing there that's parallel to something like that.

Kevin Harris: Yeah, all these spokesmen, they won't even drive past Hilbert's hotel [laughter], much less check into it and see if it makes sense. They won't even go past it. It's like, “Oh, well, let's stick to the science.”

Dr. Craig: I'm happy to stick to the science when I'm talking to scientists.

Kevin Harris: Well, of course, but there's two prongs of this.

Dr. Craig: Yes, right; fair enough.

Kevin Harris: I mean, you've got to deal with the science of the kalam, and you've also got to deal with the philosophy of the kalam.

Dr. Craig: Right, and my main reasons for believing in the finitude of the past are philosophical, not scientific. The way I present the evidence is that the scientific evidence is a confirmation of a conclusion already reached on the basis of philosophical argument.

Kevin Harris: Let's go to this next segment from Lawrence Krauss:

Lawrence Krauss: I'm amused that people keep redefining their definition of nothing whenever I point out that nothing can create something. But they always want to sort of define nothing as that which something can never come from, and that's sort of ridiculous, semantically. I think if you asked philosophers years ago 'what is nothing?', they'd say empty space and nothingness. But then when you show that that can create something they say, 'well, that's not really nothing, because space exists;' and then I could show, well, maybe the laws of physics that we now understand tells us that even space itself can be created from nothing. And they say, 'well, that's not nothing because the laws, the potential for existence, is there. And then I could argue based on multiverse ideas that maybe even the laws of physics arise spontaneously. And moreover I think it's kind of silly to say that potential for existence is different than nothing, that that's the same as existence. If there's no potential for existence then not even a creator can create, I assume. And moreover, as I argued in the book a little graphically, I think the potential for existence is very different than existence. I mean, as I point out, the fact that I walk near a women implies the potential for creating life, but that's very different from creating it.

Kevin Harris: There's an attempt, it seems, to define nothing, that we no longer hold nothing to be what nothing used to be.

Dr. Craig: Well, this is an incredible segment that you just played, Kevin, because here he accuses others of constantly redefining the word nothing, when that's the project in which he is engaged. People like Leibniz and others who posed the question 'why is there something rather than nothing?' knew what they meant by nothing. Nothing is a term of universal negation—it means, not anything. It's Dr. Krauss who wants to redefine the word nothing to mean something, like the quantum vacuum or a state of affairs in which classical time and space do not exist. It is he who is engaged in the project of redefinition of nothing. So this is, I think, just completely wrong, and it illustrates, again, that he's not answering the same question that Leibniz asked when he said 'why is there something rather than nothing?' Dr. Krauss is redefining the terms. Now, it's also very interesting when he says the potential for existence is different than existence. The point is that potentialities lodge only in things that exist. So, for example, the potential for having a child lodges in the fertility of that woman and his own fertility to impregnate her, but you can't have potentiality in non-being. Non-being has no properties; it has no potentialities. So the very fact that he's talking about the potential for the existence of a universe shows that he is talking about something. He's not talking about nothing. He's talking about something that has potentialities and powers. And therefore this just underlines, again, that fact that he's not dealing with the fundamental metaphysical question 'why is there something rather than nothing at all?'

Kevin Harris: What do you think he meant when he said hastily there in that segment that if there were not even any potential then a creator couldn't even create?

Dr. Craig: Ah, good point. I think what he's saying is that for the universe to come into being there has to be the potential for the universe existing. Now, that, I think, lodges, against the idea that the universe popped into being uncaused because there is no potentiality for the universe's existence prior to it if the universe is all there is. If there is no transcendent cause of the universe then there is not anything prior to the beginning of the universe and therefore no potentiality for the universe to exist. So how in the world could the universe come into existence if there wasn’t even the potentiality of its existence? The theist has an answer to that question by saying that the potential for the existence of the universe lay in the power of God to create it. God has the power to bring a universe into being and therefore there is the potentiality for the universe to exist,[3] and it lodges in the creative power of God.

Kevin Harris: This really highlights that even naturalists, metaphysical naturalists, atheists, non-theists, believe that something has to be eternal. There is something eternal because the universe can't come from nothing; they seem to agree with that.

Dr. Craig: Yes, I think you're right, Kevin. This argument for potentiality is counter-productive for Dr. Krauss because it really does show, as you say, that the universe can't come from nothing, whereby nothing we mean not anything, because there is no potentiality in non-being. And so by saying there needs to be the potential of the universe's existence he is postulating some sort of an eternal reality which is responsible for the universe that we see, in which the potential of our universe lay.

Kevin Harris: Being that there's general agreement among theists and non-theists that there is something potential, what are our options, then, as we've discussed before?

Dr. Craig: Well, I think it would be either some sort of a transcendent, timeless, spaceless, non-physical reality, or that the material matter and energy out of which the universe is made are eternal; that they never began to exist, they've just always been there.

Kevin Harris: Well, that's what so many want. They want there to be some kind of a pre-matter or pre-space that accounts for matter as we know it in space.

Dr. Craig: Although, and I think this is worth emphasizing, even postulating the eternality of matter doesn't answer Leibniz's question because Leibniz's question doesn't assume that the universe began to exist. Leibniz is very explicit about this. He says, even if the universe is eternal in the past you can still ask the question 'why is there an eternal universe rather than nothing?' That doesn't go to explain why something exists – in this case an eternal something – rather than nothing at all. So you're still driven back to some sort of metaphysically necessary being which must exist. Now, the fact that the universe did begin to exist I think just makes it all the more difficult for the naturalist to say that the universe exists necessarily or without reason because then he has to maintain not merely that the universe is eternal and contingent, but that the universe is contingent and popped into existence for no reason whatsoever a finite time ago—which seems metaphysically absurd.

Kevin Harris: Yeah. I mean, eternal matter makes more sense than that—doesn't it?

Dr. Craig: Oh, yes. I think so; that's right.

Kevin Harris: How in the world could matter be eternal, Bill? I mean, matter is made up of parts, it's contingent, it's molecules in motion.

Dr. Craig: Well, that gets into all the philosophical arguments against the infinity of the past. It's a very paradoxical notion, that matter and energy or the series of events in the past could regress infinitely in the past and never have a beginning.

Kevin Harris: Could we short-hand by saying that matter is contingent? I mean, just observe it.

Dr. Craig: Well, I think that virtually everybody does agree with that, Kevin. Even those who think that the universe is eternal in the past and that matter and energy have always been here would recognize that they're not metaphysically necessary, that it's contingent. You could have had a very different universe composed of an entirely different set of quarks or strings or whatever, or you could have had a universe operating by completely different laws of nature. The idea that this universe and the matter and energy we see are metaphysically necessary is a view that scarcely anybody believes in, especially scientists because they work with these alternative models all the time.

Kevin Harris: So we're back to Leibniz then.

Dr. Craig: Yes.

Kevin Harris: And you start hearing descriptions, 'oh, okay, well it's a super-matter.' And when you start hearing things that indicate a super-matter you're starting to move over into the theist's side of the column.

Dr. Craig: Sure, then it's just another name.

Kevin Harris: We have some more segments of this interview with Lawrence Krauss in our next podcast, and you don't want to miss it. Thank you for joining us, we'll see you next time.[4]

[1] 5:00

[2] 10:05

[3] 15:02

[4] Total Running Time: 19:33 (Copyright © 2012 William Lane Craig)

Transcript A Universe From Nothing (Part 3)

Kevin Harris: Welcome to Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig – I'm Kevin Harris – as we continue to discuss The Universe From Nothing. It's the new book from Lawrence Krauss—A Universe From Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing. I want to remind everyone to go back to some past podcasts where we've discussed Dr. Craig's debate with Dr. Krauss and many other issues that we're discussing here. We're listening to some segments of an interview concerning this new book from Krauss, and in the constraints of our podcast we're going to deal with what Krauss is saying about his book. And he says the following:

Lawrence Krauss: This is one of the arguments I make – nothing is unstable. By nothing I mean that nothing is unstable. You can't expect nothing to hang around forever without creating something. And the more fascinating question might be not 'why is there something rather than nothing?' but 'why is there nothing rather than something?' But if there were you wouldn't be around to ask the question.

Interviewer: The anthropic principle?

Lawrence Krauss: Yeah, and moreover it suggests that something is profoundly important and we are in a state that is going to persist forever. But as I also show the far future of the universe will be quite different. And my friend Christopher Hitchens, who was originally writing the forward for the book before he become too ill, has pointed out that nothing is heading straight towards us on a collision course, and if we wait long enough the universe will quite easily revert to nothing again. And so the answer to 'why is there something rather than nothing?' might be, well, just wait.

Kevin Harris: Well, we need to unpack some of that, and see if we can untangle some of that web. I'm not trying to be detrimental to Dr. Krauss, but I do see so many, well, I see so many philosophical problems with this nothing hanging around, and eventually this nothing can do something.

Dr. Craig: Exactly. I think that this clip illustrates so well this misuse of the word nothing in Dr. Krauss vocabulary. When he says things like, “nothing is unstable.” Now, what that means in English is that everything is stable. Not anything is unstable, everything is stable—if you say nothing is unstable. Similarly, when he says 'nothing is profoundly important.' What that means is that there's not anything that is really profoundly important; everything is relatively insignificant or not profound. But he's using the word nothing as a kind of entity. He reifies it or “thingifies” it into a thing. He nominalizes nothing, and that's just a mistake, Kevin. That's like the old Abbott and Costello routine – “Who’s on third?” Nobody's on third. Well, how did he get on, was it through a walk or did he hit his way on? Well, neither one, there was an error and that's how nobody got on third. It's just the wrong-headed reification of the word nothing into being something. So when he says that nothing is unstable he doesn't mean everything is stable, what he means is that the quantum vacuum, this sea of roiling energy, is unstable and will produce some sort of material universe given enough time. So he's obviously talking about something, not nothing. And the point that he makes here, Kevin, is actually very supportive of why the universe had to have a beginning. Because this quantum vacuum state is unstable it cannot have persisted for infinite past time. It would decay and would spawn a universe. So you have an old problem, here. This is a sort of naturalistic equivalent of the old question 'why didn't God create the universe sooner?' Why didn't the quantum vacuum spawn the universe sooner? If it's unstable it cannot persist for infinite time. The answer is that the quantum vacuum state itself had a beginning, and that's why the universe is not infinitely old. So the idea that it can't hang around forever is quite correct. And illustrates exactly why these universes that postulate the existence of our universe in some sort of a quantum condition can't be extrapolated to past infinity, they're unstable and cannot exist for an infinite amount of time. But when he says things like 'just wait,' that 'nothing is heading straight toward us,' again, clearly that illustrates that he's talking about something,[1] a condition, say, of empty space or something like that, but it's not nothing.

And in fact, by the way, I have to say this, his claim that in prior generations philosophers and scientists would have thought that empty space is nothing is demonstrably incorrect—that is just patently wrong. Isaac Newton and Newtonian physics held that time and space are absolute entities which would exist if they were entirely empty. Even if there were no matter and energy and no events whatsoever Newton believed that absolute time would roll on and that absolute space would exist. So Dr. Krauss simply shows his ignorance here of classical physics in saying that it would have been claimed that empty space is nothing. That is just incorrect. Newton and Newtonian physics most certainly did conceive of absolute space as something, even if it were completely empty.

Kevin Harris: He talked about the universe eventually returning to the state that it was in the beginning if the heat death of the universe is correct.

Dr. Craig: Right, I think what he means there is that if the universe continues to expand in this accelerating fashion our local cluster of matter will become increasingly marooned and isolated so that eventually we will no longer be able to see the stars at all, or other galaxies. We won't see anything, even with our instruments. And so we will appear entirely alone as though we were in a universe that was completely devoid of any other matter or existence. And I think that's what he means when he says that nothing is heading towards us, again obviously misusing the word nothing because the universe is still out there. It's just so far away we wouldn’t be able to detect it.

Kevin Harris: Here's his next segment.

Lawrence Krauss: Aristotle just didn't know how the world worked, and that's what I find amazing, that somehow the philosophical musings of Aristotle can be compared to the results of modern science. There's no comparison. Philosophy to a large extent, certainly theology, has been impotent because, you know, it's alright to muse about these things. But he didn't know about the existence of atoms or the existence of quantum mechanics or, as I say, the fact that in some sense there are other stars and planets in the universe, that there are other galaxies. In order to make consistent philosophy, if you wish, you have to understand how the world really works, and you don't get that by just persisting with the same sterile philosophical discussions about existence. You ask the questions of how things work and you test it. And that's why science has progressed whereas certainly theology hasn't.

Dr. Craig: Of course Aristotle’s physics have been overtaken by subsequent developments in science. That's the nature of science. So no one would look to Aristotle for knowledge of the physical world. But in his debate with me Dr. Krauss attacked Aristotelian logic, that somehow Aristotle's logic is defective, and he doesn't see why we should listen to that. Well, that's just incredible. Aristotelian logic has nothing to do with empirical facts, it has to do with logical forms of inference. For example, “All As are Bs; C is an A; therefore C is a B.” That is perfectly valid reasoning that is not overtaken by modern science.

Now certainly there have been modern developments in logic, as well. Logicians have moved beyond Aristotle's syllogistic logic to doing what is called sentential logic, which is what's called first order propositional logic, it is the logic of individual propositions. So, for example, we can analyze the logical structure of a statement like “All As are Bs” as being “For any X, if X is an A then X is a B,” and we can analyze the logical structure of a universally quantified statement such as Aristotle dealt with. But that doesn't overthrow syllogistic reasoning. Aristotle's logic is still as valid as ever.

Now, I want to affirm what Dr. Krauss said, that consistent philosophy requires a knowledge of how things work. And I think he's got this straw man that he's attacking here of philosophy that is done somehow in abstraction from and ignorance of contemporary scientific knowledge of how the world works. That's not the way philosophers do their work. Today philosophy of physics, for example, is a burgeoning field of philosophy. There are whole journals – like Philosophy of Science, or The British Journal for Philosophy of Science, or International Studies in The Philosophy of Science[2] – which are devoted to the interface between physics and science and philosophical questions posed by science. Similarly, there is philosophy of biology today. There is philosophy of psychology. Almost any area of study you pick there will be a philosophical component of that field which will analyze the presuppositions and fundamental assumptions of that field, make important conceptual distinctions, and then derive logical implications and ramifications from that.

Kevin Harris: It undergirds everything—doesn't it?

Dr. Craig: It does, really, Kevin—everything. And as I've said before, the man who claims to have no need for philosophy is the man who is most apt to be deceived by it. And we see that illustrated in spades in Dr. Krauss' book where he is unable to make clear conceptual distinctions between nothing and something, and so gets into incredibly muddled thinking, using the term nothing as though it were a substantive term for something, which is just wrong-headed.

Kevin Harris: His attitude really seems to come through on this, too, when he says, “If you must use philosophy at least do it in conjunction with good scientific evidence.” And he said, “Philosophy, if you will.” So there's still this denigration of philosophy.

Dr. Craig: There's a sort of scientism, I think, that permeates his thinking. He thinks that philosophers, and theologians as well, don't really do anything or know anything, and he fails to understand the philosophical component of his own field—physics.

Kevin Harris: Bill, I don't know what to draw from this – it's one of those things that keeps me up at night, too – and that is he talks about how Aristotle was ignorant of the things that we now know. But Dr. Krauss knows and even admits that one day he will be in the same position as Aristotle and he will be the ancient unlearned man. And so there's this ever-increasing knowledge that goes on forever and just wait around. Like Texas weather, if you don’t like it wait around fifteen minutes and it will change – if you don't like this theory, wait a while, it will be debunked anyway. He talks about how string theory is the old leisure suit hanging in the closet (that's my words). I mean, he says this is really kind of going out of vogue and things like that, and being replaced by some of the newer models. What are we to make on a practical, personal, existential level of this “everything we now know will be overturned?”

Dr. Craig: Yeah, I think that's wrong. What we discover, I think, is that scientific theories have limits of application, and within those limits they still work. So, for example, Newtonian physics still works; it's still valid within its area of application, which would be low velocity physics. It's only when you get to high velocity physics that you're going to need to introduce special relativity. And, again, special relativity is fine; it still works for objects in uniform motion with respect to each other. But on a cosmic scale where you have accelerated motion and rotary motion you're going to need the General Theory of Relativity to deal with that. And so it's not as though these theories are overthrown, rather we've discovered the boundaries of their application. One scientist once remarked to me that he didn't really have confidence in a theory until it was falsified. Because once it was falsified that defined the limits of its application where he knew then that it could be confidently used to give reliable results. So I thought that that was rather an interesting take on this issue – that it was when the theory was finally shown to break down that he had the most confidence in it within its area of application.

Kevin Harris: That really answers it—I will get some sleep now. [laughter] The limits of application. Let's go to the next segment.

Lawrence Krauss: I think that it's unfortunate that departments of theology exist in universities because, as I've discussed with theologians this very question, I've asked them to give me an example of any contribution to human knowledge in the past five hundred years that is coming from theology. And the answer I always get is “What do you mean by knowledge?” Well, you know, if I ask a biologist or psychologist or chemist or a historian even that question, they wouldn't give me that answer. They'd give me a concrete answer. And I think it's just sterile fields that really aren’t appropriate for modern scholarship.

Kevin Harris: Okay, get rid of all the theologians in the universities and the philosophers.

Dr. Craig: Yeah, this is incredible hubris. I don't know which is more galling, Krauss' question or the answer of those theologians to him. It's easy, Kevin, to give examples of theological knowledge.[3] Theology, for example, tells us what God is like. Theology tells us that God is a personal being, that he's omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect, that he loves us. Theology tells us how to come into a personal relationship with God. It tells us who Jesus Christ was and what he did on our behalf. Now, someone like Dr. Krauss, of course, won't regard this as knowledge, but that's his problem. He just rejects this knowledge. But I don't. I think that this is theological knowledge which is given to us by God.

Now, he might say, but this isn't empirical knowledge, this isn't knowledge of the world. Well, so what? It's not science, it's theological knowledge. And, in fact, theology does give us some knowledge of the empirical world. For example, theology tells us that the universe began to exist, that the universe is not eternal in the past, there was a beginning of the universe. And that prediction has been verified by modern science. You'll remember Robert Jastrow's book God and The Astronomers. Jastrow was the head of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies for NASA, and at the end of his book God and The Astronomers he has this wonderful image. He says, “the scientist has scaled the mountains of ignorance, he is about to conquer the highest peak, and as he pulls himself over the final rock he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.” For centuries theologians knew and predicted the universe had a beginning, and this has now only been discovered by scientists. Similarly, theology says that the universe will not in fact suffer heat death; that these scientific projections in the future will not actually come to pass. God will bring about the end of the spacetime universe before the human race is able to go extinct and perish in the heat death of the universe. So that is, again, empirical knowledge that is given to us by theology. And the fact that Dr. Krauss rejects that is his problem. That's not to say that theology is not a scientia or a science, a source of knowledge. It is. And it gives us a great deal of knowledge.

Kevin Harris: Well, it gets down to this, Bill, and you've heard it too. It's the old adage there can be no progress in philosophy. It's just the same warmed over things over and over and over and over again, and in theology there is no progress, or philosophy. And I bet Dr. Krauss would believe that based on what he's saying. But of course there is progress in philosophy and new insight?

Dr. Craig: Oh, sure. Think of the problem of evil, for example, and the important work that's been done on that by contemporary analytic philosophers. Or the ontological argument. Alvin Plantinga – almost every area he has touched he's brought new insights and advanced the philosophical discussion of these important questions.

Kevin Harris: Sure, and theology would clarify things like the “omni” attributes, that omnipotence would only extend to what is logically possible, what power can do, and so on and so that's progress in defining omnipotence.

Dr. Craig: Yes, in our day there has been considerable progress made in understanding these various properties like omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, moral perfection and so forth. And Dr. Krauss, I think, just rejects that because he's an atheist.

Kevin Harris: There's one more segment here in this podcast from Dr. Krauss:

Lawrence Krauss: Our picture of the future has dramatically changed. One of the reasons I wrote the book is because of the most revolutionary and remarkable discovery in modern science that empty space has energy, and that the dominate energy in the universe is contained in empty space. And by that I mean if you take a bit of space and get rid of all the particles and all the radiation so there's nothing there, that empty space weighs something. It's truly remarkable. And, moreover, general relativity implies that if you put energy in empty space its gravity is repulsive, not attractive. It will cause the expansion of the universe to speed up, not slow down; and that's exactly what we're seeing. And that discovery which is inexplicable – we don't know why empty space has energy – but if it persists it will change the future completely. It will change our picture of the future of the universe completely, that the universe won't be slowing down, as I've pointed out, it will be speeding up, and eventually all the galaxies we now see outside our own cluster will be receding from us faster than the speed of light and will be invisible and the far future will be very, very different than we once thought.

Dr. Craig: In this segment, Kevin, I think Dr. Krauss gives his case away of trying to explain something from nothing, because here it's very evident that he's talking about empty space filled with energy. And that is what he means by the word nothing. So his slip is showing, so to speak, here, and we see that in fact the project of the whole book, to explain why there is something rather than nothing, is really a failure.[4] All he does is explain why our form of the universe exists rather than a quantum vacuum state which is its earlier condition. But he doesn't explain why that quantum vacuum state exists or why there is anything rather than nothing.

Kevin Harris: What sort of things have we talked about in past podcasts that can shed some light on where we are here in relation to this book, our response to this book?

Dr. Craig: Well, I think one of most important lessons to learn, Kevin, is that we need to be very, very critical when we hear scientists on popular television shows and in popular magazine articles and books talking about very difficult high level theories in metaphorical terms, like using the word nothing as a substitute for the quantum vacuum. They inevitably appeal to these metaphorical word pictures which are grossly misleading. I think one of the overriding lessons to learn from this is that the proper understanding of the word nothing is that this is a term of universal negation – to say nothing means not anything. So if we say the universe came from nothing, we don't mean that it came from something, and that was nothing. What we mean is the universe did not come from anything. If we say there's nothing in the refrigerator, I mean there is not anything in the refrigerator. If I say, I saw no one in the hall, it means I did not see anyone in the hall. If I say John is nowhere to be found, I mean he is not to be found anywhere. These are simply terms of universal negations, and it is a mistake that will lead to muddled thinking and wrong conclusions, such as to “thingify” or reify these terms into substantives as though they were referring to something that has this label nothing on it. That, I think, is one of the overriding lessons.

And I suppose, finally, I would say that the lesson also to be learned is that the evidence that the universe had a beginning is very good – indeed all of the evidence that we have today suggests that the universe is not eternal in the past but had an absolute beginning. And that raises in spades the question of what brought the universe into existence. Since the universe cannot simply appear uncaused there must be a transcendent, non-physical reality beyond space and time which brought the universe into being.[5]

[1] 5:02

[2] 10:02

[3] 15:00

[4] 20:00

[5] Total Running Time: 23:00 (Copyright © 2012 William Lane Craig)