Sunday, March 18, 2012

Why is there something instead of nothing? Part 1

One of the reasons many people shy away from atheism is the conviction that a creator God is a reasonable explanation, and the only viable explanation, for how the universe came to exist. The commonly held assumption is that nothingness was the initial condition sometime prior to the Big Bang and that nothingness is a condition from which something cannot appear. This perspective underpins deism, although many agnostics and theists also share this perspective and see this need for something to originate from nothing as being the Achilles Heel of atheism. The new book, "A universe from nothing: Why there is something rather than nothing", by Lawrence M. Krauss, disputes this assumption. I will discuss that book in a future blog post. For now, let's take a quick look at another cosmologist's overlapping commentary on this topic.

Sean Carrol of the California Institute of Technology, in his article "Does the Universe Need God?", says this: "Most modern cosmologists are convinced that conventional scientific progress will ultimately result in a self- contained understanding of the origin and evolution of the universe, without the need to invoke God or any other supernatural involvement." Furthermore, citing Hawking, he notes that "nothing in the fact that there is a first moment of time ... necessitates that an external something is required to bring the universe about at that moment." Indeed, "the issue of whether or not there actually is a beginning to time remains open." Instead, the Big Bang may be a "transitional stage in an eternal universe." He also explains that "the multi-verse is not a theory, it is a prediction of a theory", based on combining string theory with inflation. Furthermore, contrary to what theistic critics sometimes assert, a multi-verse complies with the preference for simple explanations because "the simplicity of a theory is a statement about how compactly we can describe the formal structure ..., not how many elements it contains."

Sean Carrol points out that a compelling argument for God "would consist of a demonstration that God provides a better explanation (for whatever reason) than a purely materialistic picture, not an a priori insistence that a purely materialistic picture is unsatisfying." Furthermore, "to refer to this or that event as having some particular cause .... Is just shorthand for what's really going on, namely: things are obeying the laws of physics." Accordingly, "there is no reason ... to think of the existence and persistence and regularity of the universe as things that require external explanation." Furthermore, with theism "we're not simply adding a new element to an existing ontology (like a new field or particle), or even replacing one ontology with a more effective one at a similar level of complexity .... We're adding an entirely new metaphysical category, whose relation to the observable world is unclear." Sean Carrol then notes the discrepancies between the universe we should expect if traditional theisms were true and the universe as it is. God "isn't needed to keep things moving, or to develop the complexity of living creatures, or to account for the existence of the universe." At 14 pages, his article is worth the time investment required to read.


Vincent said...

VIctor Stenger already explained the "something from nothing" in his book God: The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist.

Stephen Hawking then also explained it in a more mathematically precise way in The Grand Design.

Kudos to Kraus, but do we need another?

Explicit Atheist said...

Yes, I was considering quoting from other cosmologists also. The more cosmologists who public ally speak on this topic, the better.

Gary Berg-Cross said...

Yes. Having a celebrity like Hawkins explain things mathematically may gather some attention, but the message may dim over time.

I agree that having an idea discussed and communicated by multiple sources can be useful. For one thing they may play in different audiences and employ somewhat different contexts that appeal to particular groups.

Hurricane said...

Stegner actually admits there may be concepts of God he could believe. So much for his title's claim. Disproves ancient ideas of God's nature, as current process theologians do? Yawn.

As for Hawking's book, it's funny how he says philosophy is dead - then goes on to practice it. ;)

Explicit Atheist said...

Stenger, along with Dawkins, Coyne, Krauss, and other atheists, have said that a deist god "that does not act in the universe" is not ruled out by the evidence. All say that if the weight of the evidence changed due to the discovery of new evidence then their beliefs would change accordingly. None have claimed that deism is more plausible than atheism.