Lawrence M. Krauss is a renowned cosmologist, popularizer of science, and director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University. He is the author of more than 300 scientific publications and 8 books, including the bestselling The Physics of Star Trek. His interests include the early universe, the nature of dark matter, general relativity and neutrino astrophysics. He is also a friend and an advisor to my nonprofit foundation, Project Reason. Lawrence generously took time to answer a few questions about his new book, A Universe from Nothing.
One of the most common justifications for religious faith is the idea that the universe must have had a creator. You’ve just written a book alleging that a universe can arise from “nothing.” What do you mean by “nothing” and how fully does your thesis contradict a belief in a Creator God?
Indeed, the question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” which forms the subtitle of the book, is often used by the faithful as an unassailable argument that requires the existence of God, because of the famous claim, “out of nothing, nothing comes.” While the chief point of my book is to describe for the interested layperson the remarkable revolutions that have taken place in our understanding of the universe over the past 50 years—revolutions that should be celebrated as pinnacles of our intellectual experience—the second goal is to point out that this long-held theological claim is spurious. Modern science has made the something-from-nothing debate irrelevant. It has changed completely our conception of the very words “something” and “nothing”. Empirical discoveries continue to tell us that the Universe is the way it is, whether we like it or not, and ‘something’ and ‘nothing’ are physical concepts and therefore are properly the domain of science, not theology or philosophy. (Indeed, religion and philosophy have added nothing to our understanding of these ideas in millennia.) I spend a great deal of time in the book detailing precisely how physics has changed our notions of “nothing,” for example. The old idea that nothing might involve empty space, devoid of mass or energy, or anything material, for example, has now been replaced by a boiling bubbling brew of virtual particles, popping in and out of existence in a time so short that we cannot detect them directly. I then go on to explain how other versions of “nothing”—beyond merely empty space—including the absence of space itself, and even the absence of physical laws, can morph into “something.” Indeed, in modern parlance, “nothing” is most often unstable. Not only can something arise from nothing, but most often the laws of physics require that to occur.
Now, having said this, my point in the book is not to suggest that modern science is incompatible with at least the Deistic notion that perhaps there is some purpose to the Universe (even though no such purpose is manifest on the basis of any of our current knowledge, and moreover there is no logical connection between any possible “creator” and the personal God of the world’s major religions, who cares about humanity’s destiny). Rather, what I find remarkable is the fact that the discoveries of modern particle physics and cosmology over the past half century allow not only a possibility that the Universe arose from nothing, but in fact make this possibility increasingly plausible. Everything we have measured about the universe is not only consistent with a universe that came from nothing (and didn’t have to turn out this way!), but in fact, all the new evidence makes this possibility ever more likely. Darwin demonstrated how the remarkable diversity of life on Earth, and the apparent design of life, which had been claimed as evidence for a caring God, could in fact instead be arrived at by natural causes involving purely physical processes of mutation and natural selection. I want to show something similar about the Universe. We may never prove by science that a Creator is impossible, but, as Steven Weinberg has emphasized, science admits (and for many of us, suggests) a universe in which one is not necessary.
I cannot hide my own intellectual bias here. As I state in the first sentence of the book, I have never been sympathetic to the notion that creation requires a creator. And like our late friend, Christopher Hitchens, I find the possibility of living in a universe that was not created for my existence, in which my actions and thoughts need not bend to the whims of a creator, far more enriching and meaningful than the other alternative. In that sense, I view myself as an anti-theist rather than an atheist.
FULL INTERVIEW: http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/everything-and-nothing/