The story so far… The setting is an Intelligence Squared debate in which we have two teams: Team A, composed of physicist Lawrence Krauss and writer Michael Shermer, arguing the motion that “science refutes God” and Team B, composed of political commentator Dinesh D’Souza and physicist Ian Hutchinson, arguing against the motion.
Lawrence Krauss continued his discussion of the inhospitable universe with this ramble:
And if it were much bigger than we measure, it’s true that galaxies couldn’t form, and planets couldn’t form, and Intelligence Squared Debates couldn’t happen. So the universe appears to be here because Intelligence Squared is here. Now, that suggests religion perhaps, but the point is not that that claim of fine tuning is ridiculous because, in fact, if the energy of empty space was zero, which is a — by far a more natural value, the universe would be a better place for life to live in. We all thought it was zero when I was a graduate student, because that was a natural value. If it was zero, the universe would be a better place. In fact, you can show the value that it has now makes the universe the worst of all possible universes to live in for the future of life. So, so much for a universe created for us.
Okay, I got the vague, tongue-in-cheek reference to the logical error of assuming causality where there may only be coincidence, but after an equally vague reference to the “value of empty space” not being zero and zero being “better” for life, he arrives at a shrugging “so much for a universe created for us” as if he has given some real hard evidence.
I expected the moderator to call him on it. Barring that, I expected a sophisticated response from the physicist on the opposing team. Neither of these things occurred.
Now, once Darwin had removed the apparent need for God in evolution of life, the last bastion for God was the creation of the universe, how you can get something from nothing. And what — we’re in a remarkable situation of being in is precisely the same situation that Darwin existed in 150 years ago, namely, we have a plausible explanation of how a universe could precisely come from nothing.
Hold the phone, ET. Darwin did no such thing. Darwin’s seminal work in evolution no more removed the need for God in the creation of life than the existence of my word processor or the evolution of alphabets and words removes the apparent need for a human writer.
The explanations for how a universe can come from nothing that I’ve read so far rest upon a redefinition of “nothing” and they are not considered plausible by a majority of physicists. There’s a parallel for this in the religious world—the idea held by certain religionists that their conception of God as a glorified human being living in a physical heaven is the only plausible conception of God.
Krauss went on:
If you asked, “What would be the characteristics of the universe that came from nothing by natural laws?” it would be precisely the characteristics of the universe we observe, and it didn’t have to be that way. It could have been another way. And by nothing — and it — the — my opponents will say that by nothing, I’m not talking about nothing, but I’m talking about nothing, no particles, no radiation, no space, no time, and even no laws of physics. Our — [unintelligible] my opponents might argue that the multiverse, which our universe might have spontaneously been created in, was created by physicists because they don’t like God, because it’s eternal and exists outside our universe, those same characteristics that God is supposed to have. But it wasn’t created because we don’t like God, although I don’t like God. It was — we’d been driven to it by measurements. In fact, I don’t even like the multiverse, but I’ve learned to force my beliefs to conform to the evidence of reality.
This is a fascinating segment because Krauss wades through an explanation about what his “opponents” will say and what he means by nothing, and then makes a peculiar admission: he doesn’t like the multiverse explanation (although he likes it more than he does God) but feels he is forced to believe in it. He cites the evidence of reality for this, but has yet to offer any idea of what this evidence is.
What his argument seems to come down to is that he prefers the idea of a multiverse beyond this universe as we know it to a God that exists as Krishna suggests in a progression of statements, beyond the universe as we know it.
There is nothing more fundamental than I, Arjuna; all worlds, all beings, are strung upon me like pearls on a single thread. — Bhagavad Gita 7:7
All the visible universe comes from my invisible Being. All beings have their rest in me, but I have not My rest in them, And in truth they rest not in Me. Consider my sacred mystery: I am the source of all beings, I support them all, but I rest not in them. — Bhagavad Gita 9:4
Know that with one single fraction of my Being, I pervade and support the entire universe, and know that I AM. —Bhagavad Gita 10:42
I also have to question his assertion that a universe that arose only from randomly occurring natural laws would have the characteristics of the universe we actually live in. First of all, what is the provenance of these natural laws? Where did they come from? How did they become “laws”? Given how little we actually do know about the universe, how swiftly that knowledge is revised and how many different opinions there are about what it means, how can Krauss speak so definitively about the characteristics of the universe and what we know about it?
More fundamentally: In what way does the existence of natural laws refute the existence of a lawgiver? Krauss speaks of the “characteristics that God is supposed to have,” but misses the most primal quality—the quality of intellect and invention, a quality which various scriptures insist is the reflection of God in man. If the components of the universe manifest the characteristics of that universe, why would it be irrational to expect to find intellect in that universe or connected to it in some way?
And given the evolving state of human knowledge, is it logical to assume that we would recognize that intelligence when we encountered it?
But Krauss does not answer these questions, nor does he delve any deeper into what he means by “nothing” or how something came from it. Instead he draws his conclusions:
That’s where science differs from religion. There do remain deep philosophical and seismic questions that are unanswered, but God is not required or useful to explain any of them. And, therefore, to conclude, science has taught us that we don’t need God to create a universe, that there’s no evidence for God, that the specific sides of the claims of those who require God disagree with empirical evidence, and it’s irrational. Science refutes God, so clearly you should vote for our side.
Krauss stated his conclusions without offering any evidence as to the following:
- What he means by nothing and how something arose from it.
- In what way the universe is inhospitable to life and what he means by saying that it is.
- Where natural laws came from and how they became laws.
- Why God is an irrational proposition to explain certain empirical observations about the universe and human consciousness.
- In what way science refutes God.
This was disappointing. It was also disappointing that Krauss presented the audience with the sense that all physicists agreed with his assessments. He failed to engage with the reality that they do not, as evidenced by the fact that the man sitting across from him was not only a world-class scientist, but a scientist who had drawn different conclusions from the same set of empirical evidence and theoretical inference.
My greatest disappointment was that I would love to have seen these two scientists examining their scientific worldviews as co-equals. That didn’t happen.
Next time: Krauss claims that the laws of physics determine everything.