Something or Nothing? 


I do not think anybody who follows the 'New Atheists' can doubt that, if these people had their way, the world would enter into a new Dark Ages. Amongst the fields of human inquiry they want to eliminate is philosophy, in particular metaphysics, with its pesky, unanswerable question, 'Why is there something rather than nothing?':



  • “I don't ever claim to resolve that infinite regress of why-why-why-why-why; as far as I'm concerned it's turtles all the way down.”
  • (Physicist Lawrence Krauss, quoted in the Atlantic Monthly, Has Physics Made Philosophy and Religion Obsolete?, by Ross Andersen, April 23 2012).




Heidegger
Equivocation
Dark Ages
History of Science
Multiply Entities
Van Leeuwenhoek
Ptolemaic System
Empty Words
Where is Not What
A Brief History
Verified Prediction
Truth in Advertising
Plain Talk
Making Sense
Stopped Clock
Baby or Boxcar

"What, Me Worry?"


Heidegger

When I was a young person,— lo, these long ages ago,— many of my contemporaries felt obligated to read the German philosopher Martin Heidegger. I don't recall that anyone particularly liked him,— he was widely believed to have been a Nazi sympathizer,— but he was reputed to be very 'deep,' so he was one of those authors one must read, with enjoyment or without. Nor did his star-struck translators, unwilling to commit the sacrilege of translating his cumbersome German neologisms, help much in the enjoyment department. Heidegger pointed out that the basic question of metaphysics is, 'Why is there something rather than nothing?":



  • “So long as man exists, philosophizing of some sort occurs. Philosophy — what we call philosophy — is metaphysics' getting under way, in which philosophy comes to itself and to its explicit tasks. Philosophy gets under way only by a peculiar insertion of our own existence into the fundamental possibilities of Dasein as a whole. For this insertion it is of decisive importance, first, that we allow space for beings as a whole; second, that we release ourselves into the nothing, which is to say, that we liberate ourselves from those idols everyone has and to which he is wont to go cringing; and finally, that we let the sweep of our suspense take its full course, so that it swings back into the basic question of metaphysics which the nothing itself compels: Why are there beings at all, and why not rather nothing?”
  • (Martin Heidegger, Basic Writings, 'What is Metaphysics?' p. 112).





While it is not altogether clear what he expects us to do, one must concede to Heidegger that the basic question of metaphysics is, indeed, 'Why are there beings at all, and why not rather nothing?' This is no new question; the ancient Greeks asked it. By 'nothing' the philosopher Heidegger understands, of course, 'nothing:' "For the nothing is the negation of the totality of beings; it is nonbeing pure and simple. . .The nothing is the complete negation of the totality of beings." (Martin Heidegger, Basic Writings, 'What is Metaphysics?' pp. 99-100). This matters because, as we shall see, equivocating on the meaning of the word 'nothing' is our author's preferred strategy for rendering this most basic question of metaphysics trivial. The metaphysician's 'nothing' is. . .nothing at all.

As we shall see, that's not some folks' definition: "But I don't really give a damn about what "nothing" means to philosophers; I care about the "nothing" of reality. And if the "nothing" of reality is full of stuff, then I'll go with that. . .What drove me to write this book was this discovery that the nature of "nothing" had changed, that we've discovered that "nothing" is almost everything and that it has properties. That to me is an amazing discovery." (Lawrence Krauss, quoted in the Atlantic Monthly, 'Has Physics Made Philosophy and Religion Obsolete?' April 23, 2012). So we learn from our esteemed author that nothing is not nothing, and that this is an "amazing discovery," if you please! Either science has discovered that 'a is not-a,' or we have somebody here who should not have been let out of the house. What say—shall we mix and match incompatible definitions? What fun! No one but those grumpy old obsolete philosophers can object to such a procedure, and we are done with them.

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Equivocation

Speakers might mean many things by the word 'nothing,' and some of these uses are far from the philosopher's 'absence of all being:' 'I went outside but found nothing.' Really, nothing at all? No trees, air, dirt? There's actually plenty of 'something' in some speakers' 'nothing.' Rather, 'I went outside but found nothing [unusual]' — the speaker's 'nothing' is a relative nothing; he did not find anything to account for the scary noise he had heard. It should be apparent that when the metaphysician says 'nothing,' he really means 'nothing:' nothing at all, not some kinds of things versus other kinds which might have been expected but were not found. Our author's brilliant discovery, touted by the atheists as if it amounted to something, is that if you substitute a trivial meaning for the word 'nothing' in the question, the question itself becomes trivial, more suitably relegated to the physicist rather than assigned to the metaphysician for an answer.

See how it's done. Several of the early pre-Socratic physicists had postulated a universe populated with naught but atoms and the void. These ideas were eclipsed for a very long time by the success of Aristotle's competing ideas, but experienced a revival at the time of the Renaissance. Sir Isaac Newton constructed his new physics around this bold new idea: the concept of space as an infinite, empty plenum. Theologians contemporary with Sir Isaac Newton were puzzled and distressed by his assigning divine attributes, infinity and boundlessness, to space and time; but people eventually became habituated to these ideas, so much so as to feel a sense of loss when they were discarded. Certain of the heirs to these ideas crafted from them a new materialism, which posited nothing real but material particles in infinite space (not otherwise explained).

These nineteenth century materialists did not in any way deny the reality of energy, but they saw it as an attribute, state or condition of matter, which was to them the bedrock of reality. All energy had an owner's stamp on it, it belonged to something material. This is why the loss of the 'luminiferous aether' caused these people such distress; if there is no material medium in which light is propagated (considered in its 'wave' aspect), then how can light itself be a real thing, after their way of thinking? (Long before the days of dark matter and dark energy, the 'luminiferous aether' is another one of these things which were diligently searched for, though no one was quite sure what it was they were looking for. The success of the quest may be judged from these parameters.) These folks might well have been happy to accept 'empty space devoid of particles of matter' as an apt instance of 'nothing,' if not a 'definition.' We may have to separate our reductive materialist from his religious neighbors to avoid a quarrel, because his slogan 'nothing-but-matter-is-real' was controversial, even in the nineteenth century. If we take our nineteenth century materialist back, in a thought experiment, to the moment before God created (although the concept of a time before time was created is a conundrum), he finds 'nothing' there at all: because there can be no immaterial spiritual being in their system, there is no God, no angel, no immortal dimension to man, etc. Only matter is real, but it awaits creation. 'There is nothing there,' says the nineteenth century materialist,—'there' is as problematical as 'then,' but let is pass.

There is no one who thinks like this any more. Modern 'materialists,' though they themselves choose this designation, do not agree with their nineteenth century forbears as to the basic constituents of the world system. They agree only in what they discard: a world in which there is as yet only God is, to both, a world of nothing. Nevertheless, in spite of the fact that this author does not share with the nineteenth century materialist any list of the basic constituents of the universe, he wants to ask him a favor: he will borrow, just for a moment, the man's definition of 'nothing,'—or rather his (mistaken) understanding of what was out there in space (his definition of 'nothing' may have been normal, 'not any thing'), because his reductive list of world-constituents points to empty space with no visible material particles in it as an apt instance of 'nothing:'



  • “A century ago, had one described 'nothing' as referring to purely empty space, possessing no real material entity, this might have received little argument. But the results of the past century have taught us that empty space is in fact far from the inviolate nothingness that we presupposed before we learned more about how nature works.”
  • (Lawrence M. Krauss, A Universe From Nothing, p. xiv.).




Who are the "we" who presupposed that empty space was "inviolate nothingness"? Certainly there are, or were, such; if we were to conjure up from the grave a nineteenth century atheistic reductive materialist, this understanding might well receive little argument, because by these folks' way of reckoning, the only real entities were particles of matter. Of course no one believes that any more. However, we now proceed to 'mix and match:' even though no one any longer agrees with the nineteenth century materialist in his catalog of real entities, we like his definition of 'nothing,' or more precisely his expectation as to where to go looking for 'nothing,' so we will we borrow that, even though we do not embrace the set of ideas upon which it is founded. Then we will put the nineteenth century materialist back into his box, no doubt kicking and screaming; we are done with him, we only wanted his definition of 'nothing.'

Can you do this? No. It's called the fallacy of equivocation. You cannot mix and match definitions in this way. No doubt the philosophers he despises tried to explain this to him, but he triumphantly demonstrated the folly of their scruples by calling them morons. We discover that "...empty space is not quite so empty" (Lawrence M. Krauss, A Universe From Nothing, p. 62), but, heh-heh, we don't share our discovery with the nineteenth century materialist; we continue using his terminology and he is none the wiser! To what purpose? Because somehow these people have convinced themselves that this little terminological bait-and-switch refutes theism.

Our author, incidentally, is aware that the meaning of the word 'nothing' (or maybe 'almost' nothing!) has changed while it's been in his possession, but with the innocence of a child, he does not see anything wrong with changing definitions in mid-stream:

"I want thus to return to the question I described at the beginning of this book: Why is there something rather than nothing?. . .Far from providing a framework that forces upon us the requirement of a creator, the very meaning of the words involved have so changed that the sentence has lost much of its original meaning— something that again is not uncommon, as empirical knowledge shines a new light on otherwise dark corners of our imagination." (Lawrence M. Krauss, A Universe From Nothing, p. 143).

No doubt this kind of term-shifting happens all the time on our author's watch. Indeed equivocation is not uncommon, though it ought to be. We don't discover word meanings empirically by looking out there in the world, as if that's where the meanings are; word meanings are an element of the various human languages, not of the world out there. This is why we define our terms. Had our author begun by defining 'nothing' as 'not any thing,' this would have eliminated the wasted effort involved in defining it as 'dark matter and energy,' which are not nothing. In a moment of lucidity, even our author himself can see this: "...it would be disingenuous to suggest that empty space endowed with energy, which drives inflation, is really nothing." (Lawrence M. Krauss, A Universe From Nothing, p. 152). No kidding. Oh, but wait: empty space is nothing: "As I have defined it thus far, the relevant 'nothing' from which our observed 'something' arises is 'empty space.'" (Lawrence M. Krauss, A Universe From Nothing, p. 161). Notice the sprightly logic here: a.) empty space is not nothing, and b.) empty space is nothing.

Again: "...a quantum theory of gravity allows for the creation, albeit perhaps momentarily, of space itself where none existed before." (Lawrence M. Krauss, A Universe From Nothing, pp. 163-164). Recall, 'empty space' = 'nothing;' thus, we witness 'the creation of nothing itself where none existed before!' Again: "'Why is there something rather than nothing?' must be understood in the context of a cosmos where the meaning of these words is not what it once was, and the very distinction between something and nothing has begun to disappear. . ." (Lawrence M. Krauss, A Universe From Nothing, pp. 182-183). To be sure the meaning of the words 'something' and 'nothing' has been dribbling away while he has had custody of them, but that is not a good thing, it's a bad thing, it's called 'equivocation.' The reader can only conclude that people like Lawrence Krauss and Richard Dawkins simply do not understand what people mean when they ask, 'Why is there something rather than nothing?' They seek a trivial question to substitute for the problematic original. However it is not as if the reader who does understand the original question is unable to tell the difference between, 'Why is there something rather than nothing?' and 'How is it that there is visible matter in addition to dark matter and dark energy?' This latter, revised version of the question, like the question, 'Why are there pigs in addition to sheep and goats,' is indeed not a metaphysical question, however, this revision has not been achieved without loss of meaning.

Our author's continual equivocation and resultant self-contradiction leaves the reader with a sense of why philosophy might well be better left in the hands of philosophers. Empty space is nothing, nothing is something, empty space, like every other kind of nothing, must be created, or, of course, it wouldn't exist. . .and we are expected to sit still in worshipful silence before these nonsensical statements, presented as if they were discoveries!: "And now we can read Lawrence Krauss for what looks to me like the knockout blow." (Richard Dawkins' Afterword, A Universe From Nothing, p. 191). Who does he knock out, himself? Defining 'nothing' as the dictionary does right on Page One would have eliminated any need for the rest of this book. Equivocation is not a good thing, it is not a discovery, nor is it brilliant, nor does it achieve any result. It's not for nothing that they call it a 'fallacy.'

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Dark Ages

It is staggering to contemplate how much of human thought life the 'New Atheists' want to shut down. This author wishes to silence philosophy; he doesn't see its utility. People who don't read this literature don't understand how scary it is. These people hate everything human.

This is not the first time it's been tried. The new atheists want to shut down metaphysics; so did the old atheists, and their chosen weapon was the verbal principle of verification. To these British worthies, any human utterance was like a science grant proposal: the speaker who said, 'is it raining outside?' was proposing a scheme of verification: 'I will go out and look.' This proposed research program was in fact the meaning of every human utterance (excepting logical statements, which were tautologies). Those utterances for which no empirical verification project could be imagined or devised, which include for instance all ethical and metaphysical statements were, alas, discovered to be no more than meaningless ejaculations like 'hey!' So, these law-givers proclaimed, you can't ask metaphysical questions any more; we have so legislated. Except almost everyone ignored them. These would-be dictators lacked a police force, so they could find no means to make it 'stick.' The outlaws kept right on asking metaphysical questions. So it's been tried before, and has failed before. People will keep right on asking these questions no matter how stringently the atheists scold them, 'You must not ask those questions. Those questions are not permitted. You may ask only the questions we instruct you to ask.'

Is this book a stunning breakthrough, as advertised? No, this entire enterprise is much ado about nothing. Once we introduce our nineteenth century materialist to 'dark energy,' he either rejects the new concept, whether it be on ontological or observational grounds, or he accepts it. If he rejects it, he may retain his existing terminology; if, on the other hand, he welcomes the new construct, then of course he revises his terminology accordingly. He has already had to do that when we explained to him about e=mc2, underscoring our point with videos of Hiroshima and Nagasaki! The third possibility: that he accepts 'dark energy,' but continues to use his existing terminology,— so that we may borrow it from him for just a moment, returning it when we're done with it,— is the 'excluded middle' of this muddled argument.

This instinct to shut down human inquiry is deeply ingrained in the atheist mind. Here is another recent example, of an author who proposes to shut down the field of human endeavor known as 'ethics.' This ancient study, we are told, should be shuttered and subsumed under 'neurology,' in spite of the fact that neurology shows no track record of success in resolving ethical issues nor even of illuminating them:

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History of Science

Our author manifests an interest in the history of science, but knows only vague rumors of it prior to the past century. See:

"But I'll be the first to say that empty space as I'm describing it isn't necessarily nothing, although I will add that it was plenty good enough for Augustine and the people who wrote the Bible. For them an eternal empty void was the definition of nothing, and certainly I show that that kind of nothing ain't nothing anymore." (Lawrence Krauss, quoted in the Atlantic Monthly, 'Has Physics Made Philosophy and Religion Obsolete?', April 23, 2012).

Really, Augustine and the Bible authors believed that space was "an eternal empty void"? That's good to know, though it seems to betray a lack of 'message discipline' vis-a-vis the other new atheists, who generally try to claim (without evidence) that the Bible authors believed in a tiny universe cuddling a flat earth. In real life it's Sir Isaac Newton who established the idea of space as an "eternal empty void," the pagan philosopher Aristotle having put a stop to such speculation two thousand years previously. Not only was Aristotle unsympathetic to the idea of "a vast, infinite, dark, and empty space" (Lawrence M. Krauss, A Universe From Nothing, p. 2), he denied there could be a vacuum, even a little bitty one.

As our author explains, not only did Augustine et al think that space was "an eternal empty void," they imagined this to be the "definition" of 'nothing.' On its face it seems unlikely that Augustine, a teacher of rhetoric, thought that 'empty space' was the "definition" of 'nothing;' whatever 'nothing' is, or is not, it's not a place. During his Manichaean period he did indulge in speculations about 'empty space:' ". . .as if a body were removed from its place and the place should remain empty of any body at all, whether earthy, terrestrial, watery, aerial, or celestial, but should remain a void place — a spacious nothing, as it were." (Augustine, Confessions, Book 7, Chapter 1, Section 1, p. 183 ECF 1.01), which he discarded once he realized the God he sought was not to be found diffused through space. Augustine no more considered the universe of time and space to be "eternal" than do today's Big Bang enthusiasts. But being an elite physicist means, evidently, having long ago cast the surly bonds of fact-checking. The "eternal empty void" is an idea that was popular somewhat in excess of 200 years, which is a pretty long run in the history of science. Lately the 'eternal' part has been jettisoned in favor of the Big Bang, and the 'empty' part has been jettisoned in favor of the idea that space has its own inherent structure and reservoir of energy. These ideas, in detail unprecedented and revolutionary, are in substance reversions to older paradigms, because for most of human history people did not think space was empty.

We are expected to imagine that people believed in the "eternal empty void" from time immemorial, simply because our author doesn't know any better, but a more accurate account cannot fail to note that Robert Boyle demonstrated the vacuum in the seventeenth century, a time of heroic achievement for theistic science. He and Robert Hooke perfected their air pump in 1659. Prior to that point, early modern astronomers did not assume that outer space was empty, but speculated about vortices and currents, against which Kepler's ferry-man could turn his oar. Descartes' outer space was no more empty than Aristotle's. Sir Isaac Newton, Boyle's younger contemporary, wove the idea of 'empty space' into the fabric of the world.

Even subsequent to Boyle's great discovery, did every one concede there was no structure in our "eternal empty void?" No, because the 'luminiferous aether' (a late survival of several proposed 'aethers') whose non-appearance gave birth to Einstein's universe, was a structure, exceedingly subtle but surprisingly inelastic compared with its density, by no means 'nothing.' So what you really have here is a period of two hundred fifty years during which some people believed in "an eternal empty void," lacking any contents or structure, i.e. it was at least possible to believe in "an eternal empty void" though not everyone did.

Incidentally, when the proponents of the 'luminiferous aether' discovered that their hobby-horse was a 'nothing' not a 'something,' did they reason like our author and say, 'Lately it has been discovered that the 'luminiferous aether' is a nothing, but people always used to think it was a something before they discovered it was nothing in the world, so we will continue to refer to the 'luminiferous aether' as a 'something' claiming the sanction and under the protection of long-established usage.' No, of course not, they weren't fools. Compare: "In so doing, we have discovered that we live in a universe in which empty space—what formerly could have passed for nothing—has a new dynamic that dominates the current evolution of the cosmos." (Lawrence M. Krauss, A Universe From Nothing, p. 183). Notice the logic: people used to think (wrongly) that empty space was nothing (they didn't actually think this), but now they know better, so we can still call empty space 'nothing' even though we know that it is not. This, to the atheist mind, is brilliant reasoning, indeed a breakthrough, a scientific revolution if you please.

Though he doesn't know people have not always believed in his "eternal empty void," our author does know, however, that Sir Isaac Newton discovered the concept of natural law: "With his universal law of gravity, he demonstrated for the first time that even the heavens might bend to the power of natural laws." (Lawrence M. Krauss, A Universe From Nothing, p. 141). The Greeks would have heard the phrase 'natural law' as an oxymoron; for them, 'law' applied to the self-governing city, 'nature' was the self-regulating realm outside. Not that Ptolemaic astronomy was in any way under-determined; but the idea of promulgating written or mathematical laws deemed applicable to the natural realm simply wasn't how the Greeks did science. Certainly Newton was interested in Greek science, especially in the pre-Socratics; but he had other interests as well. Though not an orthodox Christian,— he was an Arian, a trinitarian heresy represented in the modern world by the Jehovah's Witnesses,— he was an enthusiastic student of the Bible. And he found, right there in its pages, the concept of a law that binds the forces of nature:

"Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion?  Canst thou bring forth Mazzaroth in his season? or canst thou guide Arcturus with his sons? Knowest thou the ordinances of heaven? canst thou set the dominion thereof in the earth? Canst thou lift up thy voice to the clouds, that abundance of waters may cover thee? Canst thou send lightnings, that they may go, and say unto thee, Here we are?" (Job 38:31-35).

Notice please the phrase "ordinances of heaven:" 'ordinances' is 'chuqqah,' meaning 'statute, ordinance, limit, enactment, something prescribed.' So it says right there in the Bible that the astronomical players are under law; Sir Isaac Newton was only agreeing with God in finding law in nature. Inasmuch as Sir Isaac discovered the concept in the pages of the Bible, it is thus perplexing to learn from our author that natural law rules out religion.

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Ivan Kramskoy, Temptation of Christ


Multiply Entities

Can't solve the problem of why there is something rather than nothing? It's easy! Just discard that outmoded old superstition about not multiplying entities needlessly:

"From Aristotle's prime mover to the Catholic Church's first cause, we're always driven to the idea of something eternal. If the multiverse really exists, then you could have an infinite object---infinite in time and space as opposed to our universe, which is finite. That may beg the question as to where the multiverse came from, but if it's infinite, it's infinite." (Lawrence Krauss, quoted in the Atlantic Monthly, 'Has Physics Made Philosophy and Religion Obsolete?', April 23, 2012).

We know of one universe. But if it takes an infinity of 'em to evict God, then multiply, multiply, multiply! The Jesuit Lemaitre smuggled a Trojan Horse, the Christian concept of a beginning, into cosmology, and it has taken the atheists this long to figure out it wasn't a gift to be received with gratitude. How much are they willing to spend to liquidate the problem? Infinite sums: no more than one universe is needed to explain what we see, but they are willing to suppose an actual infinity of universes, each one of them beyond the first an 'unnecessary entity,' thus abandoning the principle of parsimony altogether. Whatever it takes to save the hypothesis of atheism.

Think back to the heroic era of science, when titans like Johannes Kepler and Sir Isaac Newton found law in nature. They found law because they knew the law-giver. They expected to find intelligible order in the world and did. Modern 'science' inverts this paradigm. Any apparent order must be explained away as only apparent, even if it takes an actual infinity of universes, none of them observable save one, to do it. Science sought to discover why the world was the way it was. The modern activity pursued by people like Lawrence Krauss and Richard Dawkins denies that there is any reason why the world is just as it is, because, they claim, a different shuffle of the deck would have produced a different outcome. Rewind the tape and replay, and you come up with a completely different universe, inhabited by a completely different complement of creatures. The card-shuffling machine is warmed up and prepared to spit out an actual infinity of outcomes if that is what it takes. Their activity cannot be called 'science,' because that word is already taken, but rather the programmatic denial that science is possible.

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Van Leeuwenhoek

Oddly enough our author himself brings up the theist van Leeuwenhoek, who first peered through a microscope at a drop of pond water, discovering all manner of little critters scooting about, whose existence had not previously been suspected:

"Whole new worlds are often revealed in the process, as when the Dutch scientist Antonie Philips van Leeuwenhoek first stared at a drop of seemingly empty water with a microscope in 1676 and discovered it was teeming with life." (Lawrence M. Krauss, A Universe from Nothing, p. 66).

This will be a good instance to test our ideas on the topic, 'How do you talk about something which wasn't previously known to be there but now is.' Did van Leeuwenhoek announce, 'I have discovered that emptiness is fullness and fullness emptiness?' Did he deliver himself of Heraclitean obscurities like 'something is nothing' or 'nothing is something'? Or did he say, 'That water droplet is not empty, there's stuff there? Like you, I used to think there was nothing there, but now I know better.'

When you turn on the TV nowadays, you hear announcers bubbling over about how what was previously assumed to be vapid empty space is really filled with vibrating strings, teeming with energy and activity; kind of like,

"As  I have described already, the laws of quantum mechanics imply that, on very small scales, for very short times, empty space can appear to be a boiling, bubbling brew of virtual particles and fields wildly fluctuating in magnitude." (Lawrence M. Krauss, A Universe from Nothing, p. 97)

In other words, what had previously been thought to be barren, void, empty space, with nothing there, has been discovered to be nothing of the sort, but a complex, busy little field of play interlocked with contesting forces. Though our author signals his disdain for these popular 'string' theories, he shares their basic premise, that we are living in van Leeuwenhoek's drop, and we've discovered it's far from empty. Yet we shall continue to describe empty space as 'nothing,' because people have so described it in prior centuries, and so even though we have discovered that this usage is wrong, it is 'grand-fathered' and must continue in use. See:

"This is the simplest version of nothing, namely empty space. . .I suspect that, at the times of Plato and Aquinas, when they pondered why there was something rather than nothing, empty space with nothing in it was probably a good approximation of what they were thinking about." (Lawrence M. Krauss, A Universe From Nothing, p. 149).

Recall, we have discovered that 'empty' space is not empty, it has a structure all its own, its own properties, and it is pregnant with dark energy. Yet we will 'forget' that we know these things, because Plato and Aquinas did not know them. They had not looked through the microscope, and so to them the droplet was empty (as is happens they didn't think this, but suppose they did). Though we know the droplet is not empty because we have seen with our own eyes the little critters jitter-bugging around down in there, we will borrow for the moment Plato and Aquinas' assumptions and assert 'there is nothing there,' though we know that this is false!

People used to point to where Pluto is, and say 'there's nothing there.' That was before they discovered Pluto. Once they discovered Pluto, then they said 'there's something there, to wit, Pluto.' Is it rational to say 'Pluto is nothing' because people used to point towards Pluto and say 'there's nothing there'? Though its august majesty as a planet has been stripped from it, surely Pluto is something, even though people did not always know this. Now that we know Pluto is something, can we say that a thing engendered from Pluto came from 'nothing,' because people in the past were unaware of Pluto's existence? Here is the same logic. People in the past did not know that 'dark energy' existed, though people know this now. Therefore, when something is engendered from 'dark energy,' can we really say that it came from 'nothing'. . .simply because, even though dark energy is something not nothing, people did not formerly know this?

Our author uses the word 'nothing' in a variety of inconsistent ways, sometimes in a 'folk' or minimalist way. His guide-star seems to be, 'If you look and don't see anything, there's nothing there.' Thus he categorizes dark matter and dark energy as 'nothing.' The definition of 'see' is generous, 'visible' matter is what can be detected by ordinarily available means; 'dark' means 'difficult to detect.' If the reader cannot bring himself to believe that this author says anything so ill-considered as that dark matter and dark energy are nothing, please go and read the book:

"We have discovered that 99 percent of the universe is actually invisible to us, comprising dark matter that is most likely some new form of elementary particle, and even more dark energy, whose origin remains a complete mystery at the present time. . .Maybe literally, as well as metaphorically, we are making much ado about nothing. At least we may be making too much of the nothing that dominates our universe!" (Lawrence M. Krauss, A Universe From Nothing, p. 138)

Notice please that the "99 percent of the universe" which he deduces to be dark matter and dark energy = "the nothing that dominates our universe." The ontologist must wonder, 'Oh, when he categorizes dark matter and dark energy as "nothing," does he mean to discard these concepts to the twilight nether-world of outmoded physical models like "phlogiston" and "the luminferous aether"?' No, not at all, he is fully convinced there is lots and lots of dark matter and dark energy out there. So what could it mean to relegate entities which are neither imaginary nor unreal, which take their place in the chain of cause and effect, which abide within the conservation of matter and energy, to the category 'nothing'? Since when is matter 'nothing'? Since when is energy 'nothing'? Since when is even 'having exotic properties' characteristic of nothing rather than something? How can what has mass be properly described as 'nothing'?

Oh, but this usage is grand-fathered, you see; nineteenth century atheistic materialists did not know there was any such thing as dark matter or dark energy, and so they would point to the places where those things were and say 'there's nothing there.' So hey, that usage is established, even though it has been shown to be wrong. The droplet of pond water is still empty, even though it is teeming with life, because people used to think it was empty before they discovered it was teeming with life! We can keep on referring to dark matter and dark energy as 'nothing,' because that is how people used to refer to those things before they knew they existed. Thus the word 'nothing' envelopes under its umbrella 'real things recently discovered,' huddled alongside the non-entities the ontologists would stuff into that junk-room, like 'things that don't exist.' Incidentally, even the nineteenth century atheist must realize, 'empty space' is not 'nothing,' it's where you encounter nothing, like meeting 'the man on the stair:' 'When I was walking on the stair, I met a man who wasn't there.' 'Space,' if 'empty,' is where 'nothing's' at, not 'nothing.'

By the way, what is dark energy? Gosh, we don't know: "After all, since we have no idea what the dark energy permeating empty space is, we also therefore cannot be certain that it will behave like Einstein's cosmological constant and remain constant." (Lawrence M. Krauss, A Universe From Nothing, p. 116); "Cosmology has produced one totally mysterious quantity: the energy of empty space, about which we understand virtually nothing." (Lawrence M. Krauss, A Universe From Nothing p. 136). And where did it come from? Gosh, who knows?:

"The origin and nature of dark energy is without a doubt the biggest mystery in fundamental physics today. We have no deep understanding of how it originates and why it takes the value it has." (Lawrence M. Krauss, A Universe From Nothing, p. 89).
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Ptolemaic System

The reader familiar with early modern astronomy is not surprised to find frequent references to God and the angels in these authors, for these pious authors wish to stress that God plays a role in their astronomy. These astronomers are willing bring in God as a deus ex machina to correct accumulating perturbations. More fundamentally, of course, God plans the whole structure:

"But though these bodies may indeed persevere in their orbits by the mere laws of gravity, yet they could by no means have at first derived the regular position of the orbits themselves from those laws.

"The six primary Planets are revolved about the Sun, in circles concentric with the Sun, and with motions directed towards the same parts and almost in the same plan. Ten Moons are revolved about the Earth, Jupiter and Saturn, in circles concentric with them, with the same direction of motion, and nearly in the planes of the orbits of those Planets. But it is not to be conceived that mere mechanical causes could give birth to so many regular motions: since the Comets range over all parts of the heavens, in very eccentric orbits. For by that kind of motion they pass easily through the orbits of the Planets, and with great rapidity; and in their aphelions, where they move the slowest, and are detained the longest, they recede to the greatest distances from each other, and thence suffer the least disturbance from their mutual attractions. This most beautiful System of the Sun, Planets, and Comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful being. And if the fixed Stars are the centers of other like systems, these, being formed by the like wise counsel, must be all subject to the dominion of One; especially since the light of the fixed Stars is of the same nature with the light of the Sun, and from every system light passes into all the other systems. And lest the systems of the fixed Stars should, by their gravity, fall on each other mutually, he hath placed those Systems at immense distances from one another.

"This Being governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all: And on account of his dominion he is wont to be called Lord God παντοκρατωρ, or Universal Ruler. . .He is Eternal and Infinite, Omnipotent and Omniscient; that is, his duration reaches from Eternity to Eternity; his presence from Infinity to Infinity; he governs all things, and knows all things that are or can be done. He is not Eternity and Infinity, but Eternal and Infinite; he is not Duration and Space, but he endures and is present. He endures forever, and is every where present; and, by existing always and every where, he constitutes Duration and Space. Since every particle of Space is always, and every indivisible moment of Duration is every where, certainly the Maker and Lord of all things cannot be never and no where. . . In him are all things contained and moved; yet neither affects the other: God suffers nothing from the motion of bodies; bodies find no resistance from the omnipresence of God. 'Tis allowed by all that the supreme God exists necessarily; and by the same necessity he exists always and every where." (Sir Isaac Newton, The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (1729), General Scholium).

Early modern astronomers wondered what 'pushed' the planets. Ancient astronomers did not wonder what 'pushed' the planets. They thought that nothing did: Aristotle set forth the physical bounds for this system in his premise of uniform circular motion. Because this motion is 'according to nature' and not 'violent' or 'forced,' that things should move in such a way requires little further explanation. The reader who seeks actual information about the world rather than made-up fables may enjoy reading Aristotle's 'On the Heavens,' which sets forth the basic physical conditions for the Ptolemaic system:


Aristotle
 On the Heavens 


Some people divide the players in the history of science into 'good guys' and 'bad guys.' Because these folks scoff when a 'bad guy' explain an idea, but listen in worshipful silence when a 'good guy' explains the very same idea, I will let one of the 'good guys' explain the Aristotelian expectation that uniform circular motion is natural, not violent, and thus unexceptionable. The 'good guy' is Copernicus, who seeks to use Aristotelian physics to counter the geocentrists' threat that, if the earth were rotating on its axis, the forces generated would tear our poor planet to bits. Not so, he says, because the motion is 'natural:'

"But if someone opines that the Earth revolves, he will also say that the movement is natural and not violent. Now things which are according to nature produce effects contrary to those which are violent. For things to which force or violence is applied get broken up and are unable to subsist for a long time. But things which are caused by nature are in a right condition and are kept in their best organization. . .Accordingly, as they say, a simple body possesses a simple movement. . .In this place, in fact, its movement is none other than the circular, which remains entirely in itself, as though at rest." (Nicolaus Copernicus, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, Book I, Chapter 8, pp. 518-520)

The internet has brought some good things and some bad things. Years ago it was common to hear from atheists outrageous fabrications about the Ptolemaic system, including the preposterous slur that it featured a flat earth. Some of the grosser misstatements cannot survive outside of the hot-house environment in which they were forged. They cannot flourish outside the academy because they require control of the information flow. The internet has killed them off, and good riddance. If you want to talk about something that actually existed, like the Ptolemaic system of astronomy, it is not good to just make stuff up. Yet the atheists are not done misrepresenting the Ptolemaic system. Our author wants it believed that this system featured "angels who were often previously invoked as guiding the planets on their way." (Lawrence M. Krauss, A Universe From Nothing, p. 145), these ferryman angels' job security collapsing with the discovery of gravity, which rendered them superfluous, though they had "often" played a role in astronomy previously. These angels, he tells us, "continually pushed" the planets "along their paths." Our author is evidently envisioning an angel standing exteriorly to the planet and pushing it along, like a driver pushing a stalled vehicle. Gentle reader, please accept my challenge. Find these pusher angels in Aristotle's De Caelo. Find them in the Almagest. If you can't find 'em, admit your guy's a charlatan.

The Ptolemaic system of astronomy originated in ancient Greece. It featured a rotund earth, about which everything else revolved. The heliocentric option was considered, but rejected, fundamentally on the grounds that no one in antiquity could resolve the physics of how the earth can be hurtling through space and yet the riders on this rapid transit vehicle do not share the experience of passengers clinging to a run-away cart, with the wind carrying off their hats. This system of astronomy was not invented by Christians, and indeed, given its close association with the pagan practice of astrology, was a difficult pill to swallow for some. It is mentioned in passing by many of the early church writers, its acceptance generally following on the basis that it was the best available secular astronomy. It came into its own, however, when the medieval theologians Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas wedded Christianity to Aristotle's thought. In so doing they were 'keeping up with the Joneses' so to speak, because the Muslims had already revived Aristotle's works, and were reputed to be making great strides in the sciences as a result. Though there seemed to be little synergy between the pagan Aristotle and Christianity: Aristotle denied the immortality of the soul and taught that the world was eternal,— Thomas' amalgam of the two disparate streams, amounting to a grand 'Theory of Everything,' stood for three hundred years. Then it ran into difficulties, since it turned out that Aristotle's astronomy was wrong. It had already, of course, encountered more essential difficulties: once Thomas had welded the gospel to Aristotle's psychology, the resultant mumbo-jumbo did not sound very much like the gospel to a lot of people: "It is false to say that no one can become a theologian without Aristotle. I state this in opposition to common opinion." (Martin Luther, 'Disputation Against Scholastic Theology,' No. 43).

Ancient science is by no means deficient in naturalism, though it often lacks plausibility. For instance, the peripatetic 'Meteorology' explains earthquakes by reference to subterranean winds howling through underground caverns. This explanation is entirely naturalistic, but unhelpful. Since ancient schemes of causation were not reductive, it was never a case of one cause pushing out another. What the ancients did not understand is that, if earthquakes are caused by subterranean winds, they are not also caused by the wrath of God. And why should they understand that? It's like saying, 'If the ignition of gasoline in an internal combustion engine causes the car to go, the driver cannot be driving it.' Our author wants to tell a 'just-so' tale of how astronomy graduated from 'pusher angels' to naturalism, but this tale corresponds to nothing in real life. Though Ptolemy's Almagest, a compendious text-book which explains the system in great detail, is extant and available for study, tracing out its orbits and epicycles is a laborious task not congenial to playing 'Beer Pong,' and so these authors simply never get it right. They prefer myth-making. First they separate the players into 'good guys' and 'bad guys,' and then they arbitrarily assign to the 'bad guys' characteristics more properly belonging to the 'good guys,' like 'religiosity.' Their reconstruction is an exercise in wish-fulfillment. The story becomes a stirring tale of how the forces of irreligion overcame the backwards reactionary forces of religion. This is the story they tell, because then the heroes will be folks just like them. That their fable doesn't track with reality is not their concern. Though they can no longer get away with the outrageous fictions of their past, like 'flat earth,' they are still not making any serious effort to conform their account to reality.

Our author offers the common atheist objection to Joshua's miracle of the sun standing still:

"How could the Sun stand still at mid-day if the Sun did not orbit the Earth but its motion in the sky was actually caused by the revolution of the Earth, which, if suddenly stopped, would produce forces on its surface that would destroy all human structures and humans along with them?" (Lawrence M. Krauss, A Universe From Nothing, p. 141).

The atheists apparently think that God might well be mighty enough to stop the earth from rotating, but He must stand by helpless and impotent as undesirable consequences ensue, because He is sometimes almighty, sometimes hapless. Theists do not understand why He is not always the same. As Galileo pointed out a long time ago, Joshua's miracle is actually 'harder' under the geocentric Ptolemaic system than it is under the Copernican system:




Why are the 'good guys' (the early modern astronomers) so lavish in their invocations of God, and the 'bad guys' (the architects of the Ptolemaic system) so sparing? And why do atheist accounts invariably invert the actual distribution? It should be apparent that something is very much out of kilter here, and the atheists should stop spinning fables.

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Empty Words

"And part of that is a reaction to these really pompous theologians who say, 'out of nothing, nothing comes,' because those are just empty words." (Lawrence Krauss, quoted in the Atlantic Monthly, 'Has Physics Made Philosophy and Religion Obsolete?', April 23, 2012).

Or to put it another way, 'there must be an equal degree of reality in the cause as in the effect.' Our author intends to refute the old scholastic dictum, 'ex nihilo nihil fit.' He does this by coming up with examples of something coming from. . .what is not nothing but which people used to think was nothing before they discovered there was something there! What can one say but, 'Oops, too late, that bus just left.' Evidently our author's only point of entrance into the world of discourse in which principles of this sort are laid down is through his polemical encounters with Christians, whom our author hates; he says, "Forget Jesus, the stars died so you could be born," (Lawrence Krauss, quoted on dust jacket, A Universe from Nothing). But in the end he can do nothing but bite his own tongue in fury.

When it comes to dark energy, personally I don't have a dog in that fight. I wouldn't much care if it really is nothing: i.e., it doesn't exist. I was delighted to read in the newspaper recently that an Italian group had measured neutrinos travelling faster than the speed of light,— never say never, I say,— but no doubt the establishment has shot that down by now. But defining 'nothing' to mean 'what had not previously been known to exist' is no innovation that need detain the metaphysician. Much less is it the advertised breakthrough which this book promises but does not deliver. Someone should have explained to the author that first he must define 'nothing,' then use that definition consistently, and only then draw his desired conclusion, if possible, that out of nothing something does come. How dumb is this book? There is a chapter headed, 'Nothing Is Something.'

One gets the distinct impression our author has not grasped the scholastics' concern, especially when the reader encounters Jabberwocky like, "Alternatively, if one takes the view of God as the cause of all causes, and therefore eternal even if our universe is not, the reductio ad absurdum sequence of 'why' questions does indeed terminate. . ." (Lawrence M. Krauss, A Universe From Nothing, p. 173). Is a 'reductio ad absurdum' "sequence" [sic] supposed to 'terminate'? It's difficult to avoid the suspicion our author meant to say regressio ad infinitum. Maybe he should learn the terminology first, then try to argue with the scholastics. He is concerned that "somehow God can get around" the principle that 'from nothing nothing comes.' Rather, the principle illuminates the fact that when our universe sprang from nothing, it did indeed have an adequate cause, and that cause was God. True, God can speak the worlds into being out of nothing, but He is not 'getting around' anything, because the 'not-nothing' from which something springs need not be a thing of the same kind, i.e. a material precursor only inches different. The principle means, that if you point to a thing in the world and ask, 'Why is that thing here?' the answer can never be, 'No special reason.' That that is so often the atheist answer points to a logical defect in atheism. The scholastics would have been delighted to see a universe spring into being with no material precursor, situated in no pre-existing time or space, because this would be the very world made by God. Our author's 'from-nothing' universes, however, are cheats, what you get when you call 'something' 'nothing.'

Our author prefers to dispense with the principle of sufficient reason: "If the laws of nature are themselves stochastic and random then there is no prescribed 'cause' for our universe." (Lawrence M. Krauss, A Universe From Nothing, p. 176). It is important to realize that our author has not 'discovered' that the principle of sufficient reason is false, nor 'observed' that it does not apply; rather, he prefers to dispense with it. This is the one consistent feature in this author's confused and muddled thinking:

"The existence of contingent beings. Beings that didn’t have to exist. Well, accidents happen all the time! Many things happen that are just accidental. . .Contingent things happen all the time without necessarily having a cause, but even if they do have a cause, if we don’t understand the cause, it doesn’t mean that God exists." (Lawrence Krauss, Debate with William Lane Craig, 'Is There Evidence For God?' March 30, 2011)

How much clearer could the choice be? To be an atheist means to believe that "things happen all the time without necessarily having a cause." You can be an atheist, and console yourself that you don't really miss logic or mourn its loss; or, you can be a theist. Lawrence Krauss claims it is quantum mechanics which has invalidated logic and demonstrated its futility, but it is not in the nature of things for such a thing to happen. If the 'scientists' will not allow us to rule out an 'illogical science' a priori, then it is easy enough to do so empirically. There have been many prior instantiations of 'science' which have failed to make sense. In all cases, Mother Nature was fingered as the guilty party by the 'scientists' who gave the world that particular work product, but upon post mortem, she has never once been found to be at fault. Take Ptolemaic astronomy for instance; this elaborate system, with high predictive value, ruled the skies for two thousand years, but even its practitioners could never describe it as 'clear and simple.' Why the complexity, why the epicycles piled upon epicycles? Why that lack of kinesthetic rightness, like the body English with which a golfer mimics and encourages his departed ball, so that no one could ever quite 'feel' the way the system worked? They blamed nature, but nature knew no epicycles. Like Dorothy, who always could have departed Oz by clicking her heels, the astronomers always had simplicity just within grasp. Copernicus was able to reduce the number of epicycles through no other expedient than adopting heliocentrism. No empirical 'discovery' needed to be made. It's not nature's fault that they hesitated. It is to be hoped a new Copernicus will arise to clean out the Augean Stables of quantum mechanics, if it is indeed so bad that it inspires its practitioners to go out into the world and announce that they have disconfirmed logic. Bad science always blames Mother Nature, this finger-pointing is a constant of our world; but it is also an empirically confirmed, observed constant that she is never at fault, and can prove it when a new and better science comes to her rescue and vindicates her cause. Science that does not make sense is not a new discovery, it's an old bad habit that has travelled with mankind for a very long time. Some theistic scientists were able for a time to chase it away. Maybe that bright era is over, and all we're left with is the kind of 'science' that has discovered it has refuted logic. If our author were ever to overcome his invincible ignorance of the history of science, he would find it's not the first time.

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Where is not What

If it is a definition we seek, we are asking what it is, not where it is: 'nothing' is not a locale in 'space.' One of the reasons the people of old knew better than to say 'empty space' = 'nothing' is because they ran down a check-list of questions: "Is it? What is it? What kind is it?. . .Where is it?" It is a different question to ask where something is than to ask what it is, unless the existing thing to be described is a road-marker or something like that, whose definition cannot be separated from its locale.

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A Brief History of Space

Lawrence Krauss arrays against his metaphysical detractors, who assert that 'empty space is not the "definition" of nothing, as you keep saying,' no less than the universal consent of all mankind; at all times and in all places, people have defined 'nothing' just like that, 'nothing'='empty space':



  • “First, I want to be clear about what kind of 'nothing' I am discussing at the moment. This is the simplest version of nothing, namely empty space. For the moment, I will assume space exists, with nothing at all in it, and that the laws of physics also exist. Once again, I realize that in the revised versions of nothingness that those who wish to continually redefine the word so that no scientific definition is practical, this version of nothing doesn't cut the mustard. However, I suspect that, at the times of Plato and Aquinas, when they pondered why there was something rather than nothing, empty space with nothing in it was probably a good approximation of what they were thinking about.”
  • (Lawrence M. Krauss, A Universe From Nothing, p. 149).




Since in a short web page like this it is not possible to touch more than the mountain-tops, let's home in on one of his witnesses, Thomas Aquinas. Did Thomas define 'nothing' as 'empty space?' Did Thomas even believe there was any 'empty space?' As a rule, Aristotelians will answer this question 'no,' so it comes as no surprise that this loyal student of Aristotle says 'no' to empty space. Thomas was aware that certain of the pre-Socratic philosophers asserted that there was a void:

"But these bodies touch one another without any other body existing between them, and without any empty space between them as Democritus laid down." (Thomas Aquinas, The Heavens (Commentary on Aristotle's On the Heavens), Book II, Lecture 6, Section 357, translated by Fabian R. Larcher and Pierre H. Conway).

Of course, Thomas sided with The Man, who taught humanity to stop talking about the void. Indeed, Thomas slavishly follows the pagan Aristotle, if not in all things, then certainly in most things:

"Then he excludes two answers. The first was that of the ancient natural philosophers who, in order to account for the perpetuity of generation, attributed infinity to the principles. For all who posited one principle, such as fire or air or water or something in-between, endowed that principle with infinity. Democritus however assumed infinite empty space, as well as an infinitude of indivisible bodies. Likewise, Anaxagoras posited an infinitude of similar parts as principles.

"All these tenets are rejected by the Philosopher, who says that it cannot be that the reason why generation does not cease is because that is infinite from which something is generated, whether there be one principle or many principles. For such a thing is impossible, since, as was proved in Physics III and in On the Heavens I, there is in nature no infinite in act." (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Aristotle's Generation and Corruption, Book One, Lecture 7, Section 55).

It would be fun to badger Aquinas and his mentor Aristotle for their ignorance in denying the void, except our author wants us to deny the very same thing. But they are not fellow-travellers to the final stage, because they dislike to posit an imperceptible body, such as 'dark matter':

"First he shows this as to the impossibility of matter existing without magnitude, having a separated existence. If it were separated, one of two things would have to follow. One is that it would possess no place, as in the case of a point, which has no place, since every place has some dimension. Or else, if the matter existing without quantity should occupy a place, it would have to be an empty place (for we call "void" a place not filled with a perceptible body); or it would have to be a certain imperceptible body (for some hold that the void is nothing but an imperceptible body). It is indeed necessary to call the void a body on account of the dimensions of space, yet an imperceptible one, on account of the emptiness. Of these two, one is impossible, namely, that there be a void or an imperceptible body." (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Aristotle's Generation and Corruption, Book One, Lecture 12, Section 88).

Now here is an interesting little wrinkle. Our author, following Aristotle, ascribes to Democritus the void that space is an infinite, empty void; but he also says, based necessarily on other sources of information, that the followers of the religious syncretist Mani thought the same thing:

"It must be said that, because our knowledge has its beginning from sensation and sensation belongs to corporeal things, from the beginning men searching out the truth were able to grasp only corporeal nature, to such an extent that the first natural philosophers used to think that nothing existed but bodies; and hence they also used to say that the soul itself is a body. The Manichaean heretics, who thought that God is a kind of corporeal light extended over infinite space, also seem to have followed them." (Thomas Aquinas, Disputed Questions on Spiritual Creatures, Article V, Answer).

Why is this interesting? Because if true, this would be that most rare occurrence: an instance when a 'new atheist' says something about the history of science which is actually so. Who was a Manichaean? Aurelius Augustine, though he subsequently left the group and trashed their reputation in his autobiography, the Confessions, and other writings. If the Manichaeans did, indeed, believe in an infinite empty void, then he may have so believed, in his youth. Unfortunately what went with the territory was a corporeal God: "In like manner did I conceive of Thee, Life of my life, as vast through infinite spaces, on every side penetrating the whole mass of the world, and beyond it, all ways, through immeasurable and boundless spaces; so that the earth should have Thee, the heaven have Thee, all things have Thee, and they bounded in Thee," (Augustine, Confessions, Book 7, Chapter 1, Section 2, p. 183 ECF 1.01). If even a stopped watch is right twice a day, why not a 'new atheist'? As it happens, one of his publicized reasons why Augustine left this movement is that he could not make sense of their ideas about the physical world, and he realized that a physics which does not make sense is not good.




So Krauss may actually have been right about Augustine, though purely by accident, of course. Some readers may wonder, if Thomas whole-heartedly adopted Aristotle's views in denial of 'empty space,' then what did he do with those passages in the Latin Vulgate Bible which talk about empty space, like,

"He stretcheth out the north over the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon nothing." (Job 26:7), Vulgate "qui extendit aquilonem super vacuum et adpendit terram super nihili".

Uh-oh. He explains, it says that because that's how the common folk talk:

"He speaks according to the thinking of the common man as is the custom in Sacred Scripture." (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Book of Job, Chapter 26).

Why the retreat from 'empty space'? When the pre-Socratic philosophers first began to offer their materialistic, naturalistic 'theories-of-everything,' they were happy to talk about infinity. But like Icarus, they soared too near the sun and singed their feathers. Subsequent Greek philosophers lost their enthusiasm for infinity after the Eleatic philosopher Zeno propounded his paradoxes and they realized there is something difficult and obstreperous about this concept. Aristotle successfully resolved Zeno's paradoxes, but only at the cost of ceasing to talk about infinity. Many of these pre-Socratic ideas had a very successful second act. But ultimately the balance sheet is mixed, because those properties of atoms, for instance, which made them of interest to the metaphysician in the first place and gave them candidacy status for a rival world-view, such as eternality, indestructibility, and indivisibility, fell by the wayside under further examination. There are atoms, but they are none of the things that the Greek atomists thought that they were. And if they were indeed wrong about 'empty space,' well, nobody believed them for two thousand years in any case. You win some, you lose some.

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Verified Prediction

"So God, the existence of an abstract God, doesn’t make any predictions." (Lawrence Krauss, debate with William Lane Craig, Is There Evidence For God? March 30, 2011)

Lawrence Krauss' thought here is as muddled as always, but if he means Biblical Christianity makes no verifiable predictions, that of course is untrue. As he acknowledges, the atheists of the nineteenth century assumed the universe was static and eternal: "As far as the scientific community in 1917 was concerned, the universe was static and eternal. . ." (Lawrence M. Krauss, A Universe From Nothing, p. 2). This is certainly true as far as the atheist world is concerned. There was never any evidence in favor of this view, it's just a metaphysical assumption that was popular in those quarters. By contrast, Christians believed there was a "Day with No Yesterday." (Lawrence Krauss, A Universe From Nothing, p. 5). The atheists have been obliged to withdraw from their former position, but have not done so gracefully.

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Truth in Advertising

Does our author deliver what he promises? Does he, indeed, deliver anything at all? Recall, he is announcing the obsolescence of philosophy and religion, on grounds that the old question 'Why is there something rather than nothing' has lately been taken over by physics. Having previously struggled with our question when it fell within the province of philosophy, we may now expect to progress by leaps and bounds. There will, of course, be some slight redefinition involved, Naturally enough the 'why' questions which science cannot answer must be supplanted by the 'how' questions which science can answer: "So I am going to assume what this question really means to ask is, 'How is there something rather than nothing?'" (Lawrence M. Krauss, A Universe From Nothing, p. 144). The public is henceforth to sit still and keep quiet about the questions science cannot answer.

Continuing on our project of redefinition, to follow where our author leads we must redefine 'nothing,' previously thought to mean 'no thing: no entity or being,' to mean 'dark matter and dark energy,' while 'something' is left to mean 'visible matter.' There has in recent decades been a lively debate, still ongoing, over the existence of dark matter and dark energy. The debate is difficult to resolve because the evidence mostly makes itself available in the form of indirect inference. Moreover the very definition of the entities we seek is obscure, recondite, and not agreed upon. It is profoundly difficult to locate something if you don't know what it is. How, then, will you know when you've found it? Be that as it may, our author's combo plan: 'Dark matter and dark energy a.) exist, and b.) are nothing' is simply not available.

Though some formerly popular physical paradigms would have ruled out a priori the existence of entities with the indicated characteristics, we cannot simultaneously assert that, a.) dark matter and dark energy cannot exist, and b.) dark matter and dark energy do exist. Many people in the past might have happily pointed to a patch of empty space and said, 'There is nothing there.' Though no one ever defined 'nothing' as 'empty space,'— 'empty space' is where nothing is, not what it is,— many in prior times would have happily offered the void of deep space as an instance of 'nothing'. However, if it has indeed been discovered that empty space is not empty, then we must stop pointing to empty space and saying 'there is nothing there,' because that assertion has been shown to be in error. We may not follow our author in intoning that 'Nothing is Something,' (one of his helpful chapter headings), because the logicians will not allow us: we must make sense. Instead we correct his wording to, 'Not-Nothing is Something.' Sheepishly, we confess, 'We had formerly thought the void of outer space to be occupied by nothing, but have lately discovered that we erred. These regions are densely packed with new entities just swimming into our ken, including dark matter and dark energy. We will correct our language to reflect our new, hopefully more accurate, understanding.'

Our author's reassurance that, because people previously thought there was nothing there, they are free continue to name as 'nothing' what is there, runs into a brick wall labelled 'Logic.' A moniker like 'nothing' is not a family heirloom, to be passed down through the generations, from those who earned the money to buy it to those who look at it puzzled, wondering what it was for. Though back when people gazed out at what they thought was an infinite, empty void, they said 'There's nothing there,' they cannot continue so saying once they realize there is something there: "a boiling brew" (Lawrence M. Krauss, A Universe From Nothing, p. 153). This is as if Columbus had said, 'previously the map had shown nothing where America is at. Therefore I christen this new continent 'Nothing,' because I have discovered it to be nothing.' A more accurate statement would be, 'the map was wrong.'

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Plain Talk

There was a cartoon character who said, 'I'm not bad. I'm just drawn that way.' A good subject can be drawn badly, and a real entity can be described badly or incompletely. Some people find the descriptions of the world offered by quantum mechanics, even of visible matter, problematic or even logically incoherent. If so, is it not self-evident this is a problem with the description, and not with the world? Science that does not make sense is bad science; surely there have been enough precedents to silence debate on this point, from the 'sliding equant' to the present day. Recent decades have seen a lively discussion about the existence of dark energy and dark matter, but any bewilderment and uncertainty are situated within the human mind and not in the things themselves; they are not 'iffy' kinds of things, our author's "almost nothing,"— if they really exist.

The calculation of an observed phenomenon, namely the accelerating expansion of the universe, cannot be reconciled unless a huge amount of 'missing' matter and energy can be scared up from somewhere. A skeptical observer might retort, 'Your calculations are wrong,' a friendly one will say, 'Wow, lookit all that dark matter!' How much faith it takes to believe that most of the mass of the universe exists in a form no one has ever detected! Of course, if you look for something and cannot find it, one very simple, elegant, and ever-available explanation is, 'it's not there'. Dark matter and dark energy are needed, after all, to 'save the hypothesis.' But it is churlish to say so, and we are beyond that; let us stipulate that dark matter and dark energy are here to stay. . .even though phlogiston is gone, the luminiferous aether is gone, because sometimes things sought are not found.

Conceding this has settled their ontological status: they are something, not nothing; they are part of our world, they cannot be sequestered in a special box marked, 'suspect things you only talk about when doing quantum mechanics.' One step that would promote clarity on this point and, in the process, do away with projects like the one currently under examination, would be to resolve to use ordinary language in talking about these entities; if they are real, they do not need their own special vocabulary, even allowing for their unconventional properties; but if they do need their own special vocabulary, then they ought to remain suspect. Confusion can lurk in recondite terminology; early modern science found this a helpful trick in clearing away scholasticism, and we will too.

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Making Sense

The publicity industry for fields such as quantum mechanics, string theory, etc., unaccountably want the viewers' take-home message to be, 'Whee! what fun! this doesn't make any sense!' Upon analysis, however, what the publicists identify as 'common sense' is only the immediately prior consensus: that matter is eternal and indestructible, that there is naught but atoms and the void, that only what can be seen is real. This once-popular nineteenth century paradigm leaves no room for Christianity, with its beginning, and its "King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God." (1 Timothy 1:17). Identifying this formerly popular view as 'common sense' leaves the uncharitable impression Christians lack that quality. . .though Mormons have it in spades, because of the odd happenstance that the impressionable Joseph Smith read a book by a nineteenth century materialist and incorporated it into his new religion. Postulating eternal, indestructible, only-real matter was how they used to rule out Christianity, but no one believes these things any more. Their modern heirs reply, 'That's okay, we can invent new grounds to rule out Christianity,' because doing science means you can be always wrong, but never sorry. That these things invariably turn out to be wrong in the end (we finally know for sure a theory is falsifiable when it has been falsified) might induce some humility and modesty. . .in other people. Like a bad reputation you just can't shake, despite of years of clean living, 'empty space' must still carry about the albatross slung round its neck of 'nothing,' even though no one now believes there is 'nothing' in 'empty space.'

Supposing, however, for the sake of argument, that we follow our intrepid author in redefining 'nothing' to mean 'dark matter and dark energy,' though the word had never previously been so defined. The question 'Why is there something rather than nothing' then becomes, 'How is it that the proportions of visible matter, dark matter and dark energy are as they are rather than slightly different?' We are at a loss to feel Heidegger's dread and anxiety at the thought of a universe comprised of a slightly different percentage of these constituents. You see, the anxious dread is to come from thinking of a world with no minds, no God, no dandelion puff-balls, no railroad tracks, no planets, no stars, no space, empty or full, no time, nothing at all. . .not a world with a slightly different percentage of ingredients. Though it is hard to work up much dread at the mere thought of a different mix, some people would still care: from time to time I receive e-mail newsletters from a Christian ministry, 'Reasons to Believe,' which considers the relative proportions of these world-ingredients to be an instance of fine-tuning. However, this simply isn't our original question, 'Why is there something rather than nothing?' We want our question back, and will not accept this profoundly unexciting substitute. But the public is not to ask questions. Our question has been scrubbed from the allowable question list in our brave new world, and we must not even look disappointed or that will excite suspicion.

Having redefined 'nothing' as 'something,' and set the world right on this score, our author is not done. For his next act he will draw something from nothing, thus confounding the scholastics who said, 'ex nihilo nihil fit.' Having substituted 'visible matter' for 'something' and 'dark matter and dark energy' for 'nothing,' can we now square the circle and proclaim the defeat of scholastic logic? Are dark matter and dark energy the generatrix of the universe, bearing 'visible matter' as a child in the womb? In a word, no. However, we can always imagine. Let's wave good-bye to science and weave fables about events which left no empirically discernible evidence: ". . .inflation effectively erases any memory of the state of the universe before it began." (Lawrence M. Krauss, A Universe From Nothing, p. 150). Gosh, what a shame, the universe came from 'nothing' (dark matter and dark energy), but all the evidence disappeared down that rabbit hole over there.

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Stopped Clock

As already noted, even a stopped clock is right twice a day, and our author, with his shifting and varied notions of 'nothing,' ultimately does seem to hit upon something real and meaningful. For most of his book, he offers the catachresis that 'nothing'='dark matter and dark energy,' further explaining that, since 'nothing is something,' the principle of sufficient reason has been demonstrated to be invalid. This is nothing but helpless confusion. The guiding idea is, fifty years ago people didn't know dark matter and dark energy existed, therefore, on a borrowed momentum as of a fly-wheel running down, we can continue to call them 'nothing,' even if we believe they are not nothing, i.e. they are real existents.

But go back. What was the material precursor state to the Big Bang? His answer is 'nothing,' and this does seem to be the right answer. Has this circumstance violated the principle of sufficient reason? This principle, first named as such by Liebniz, is the generalization of the schoolmen's principle that 'ex nihilo nihil fit,' from nothing nothing comes, known since antiquity. This is an analytic principle, derived from examination of the definition of each thing in the world. In no case but one is the circumstance 'is' part of the definition of the thing, and so some external circumstance or cause must be found to explain why it is, if it is. And our one exception to the rule also rides to the rescue in this case, salvaging the principle of sufficient reason.

This principle may be restated, 'there must be an equal degree of reality in the cause as in the effect,' i.e., imaginary causes do not produce real effects. The cause need not be on the same order of of the same kind as the effect, and God is more than sufficient to call something out of nothing.

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Baby or Boxcar

Our author has discovered a dandy way to evaluate 'relevance:' you weigh things. Mass is the key. Does the Bible follow this system, or a different one?:

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Weight David
Israel Mary's Magnificat
Friedrich Nietzsche Lowest Place
God-Likeness Imaginary Friends
Douglas Wilson He Humbled Himself