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
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
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.' If
quantum mechanics is a valid description of our world, then the
entities it posits are not "nothing," they are as real as any other
component of our world system, even if their existence had
heretofore not been suspected. The prophet Elijah asked the people, "How
long will you falter between two opinions?" (1 Kings 18:21); limp,
that is, from one to the other. One might ask the same of quantum skeptics: if quantum
mechanics is true, then quantum fields are as real as geese and
donkeys; they are not "nothing." If, on the other hand, it is not
true, then why are we even talking about it?
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 the cob-webs
of scholasticism, and we will too. If correcting this man's vocabulary
erases his point, then it deserves erasure.
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
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.
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?: