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Scientist Lawrence Kraus on Religion and Nothing

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#1
Wotan

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A careful 30% excerpt from the preface from Lawrence Kraus's January 2012 book A Universe From Nothing:

...I am not sympathetic to the conviction that creation requires a creator, which is at the basis of all of the world’s religions. Every day beautiful and miraculous objects suddenly appear, from snowflakes on a cold winter morning to vibrant rainbows after a late-afternoon summer shower. Yet no one but the most ardent fundamentalists would suggest that each and every such object is lovingly and painstakingly and, most important, purposefully created by a divine intelligence...

Ultimately, many thoughtful people are driven to the apparent need for First Cause, as Plato, Aquinas, or the modern Roman Catholic Church might put it, and thereby to suppose some divine being: a creator of all that there is, and all that there ever will be, someone or something eternal and everywhere.

Nevertheless, the declaration of a First Cause still leaves open the question, “Who created the creator?” After all, what is the difference between arguing in favor of an eternally existing creator versus an eternally existing universe without one?...

The universe is the way it is, whether we like it or not. The existence or nonexistence of a creator is independent of our desires. A world without God or purpose may seem harsh or pointless, but that alone doesn’t require God to actually exist.

For more than two thousand years, the question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” has been presented as a challenge to the proposition that our universe—which contains the vast complex of stars, galaxies, humans, and who knows what else—might have arisen without design, intent, or purpose. While this is usually framed as a philosophical or religious question, it is first and foremost a question about the natural world, and so the appropriate place to try and resolve it, first and foremost, is with science....

Before going further, I want to devote a few words to the notion of “nothing”—a topic that I will return to at some length later. For I have learned that, when discussing this question in public forums, nothing upsets the philosophers and theologians who disagree with me more than the notion that I, as a scientist, do not truly understand “nothing.” (I am tempted to retort here that theologians are experts at nothing.)

“Nothing,” they insist, is not any of the things I discuss. Nothing is “nonbeing,” in some vague and ill-defined sense. This reminds me of my own efforts to define “intelligent design” when I first began debating with creationists, of which, it became clear, there is no clear definition, except to say what it isn’t. “Intelligent design” is simply a unifying umbrella for opposing evolution. Similarly, some philosophers and many theologians define and redefine “nothing” as not being any of the versions of nothing that scientists currently describe.

But therein, in my opinion, lies the intellectual bankruptcy of much of theology and some of modern philosophy. For surely “nothing” is every bit as physical as “something,” especially if it is to be defined as the “absence of something.” It then behooves us to understand precisely the physical nature of both these quantities. And without science, any definition is just words....

...[S]cience is changing the playing field in ways that make people uncomfortable. Of course, that is one of the purposes of science (one might have said “natural philosophy” in Socratic times). Lack of comfort means we are on the threshold of new insights. Surely, invoking “God” to avoid difficult questions of “how” is merely intellectually lazy. After all, if there were no potential for creation, then God couldn’t have created anything. It would be semantic hocus-pocus to assert that the potentially infinite regression is avoided because God exists outside nature and, therefore, the “potential” for existence itself is not a part of the nothingness from which existence arose.

...When it comes to understanding how our universe evolves, religion and theology have been at best irrelevant. They often muddy the waters, for example, by focusing on questions of nothingness without providing any definition of the term based on empirical evidence...

Science has been effective at furthering our understanding of nature because the scientific ethos is based on three key principles: (1) follow the evidence wherever it leads; (2) if one has a theory, one needs to be willing to try to prove it wrong as much as one tries to prove that it is right; (3) the ultimate arbiter of truth is experiment, not the comfort one derives from one’s a priori beliefs, nor the beauty or elegance one ascribes to one’s theoretical models.

...The tapestry that science weaves in describing the evolution of our universe is far richer and far more fascinating than any revelatory images or imaginative stories that humans have concocted. Nature comes up with surprises that far exceed those that the human imagination can generate.
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The true inspiration for this book comes not so much from a desire to dispel myths or attack beliefs, as from my desire to celebrate knowledge and, along with it, the absolutely surprising and fascinating universe that ours has turned out to be.

The direct genesis of this book hearkens back to October of 2009, when I delivered a lecture in Los Angeles with the same title. Much to my surprise, the YouTube video of the lecture, made available by the Richard Dawkins Foundation, has since become something of a sensation, with nearly a million viewings as of this writing, and numerous copies of parts of it being used by both the atheist and theist communities in their debates....

#2
Wotan

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All these damn interesting and provocative comments from Lawrence Kraus, and no one has anything to say? Disappointing! :(

#3
Ninth Doctor

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All these damn interesting and provocative comments from Lawrence Kraus, and no one has anything to say? Disappointing! :(


Next time try starting off with less. Also, you’re misspelling Krauss. If you do a search you’ll find that I’ve put his talks up on OO a few times. If you want to get a lot of responses, try talking about Objecti-schisms and the latest Birther revelations.
"If in this book harsh words are spoken about some of the greatest among the intellectual leaders of mankind, my motive is not, I hope, the wish to belittle them. It springs rather from my conviction that, if our civilization is to survive, we must break with the habit of deference to great men." - Karl Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, Preface

"Ma gavte la nata" - Jacopo Belbo

#4
dream_weaver

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A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing - January 2012


While the existentialists clamor to know why there is something and not nothing, the non-existentialists answer them (by implication): "This is a ridiculous question. Of course, there is something. The real question is: Why is the something what it is, and not something else?" The Objectivist May-September 1967


Almost a prophetic irony.

Existence. Consciousness. Identity.
The wholiest trinity ever concretized.

Existence is Identity,
Consciousness is Identification.


#5
Dániel Boros

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And without science, any definition is just words....

Than the definition of science is just words as well.

Empty space is not nothing. It's empty space.

#6
FeatherFall

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I saw a video of Krauss speaking with Dawkins, and his statements about nothing struck me. He says that empty space is "incredibly unstable" and that particles are often created by it. He calls the vacuum of space, "nothing." I'm one of those people who would say that the empty space he is talking about isn't "nothing." It's actually kind of funny to me. We use the term as sort of a conceptual alternative to existence. But as we know, existence is all that exists, so its alternative cannot exist. Nothing has no properties; it doesn't exist, it never has, and it never will. I don't even think it's a valid concept. I think it's great that Krauss is discovering the properties of matterless space. But he's not talking about nothing because nothing is nonsense.

#7
Dániel Boros

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Nothing is supernatural right? :smartass:
It has one property that it has no property...

Edited by Dániel Boros, 24 April 2012 - 02:39 AM.


#8
Wotan

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I saw a video of Krauss speaking with Dawkins, and his statements about nothing struck me. He says that empty space is "incredibly unstable" and that particles are often created by it. He calls the vacuum of space, "nothing." I'm one of those people who would say that the empty space he is talking about isn't "nothing." It's actually kind of funny to me. We use the term as sort of a conceptual alternative to existence. But as we know, existence is all that exists, so its alternative cannot exist. Nothing has no properties; it doesn't exist, it never has, and it never will. I don't even think it's a valid concept. I think it's great that Krauss is discovering the properties of matterless space. But he's not talking about nothing because nothing is nonsense.


I only started reading this book. But so far, so good. Krauss seems quite honest, brave, and high-integrity. And despite discussing the Big Issues -- including in ways most powerful Objectivist leaders will not be able to match, I imagine -- he's still modulated, well-controlled, modest, and prudent of language.

Most highly rational people will enjoy all this -- but not me, since I'm a natural firebrand!

#9
Grames

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All these damn interesting and provocative comments from Lawrence Kraus, and no one has anything to say? Disappointing! :(

I missed it first time.

The position Krauss is describing ( edit: working from this fragment of the introduction) is compatible with ( edit: but not the same as) the Objectivist position, which derives from an ancient Greek philosopher (Thales?) who said 'there is no nothing'. The Universe is a 'full plenum', solidly packed with existence in one form or another. Even what went before the Big Bang (assuming that is the correct theory, and it is the best candidate so far) could not be a literal metaphysical nothing, if it is meaningful to even ask that question.

Edited by Grames, 24 April 2012 - 06:12 PM.


#10
Dániel Boros

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I only started reading this book. But so far, so good. Krauss seems quite honest, brave, and high-integrity. And despite discussing the Big Issues -- including in ways most powerful Objectivist leaders will not be able to match, I imagine -- he's still modulated, well-controlled, modest, and prudent of language.

Most highly rational people will enjoy all this -- but not me, since I'm a natural firebrand!


I'm not sure what you're trying to say.

Anyway Stephen Hawking was also arguing for something similar and bashing philosophy somewhat in his last book.

#11
West

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Philosopher David Albert wrote a scathing review:
http://www.nytimes.c...rauss.html?_r=4

#12
Grames

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David Albert falls straight into the trap:

The true relativistic-quantum-field-­theoretical equivalent to there not being any physical stuff at all isn’t this or that particular arrangement of the fields — what it is (obviously, and ineluctably, and on the contrary) is the simple absence of the fields!


No such absence is possible.

#13
FeatherFall

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I don't understand how this is a trap, or how Albert fell into it. It seems to me that if Krauss took a breather and reassessed his position, he would see that trying to rationalize "something from nothing" is the job of the theist, not the scientist. This bothers me, because Krauss's work on matterless space is exactly the kind of thing that could be used to demonstrate that things don't come from nothing.

#14
Dániel Boros

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Indeed

Krauss admitted that at least some fundamental laws had to exist, but laws are only concepts, rules telling us that some things act in curtain ways. So there has to be something a particle, empty space or some kind of quantum field that works according to some law.

Carl Sagan had it right. If Krauss wants to take God out of the picture and argue with a theist he should just use Occam's razor on this issue.

#15
Grames

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I don't understand how this is a trap, or how Albert fell into it. It seems to me that if Krauss took a breather and reassessed his position, he would see that trying to rationalize "something from nothing" is the job of the theist, not the scientist. This bothers me, because Krauss's work on matterless space is exactly the kind of thing that could be used to demonstrate that things don't come from nothing.

There is no nothingness, and even treating the idea seriously immediately makes the thinker susceptible to mysticism. Albert fails in this way where Krauss does not.

#16
FeatherFall

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I see what you mean about Albert speaking of nothing as if it were a serious posibility. But I'm still not convinced this is a trap cleverly laid by Krauss. The reason I say this is because Krauss implies the seriousness of "nothing" by the title of his book. The title preys on the common conceptual misunderstanding people have about the vacuum of space in order to make people think Krauss is showing how a finite universe could magic itself into existence. It could be that Krauss understands what he's doing, but I think a confusion of his own about the word "nothing" better explains the sensational title of his book.

Edit: perhaps Krauss addresses this criticism in his book. I'll be interested to know, Wotan.

Edited by FeatherFall, 25 April 2012 - 03:26 PM.


#17
dream_weaver

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Krauss' use of "expanding universe" in chapter one is probably the toughest bone of contention for me. We observe galaxies moving - great, but this is only evidence that galaxies move. Perhaps I have too delimited a scope for the concept of universe, which I tend to use synonomously with existence. Galaxies are in the universe. If we observe them moving farther apart from one another, into what are they moving?

Universe, as used by Krauss, comes across as an imaginary envelope "shrink wrapped", if you will, around the galaxies thus far discovered and/or concieved to exist and as these galaxies continue to appear to move apart from one another, the "shrink wrapping" continues to expand.

One other point he draws attention to on page 10 is in the comparison of the Doppler effect as applied to light: "Light waves from a source moving away from you, either due to its local motion in space or due to the intervening expansion of space, will be stretched, . . . " Is the "shrink wrapping" enveloping space as well? The same question comes to mind: into what is space expanding?

From my familiarity so far with the presentation, Krauss is parading a history of various aspects of cosmological discoveries, laying the groundwork out for the framework of his induction to be revealed later on in the book.

The discovery of absorption lines in the light spectrum attributed to the yet undiscovered element of helium along with the later discovery by Slipher of the Doppler shift using the absorption lines, and the discovery of a better distance estimator do help to underscore the necessity to continually integrate our knowledge along the way.

Existence. Consciousness. Identity.
The wholiest trinity ever concretized.

Existence is Identity,
Consciousness is Identification.


#18
Grames

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I agree Krauss himself is not fully consistent on this. And the 'trap' just refers to the common mistake of treating nothingness as a kind of existence, which is ancient.

#19
Plasmatic

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"One other point he draws attention to on page 10 is in the comparison of the Doppler effect as applied to light: "Light waves from a source moving away from you, either due to its local motion in space or due to the intervening expansion of space, will be stretched, . . . " Is the "shrink wrapping" enveloping space as well? The same question comes to mind: into what is space expanding?"

Space is a sum of places and therefore cannot have "expansion" as a potentiality.

#20
Plasmatic

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Grames said:

"could not be a literal metaphysical nothing, if it is meaningful to even ask that question. "

I would add "Could not be a literal metaphysical ONE thing. "(singularity)

#21
dream_weaver

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Space is a sum of places and therefore cannot have "expansion" as a potentiality.

I disagree diagreed with the point made on page 10. I can see how the organization of my posting may not have made that clear. Suggesting that space can expand, bend, compress, etc., try to endow properties of physical entities to space, in essence a reification of space.

I picked the book up, knowing full well, there are difficulties with the precision of wording.

In chapter two, the phenomenon of seeing an object behind an object due to space bending in a gravitational field is brought forth. Later, it is described more as a lens capable of redirecting the light, which is only slightly better. We know a phenomenon exists. The explanations fall short, with analogous to me as phlogiston.

While washing the vehicle the other weekend, the sun heated up the air on the roof of the truck creating the mirage-like shimmering in the 1/2" or so space above it. I would wonder if perhaps the gravitational field, or perhaps in conjunction with the atmosphere of the celestial object may be a contributing factor to the redirecting of the light.

Edited by dream_weaver, 26 April 2012 - 04:48 PM.

Existence. Consciousness. Identity.
The wholiest trinity ever concretized.

Existence is Identity,
Consciousness is Identification.


#22
Plasmatic

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Hi Weaver. It was clear to me you were not making the error but iterating someone else's position .

Edited by Plasmatic, 26 April 2012 - 05:47 PM.


#23
West

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David Albert falls straight into the trap:



No such absence is possible.


Albert isn't saying that it is. He's saying that it's not nothing because there are fields (hence why it's ridiculous to say that there's nothing, as if that's coherent).

#24
Grames

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Albert isn't saying that it is. He's saying that it's not nothing because there are fields (hence why it's ridiculous to say that there's nothing, as if that's coherent).

Yet Albert still wants to consider nothingness in some other form, the absence of the "relativistic quantum fields". He is "moving the goalposts", as he quotes from Krauss' pre-emptive attack on the maneuver made here. He and others like him are exactly wrong for even trying to consider that metaphysical concept of nothingness which by definition cannot possibly have a referent anywhere within existence. He stays within the conceptual trap of using a concept that has no referents because it has the function of a kind of intellectual security blanket making many forms of mysticism possible, and will go the length of learning the vocabulary of modern physics just to brush off the facts as not relevant to the idea of a "true and correct nothingness". The rhetorical maneuver here parallels the "no true Scotsman" fallacy now that I think of it.

" ... all there is to say about this, as far as I can see, is that Krauss is dead wrong right and his religious and philosophical critics are absolutely wrong." (fixing a line from Albert)

#25
dream_weaver

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In chapter 3, on page 39, Krauss asks:


How would you determine if a two-dimensional object like the Earth's surface was curved if you couldn't go around the Earth, or couldn't go above it in a satellite and look down?


Well, back between c. 276 BC-c. 195 BC,, Eratoshenes sought to answer that question, and managed to derive a remarkably close answer given the circumstances.

Krauss continues to ask how many degrees are in a triangle, and conflates the shape of 1/8th of a sphere, the portion that would exist in the first quadrant of a cartesian axis if the center of the sphere were located at the origin, as providing an answer of 270°.
As a mechanical designer, I use euclidean geometry to solve 3 dimensional spatial relationship regularly. The shape he references may appear somewhat triangular, but 3 quarter circles assembled at 90° relationships to one another are hardly 3 connected straight lines, which by the nature of the geometry, is necessarily planar.

Existence. Consciousness. Identity.
The wholiest trinity ever concretized.

Existence is Identity,
Consciousness is Identification.




Also tagged with one or more of these keywords: religion, nothing, cosmos, cosmology, science, Lawrence Kraus

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