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Friday, January 13, 2012

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» Sam Harris and Lawrence Krauss Talk About Nothing, and Make About That Much Sense from Thinking Christian
Lawrence Krauss says to Sam Harris Indeed, the question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” which forms the subtitle of the book [his recent A Universe From Nothing], is often used by the faithful as an unassailable argument that requires th... [Read More]

» Sam Harris and Lawrence Krauss Talk About Nothing, and Make About That Much Sense from Thinking Christian
Lawrence Krauss says to Sam Harris Indeed, the question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” which forms the subtitle of the book [his recent A Universe From Nothing], is often used by the faithful as an unassailable argument that requires th... [Read More]

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I think it's clear now why William Lane Craig "had Larry for lunch" in their debate.

I believe Mr Krauss is just lost for words. What he tries to explain is that,at the subatomic level, there is no room for the concept of nothing. It is hard to get because it is just the opposite of our usual thinking -and our brains just weren't wired to grasp it. What is proposed by quantum physics is that there may be particle with energy appearing from nowhere at all, just as long there appears a particle with the inverse energy that, in an interval of time, will cancel the first particle. It just happens all the time, and the longer the particles last, the bigger their energy and complexity, the less likely they are to occur. So there is an infinitesimal chance of something as big as a hamburger, or even an atom, pop out. On the other side, very low energy particles pop up all the time, and there is a statistically null chance that there will be no energy in any given point of space in a given time.
This concept of things (particles) just coming to exist from nowhere at all is disputed, but it seems to gaining space since the end of the thirties and appears to be grounded by empirical data.
The bottom line here is that, given enough time, a particle with massive energy might appear, one as big as that which might have been the original point of the big ben. The bad news, if the concept is true, is that it implies that, given enough time, all its (the particle) energy will fade, so that the universe will be back to the usual energy distribution that is more statistically likely.
I'm sorry for my bad english, I'm not a native speaker and not used to write in english.

I speculate that perhaps the central point he's trying to make (based only on a youtube talk that I watched quite a while ago, so forgive me) is that we have some insight into how the universe may have arisen by natural processes and that positing something like the "Unmoved Mover" or "Necessary Being" as an explanation of space-time, matter, and complexity (i.e., the universe) is superfluous. In both scenarios (Krauss & theology) there is something other than metaphysical nothingness that gives rise to the universe. In the Krauss scenario at least there is something explicable about the process. Is he abusing the term "nothing?" Probably. Perhaps he means nothing as the naive concept of empty space. Does this do away with his point? I don't know that it does.
"Lawrence, when we say a universe from nothing we mean super awesome, ultimate ontological nothingness. We don't mean from an omnipotent person(s) wholly inaccessible without revelation and faith. You lose! Good day, sir!"
Instead of trumpeting a minor shortcoming as though it undermines everything the guy is saying, I would be impressed by intellectually honest and substantive interaction with the issues Krauss and others raise. Again, I've not read his book and can't claim to know what he's saying, but you seem very eager to debunk and sneer at the guy and I find I can't trust your interpretation.

Ah, one more explanation:
There are four known forces in physics:
Strong nuclear, weak nuclear, electromagnetic and gravitational.
The interaction of these seem to make the universe behave the way it does in the atomic level.
Yet, it is hypothesized that there are particles that convey the known forces. Since they are at a level which is inferior to the existence of those forces, they are not subjected to them (i.e., they don't have mass nor electrical charge) and should not respect the known laws of physics. It doesn't necessarily means that they don't respect any law (there may be some laws to their behavior). These particles, which theoretically are low energy, low complexity, are expected to be some of the most common appearing and disappearing particles of the universe.

Hi John,

Thanks for alerting me to the Crig-Krauss debate which can be found in various versions on YouTube.

Brutus,

The guy is talking nonsense, so why should I take him seriously? Very simply, he is equivocating on 'nothing.' That is a logic 101 blunder. The issue really has nothing to do with theism. An atheist could grant my point. And contrary to what he says, 'out of nothing nothing comes' is not a specifically theological principle, but a metaphysical one.

Brutus,

One can easily turn the tables in your argument and get essentially the same result:

"William, when we say a universe from nothing we mean super awesome, boiling bubbling brew of virtual particles. [...] You lose! Good day, sir!"

But this is not the problem. Krauss' cosmology would be perfectly fine if we were not purposefully equivocating on the term "nothing," redefining it as a physical concept and then using it to undermine a metaphysical claim.

What would you say if I took Euclid's argument for the infinitude of prime numbers, advance my own definition of "prime number" to something that cannot be infinite, and then claim that Euclid is wrong and that I am right? Yes, you would say I am being intellectually dishonest.

I guess someone could reply by saying that "nothing" has never been defined with exactitude. But it has been established for centuries, and it is not an empty space or vacuum without matter or fields. It is, strictly, not anything, an absolute state of nonbeing.

Brutus,
The Unmoved Mover argument is an attempted metaphysical demonstration that cannot, in principle, be made 'superfluous' by empirical science; it's not in the same realm. If anything is going to demonstrate why the need for an Unmoved Mover is superfluous, it's going to be metaphysics, not science. You may as well be saying that the laws of arithmetic demonstrate why blank verse poetry is superfluous.

Alex,

That wasn't an argument per se, it was a mild irony. I had hoped it would be clear that it was intended as humor. I'll try another. "How dare Krauss fail to use the term 'nothing' in conformity to our pet tradition of armchair metaphysics! The universe from nothing means that the universe literally came from nothing! Zero! Ziltch! No laws of physics, no vacuum. Oh, but an omnipotent, personal, supreme being might be presupposed."

Your Euclid analogy doesn't fit with how I see this situation. I wonder if Krauss may be trying to express something "for the masses" that really requires advanced mathematics to articulate. I don't think the topic reduces to an a priori argument with a conflated term, or whatever.

Assuming that Krauss is truly guilty of equivocating on the term "nothing" (which is not a technical term in physics and I think the above discussion is based on his popular presentations anyway) I would agree that this is a no-no and does undermine his point of view. I don't know enough about it to assent to that, but sure, okay. I would still want to understand where Krauss is coming from and maybe try to get at things on his terms. If the origin of the universe can be accounted for by natural processes that we can understand scientifically I think that is pretty important and worth learning about.

Sure, someone could still ask 'why is there something rather than nothing?' (in the sense of being qua being), but for many this is an absurd question. In any case, it likely comes back to finite being since most people who employ that kind of device would seek to establish that God is beyond the question and has the reason for his existence within himself, or some such thing. Okay, but what if physics suggests that space, time, matter and everything that we know as finite being has its own reason for existence within itself? Would this not be interesting? If we can understand how a universe might emerge spontaneously from perhaps the most basic knowable substratum of reality, I'd like to understand that. The inclination to blow up what may be a minor error (i.e., an ambiguous term in a popular account of a theory) is potentially indicative of bias and lack of intellectual fairness.

Again, I don't claim to know anything about the subject and am just sharing my preliminary thoughts and speculations (God bless the internet). Hopefully I'm making a little bit of sense.

Bill,

I appreciate the reply. I get what you are saying, I just see things differently at the moment. I certainly don't claim to be right, just feeling out the topic a bit. More later perhaps.

Regards.

The term 'nothing' has a logical sense; it means 'it is not the case that there exists...'. The question circulating here is whether empirical findings can shift the meaning of logical concepts. This move has been attempted previously regarding quantum mechanics and the excluded middle. I do not believe (although I am uncertain) that the attempt took hold among many philosophers of science, let alone logicians.

Of course, nothing (pun intended) prevents Krauss from introducing a new concept; say 'nothing*' which means whatever he wants it to mean as long as the meaning he endows this new word is sufficiently clear. However, he cannot then turn around and conflate the logical sense of 'nothing' with the meaning he endowed the new word 'nothing*' and draw remarkable conclusions. Such an argument would exhibit an elementary error of equivocation (as Bill emphasized).

Peter,

That's exactly right.

Alex, Eric,

You got the point as well.

Brutus,

I agree that it is very interesting, and I believe it is commendable that someone who works directly with the subject would want to make it more understandable to the general public. I agree that this task requires the use of analogical language to make it understandable to those who do not have any training in physics and cosmology. Perfect.

But let's face it, Krauss' use of the term "nothing" is not innocuous. He clearly knows that it is used in a definite metaphysical context and that it is associated with the Principle of Sufficient Reason, which is often invoked in theological discussions, like his debate with W.L. Craig. Now, you are free to disagree with the PSR and advance arguments against it, but writing an entire book claiming that "nothing" has a new definition and that according to that definition the PSR is false amounts to equivocation.

This is the kind of thing that people do when they are –as Dr. Vallicella says– in the grip of an ideology.

Ironic apropos: the PSR was originally advanced by atomists and materalists, like Leucippus.

I love the first point about 'something' and 'nothing'.

Ed,

You mean, of course, that you hate it.

Alex,

Very good comment. I have no objection to physicists explaining to the general public what they are up to. But in doing so they have to avoid saying things that are patently nonsensical. And of course they must avoid elementary logical fallacies such as equivocation.

Notice that my critique of Krauss does not presuppose the truth of PSR or the soundness of any argument for the existence of God.

Suppose there is no God and that PSR is false. It remains incredibly stupid to think that one can refute the metaphysical (not theological!) proposition, 'Out of nothing, nothing comes' by arguing that the manifest universe arose out of some bubbling cauldron of virtual particles. Could Krauss really not grasp the simple point here? This is wht I question his motives and suspect he is a charlatan out to make a quick buck by adding one more piece of schlock to the pop science literature.

Of course I am not suggesting that he is a charlatan as a physicist. I am in no position to judge that. I am suggesting that he might be a charlatan as a SCIENTISTIC (not scientific) purveyor of the naturalist worldview by the use of shoddy arguments.

Scientism is the enemy here, not science. Science, genuine science, is a mgnificent thing.


And then there is the business whether fundamental LOGICAL concepts such as 'something' and 'nothing' can be "completely changed" by empirical research.

Well suppose I told you that my protracted empirical studies have revealed that there are indeed round squares . . . .

If anyone fancies a laugh, by the way, go to amazon.com and find the page for Krauss's A Universe From Nothing; click on "Look Inside" and read Richard Dawkins' Afterword. It is a masterpiece of unwarranted triumphalism, in which Dawkins claims that the book is as important for physics as On the Origin of Species was for biology. It heralds the death knell for theological (he uses that word a lot) comfort in the natural sciences, and its effects will be "devastating".

David,

Thanks for pointing me to Dawkins' afterword. It is is also on Dawkins' site: http://c3012152.r52.cf0.rackcdn.com/111230Dawkins%20afterword.pdf

Dr. Krauss is arguing that we should discard or modify certain aspects of classical logic or classical reason as being unreliable when empirical evidence seems to force us to do so. Presumably, the empirical evidence he refers to was obtained and interpreted using classical logic or classical reason. Does he address the apparent problem of relying on something to show that that same something is unreliable?

acucucuuc,

You make an excellent point. Incidentally, even some notable philosophers (e.g., Quine) stumble over the same problem. Quine, certainly a prominent philosopher, published somewhere (It might have been in his Word & Object) that in the course of scientific inquiry everything, including logical principles, are subject to revision when experience contradicts predictions. Of course, it is difficult to see how a law that is used by Quine as the criterion of revisability (experience contradicts predictions), may be itself subject to revision. How would we revise it? Contradictions are acceptable. But then nothing needs revision.

Peter,

It's from probably Quine's most famous article, "Two Dogmas of Empiricism" in *From a Logical Point of View.* In the second paragraph of section 6 we find: "Conversely, by the same token, no statement is immune to revision. Revision even of the logical law of excluded middle has been proposed as a means of simplfying quantum mechanics . . . ." (p. 43)

You too make an excellent point. If no statement is immune to revision, then the statement *If a theory entails a prediction, and the prediction is contradicted by experience, then the theory is falsified* is subject to revision. And that is counterintuitive, to put it mildly.

And as you know, there are self-referential difficulties. If no statement is immune to revision, then that holds for the statement itself, which is then subject to revision. The most natural revision would be: Some statements are subject to revision and some are not! Which is what anyone with his head screwed on properly should say in the first place.

This is a simple but devastating refutation.

As for Krauss, he is tangled up in out-and-out contradictions. Now LNC is much more secure than LEM: there are defensible counterexamples to LEM, but few if any to LNC. (But there is dialetheism to considerr.)

"Not only can something arise from nothing, but most often the laws of physics require that to occur." This is just nonsense. Whatever the laws of physics are, they are not nothing.

No, it's not nonsense. Here Krauss uses the word "nothing" in the same sense that William Craig uses it when he claims that "God created the Universe out of NOTHING", i.e. that God didn't simply fashion some preexisting material into the Universe.
Similarly, what Krauss is saying is that the something (like the Universe) can arise according the laws of physics without that something having to be fashioned out of something else that existed before.

It's getting really tiresome when religious apologists like yourself or Craig, would use the word "nothing" in a particular sense (as in "God created the Universe out of nothing, say), and yet when physicists like Krauss do that, they're accused of changing the meaning of the term "nothing", since "the laws of physics are not nothing". But nor is God, is he?

When a theist states that God created out nothing, he means: it is not the case that there is something out of which God created. It does not mean that there is some stuff called 'nothing' out of which God created the universe.

'Nothing' is not a name for something.

Krauss, however, uses 'nothing' in such a way as to imply that 'nothing' is a name for something. Just read the quotations at the top of my main post.

So, contrary to what you say, Krauss is not using 'nothing' in the way Craig uses it.

Indeed, he equivocates on 'nothing' inasmuch as he believes that contemporary physics has refuted the old metaphysical (not theological!)axiom, 'Out of nothing, nothing comes.' For he maintains that something (the universe) has indeed come out of nothing (those bubbling, boiling virtual particles). The equivocation is obvious.

Bill wrote:
"The most natural revision would be: Some statements are subject to revision and some are not! Which is what anyone with his head screwed on properly should say in the first place."

For a good Quinean, the most natural revision is 'No statement is immune to revision, including this one.'

That is, a Quinean will reflexively admit that even such Quinean principles are revisable. E.g., we might find self-contained axiomatic systems that are not meant to apply to the world, are not meant to have any contact with evidence, and spin off in their own unrevisable conceptual kingdom.

"Indeed, he equivocates on 'nothing' inasmuch as he believes that contemporary physics has refuted the old metaphysical (not theological!)axiom, 'Out of nothing, nothing comes.' For he maintains that something (the universe) has indeed come out of nothing (those bubbling, boiling virtual particles). The equivocation is obvious."

Once they are able to piggy back onto Neoplatonic metaphysics, the analogue between what they are stating cosmologically and what Plotinus says about the One is profound. As Eriugena, says when 'God' creates from No-thing he creates from Himself. Creation is the unfolding of No-thing into differentiation both spontaneously an rationally. In a certain sense, all creation is differentiated Nothing from a topologically mathematical perspective. Nothing or the One in the Neoplatonic sense of Absolute Undifferentiation asboth intellectually and physically, seems "to be" the point they are missing, but easily amicable to their cosmology. And in that sense, No-thing ('beyond being' since 'being' is something always there for though) transcends both a-theism and theism, and the Toplogical Metaphor of the One is capable of both of those glosses.

I seem to be seeing a lot more of these "science disproves logic" type arguments from the naturalistic "disciples of Reason" lately. I guess it was inevitable that they'd get to this point eventually as they followed the implications of their position, which are exactly what the Arguments Against Naturalism From Reason say they are. The utter sophistry that emanates from them as a result makes it extremely wearying to rebut them, but I guess we should be grateful that the illogical nature of their position is out there for all to see.

Hi Deuce,

One of my self-appointed tasks it to combat this scientistic rubbish. You can help me by sending me links to examples of it.

Regards,

Bill

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