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Professor Lawrence Krauss’s book A Universe from Nothing invigorated and popularised the debate on the Leibnizian question: “Why is there something rather than nothing?”[1] In his book 

Krauss argues that it is plausible that the universe arose from ‘nothing’. Absurd as this may sound, a few presuppositions and clarifications need to be brought to light to understand the context of his conclusions.

Krauss’s ‘nothing’ is actually something. In his book he calls nothing “unstable”[2], and elsewhere he affirms that nothing is something physical, which he calls “empty but preexisting space”[3]. This is an interesting linguistic deviation, as the definition of nothing in the English language refers to a universal negation, but it seems that Krauss’s ‘nothing’ is a label for something. Although his research claims that ‘nothing’ is the absence of time, space and particles, he misleads the untrained reader and fails to confirm (explicitly) that there is still some physical stuff. Even if, as Krauss claims, there is no matter, there must be physical fields. This is because it is impossible to have a region where there are no fields because gravity cannot be blocked. In quantum theory, gravity at this level of reality does not require objects with mass but does require physical stuff. Therefore, Krauss’s ‘nothing’ is actually something. Elsewhere in his book, he writes that everything came into being from quantum fluctuations, which explains a creation from ‘nothing’, but that implies a pre-existent quantum state in order for that to be a possibility.[4]

Professor David Albert, the author of Quantum Mechanics and Experience, wrote a review of Krauss’s book, and similarly concludes:

“But that’s just not right. Relativistic-quantum-field-theoretical vacuum states — no less than giraffes or refrigerators or solar systems — are particular arrangements of simple physical stuff. 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 —it is just the absence of the fields! The fact that some arrangements of fields happen to correspond to the existence of particles and some do not is not any more mysterious than the fact that some of the possible arrangements of my fingers happen to correspond to the existence of a fist and some do not. And the fact that particles can pop in and out of existence, over time, as those fields rearrange themselves, is not any more mysterious than the fact that fists can pop in and out of existence, over time, as my fingers rearrange themselves. And none of these poppings — if you look at them aright — amount to anything even remotely in the neighbourhood of a creation from nothing.”[5]

Philosophical distinctions

Interestingly, Professor Krauss seems to have changed the definition of nothing in order to answer Leibniz’s perennial question. This makes the whole discussion problematic as Krauss’s definition blurs well-known philosophical distinctions. The term ‘nothing’ has always referred to non-being or the absence of something.[6] Therefore, the implications of Krauss’s ‘nothing’ is that it could be reasonable for someone to assert the following:

“I had a wonderful dinner last night, and it was nothing.”

“I met nobody in the hall and they showed me directions to this room.”

“Nothing is tasty with salt and pepper.”[7]

These statements are irrational statements and therefore amount to meaningless propositions, unless of course someone changes the definition of nothing. It is no wonder that Professor Krauss hints that his view of nothing does not refer to non-being. He writes: “One thing is certain, however. The metaphysical ‘rule,’ which is held as ironclad conviction by those with whom I have debated the issue of creation, namely that ‘out of nothing, nothing comes,’ has no foundation in science.”[8]

This clearly means Krauss has changed the meaning of nothing to mean something, because science as a method focuses on things in the physical world. Science can only answer in terms of natural phenomena and natural processes. When we ask questions like, What is the meaning of life? Does the soul exist? What is nothing? the general expectation is to have metaphysical answers—and hence, outside the scope of any scientific explanation.

Science cannot address the idea of nothing or non-being, because science is restricted to problems that observations can solve. Philosopher of science Elliot Sober verifies this limitation. He writes in his essay Empiricism that “science is forced to restrict its attention to problems that observations can solve.”[9] Therefore, Professor Krauss has changed the meaning of the word nothing in order for science to solve a problem that it could not originally solve. Perhaps this should be taken as a defeat, as this is tantamount to someone not being able to answer a question, and instead of admitting defeat or referring the question to someone else, resorting to changing the meaning of the question.

It would have been intellectually more honest to just say that the concept of nothing is a metaphysical concept, and science only deals with what can be observed.

Inconclusive research and popularising linguistic gymnastics

Putting all of this aside, Professor Krauss admits that his ‘nothingness’ research is ambiguous and lacks conclusive evidence. He writes, 

“I stress the word could here, because we may never have enough empirical information to resolve this question unambiguously.”[10] Elsewhere in his book he admits the inconclusive nature of his argument: “Because of the observational and related theoretical difficulties associated with working out the details, I expect we may never achieve more than plausibility in this regard.”[11]

In light of this, Professor Krauss should have just said the universe came from something physical like a vacuum state, rather than redefining the word nothing. But Krauss seems to be adamant in popularising his linguistic gymnastics. During our debate on Islam  or Atheism: Which Makes More Sense? I referred to his book to explain that his nothing is something, like some form of quantum haze. However, he reacted and said that his nothing is, “No space, no time, no laws… there’s no universe, nothing, zero, zip, nada.”[12]

Krauss seemed to have deliberately omitted an important hidden premise: there is still some physical stuff in his nothing, something which he clearly admitted to in a public lecture. He said that something and nothing are “… physical quantities.”[13]

In summary, Professor Krauss’s nothing is something. The universe came from something physical which Krauss calls “nothing”, and therefore failed to answer Leibniz’s question: Why is there something rather than nothing? In reality, Krauss only answers the question: How did something come from something? That is a question that science can answer, and which does not require linguistic acrobatics.

God’s existence is not undermined by Krauss’s view on nothing. All that he has really presented to us is that the universe (time and space) came from something. Therefore, the universe still requires an explanation for its existence.

Last updated 31 January 2017. Taken and adapted from my book “The Divine Reality: God, Islam & The Mirage of Atheism”. You can purchase the book here.


references

  1. [1] Leibniz, G. W. (1714) The Principles of Nature and Grace, Based on Reason. 1714. Available at: http://www.earlymoderntexts.co... [Accessed 4th October 2016].
  2. [2] Krauss, L. M. (2012) A Universe from Nothing: Why is there Something Rather Than Nothing. London: Simon & Schuster, p. 170.
  3. [3] Ibid.
  4. [4] Ibid, p. 105.
  5. [5] Albert, D. (2012) ‘A Universe From Nothing,’ by Lawrence M. Krauss. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03... [Accessed 1st October 2016].
  6. [6] Craig, W.L. (2012) A Universe from Nothing. Available at: http://www.reasonablefaith.org... [Accessed 9th October 2016].
  7. [7] Analogies adapted from Craig, W.L. (2012) A Universe from Nothing. Available at: http://www.reasonablefaith.org... [Accessed 9th October 2016].
  8. [8] Krauss, L. A (2012) Universe from Nothing, p. 174.
  9. [9] Sober, E. (2010). Empiricism. In: Psillos, S and Curd, M, ed, The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Science. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 137-138.
  10. [10] Krauss, L. (2012) A Universe from Nothing, p. xiii.
  11. [11] Ibid p. 147.
  12. [12] iERA. (2013) Lawrence Krauss vs Hamza Tzortzis – Islam vs atheism debate. Available at: [Accessed 10th September 2016].
  13. [13] Tony Sobrado. (2012) How the Universe Came from ‘Nothing’, Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss discuss. Available at: [Accessed 2nd

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