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A Universe from Nothing? Part 6: Where do the laws come from?
Last modified on Wed Dec 11 22:37:17 2019

This is the sixth post in a series discussing Professor Lawrence Krauss' work A Universe From Nothing. In the first post, I gave an introduction to the underlying cosmology, and a quick overview of the rest of his work. Since his discussion of the cosmology was broadly correct, and very well presented, I am (largely) skipping over those chapters and concentrating on those parts of the book which I find problematic.

In the second post, I had a look at chapter 4, which is where things start to go awry. The chapter was about particle physics (my own speciality), and Krauss' claim was the uncertainty principle allowed matter to spontaneously emerge from the vacuum, with nothing before it, albeit only for very short periods. I suggested that his arguments for this were poor, and he made a number of mistakes with regards to the physics.

In the third post, I had a look at his chapter 8, which discussed the anthropic principle, which Krauss uses to support his contention of a multiverse.

The fourth post looked at chapter 9, which discussed Krauss' definition of nothing to be the quantum vacuum, and his belief that various philosophers who specifically rejected his proposition would have agreed with him.

Last time, I reviewed chapter 10. Here Krauss discussed the origin of the universe, and in particular space and time. His proposal was that a no boundary or false vacuum picture could explain how our 3+1 dimensional Minkowski space time (which allows for the passage of time) could emerge from a four dimensional block universe (where time is no different from space). My response was to argue that firstly such ideas are only speculation, and secondly that they are not very good speculation. They involve taking ideas that are used in describing particles within space time, and applying them to space and time itself. However, this seems to me to be a false analogy; there is a fundamental difference between the two.

So now we come to chapter 11. This is the last chapter of the central part of the book. After this, there is just the introduction, epilogue, and Richard Dawkin's afterward to review; plus to offer my concluding remarks. Hopefully I will manage that in one final post.

Krauss believes that in chapter 9 he showed how matter could arise from "empty space". In chapter 10, be believes that he suggested how space time could emerge from the laws of physics and a pre-existing timeless block universe. Now, in chapter 11, he discusses the laws of physics.

This is a topic which I myself am directly interested in. It is what I focussed on in my book. It is also a discussion which I haven't seen theists engage with as much as they ought to: there is plenty of good discussion of the origin of the universe, and fine tuning (the misnamed anthropic principle) in the literature. But less attention has been turned to the question of whether the laws uncovered by physicists are the sort of things we would expect if God existed. After all, in theism, God is actively involved in sustaining the universe at every moment and in every place. We would expect to see the fingerprints of God in that work. Physics is the description of how the universe is sustained from one moment to the next, and thus (if the theist is correct) a description of God's (usual or general) interaction with the universe. Thus we would expect to see God's attributes reflected in the laws of physics (if theism is true). One of the claims I made in my book was that this is precisely what we do see.

Krauss obviously disagrees, and in this chapter he sets forth his alternative proposal. In his view, saying 'God' is a rather facile, semantic, solution to the problem. The chain of explanation has to stop somewhere, so why not call this God and be done with it? And if this was the sum of the theist argument, then Krauss would have a point. It is just the fallacy of equivocation, using the same word to mean two different things, and then to jump from one to the other. For that matter, why does the chain of explanation have to stop at all?

Of course, any theist of any competence whatsoever who uses this definition of God will first of all demonstrate that there has to be a termination to the explanatory regress, and then go on to show that this 'God' has all the usual divine attributes, and so equivalent to the 'God' that is referred to in the monotheistic religions. [Philosophy only reveals a partial knowledge of God; a general picture at the level shared by those religions. To get to the level of detail required to distinguish between the different Gods of those religions we need to turn to revelation, and the historical question of which, if any, of those revelations is likely to be genuine.] My own effort at doing this is in my book.

Rules, moral and otherwise

But Krauss does not seem to realise that theists are aware of the problem, and have, at least, attempted to resolve it. He instead illustrates the issue by turning to ethics. Is morality external and absolute, or is it derived solely from the context of biology and environment? His argument seems to be an updated version of the Euthyphro dilemma.

If one argues, as many deeply religious people do, that without God there can be no ultimate right and wrong -- namely that God determines for us what is right and wrong -- one can then ask the questions: What if God decreed that rape and murder were morally acceptable? Would that make them so?

As one of those "deeply religious people" who argue that without God there can be no right and wrong, I suppose that I am obligated to answer this. I am glad, however, that Krauss phrased the statement correctly. The statement is not that you have to believe in God to be a good person; or that if you believe in God you will automatically be a good person. [Of course, there is the sense in which nobody, believers or unbelievers, is good, but that's a different direction to where I want to go here.] The statement is not about people's characters or actions, but whether it is formally possible to have an objective definition of goodness without logically implying the existence of God.

The start of the argument that it isn't begins with an old chestnut of secular ethics: Moore's naturalistic fallacy. This hypothesis proposes that the concept of goodness is undefinable. Goodness is simultaneously defined as that which people morally ought to aim at being, and also in terms of some other property such as happiness or an avoidance of suffering. To have the force of an objective ethical theory, we need the first definition. But when people derive the applications of their moral theory, they start from the second. This again appears to be the fallacy of equivocation.

The only way to avoid this hypothesis is to show that your choice of definition of good (in the second sense) is equivalent to the first sense of the word goodness. In other circumstances, we use the word good to indicate fit for purpose. Note that I am using the word purpose more broadly than we usually do in English. My usage encompasses both intellectual purposes (i.e. which follow from a will) and natural purposes (which follow from a things own internal tendencies). I am only aware of three ways to avoid the naturalistic fallacy. The first is to say that there is only one logically consistent set of moral rules consistent with some basic and self-evident axioms (such as the same rules apply to all people). This is Kant's approach. I believe that Kant avoids the naturalistic fallacy, but fails because the self-evident axioms he proposed are not sufficient to define a moral system. And if you add in sufficient axioms to define a moral system, then some of them will not be self-evident, and thus fall under the purview of the naturalistic fallacy.

The second and third approaches suppose that the purposes are built into the definition of the being. For example, what it means to be a good teacher arises directly from the definition of a teacher as somebody whose occupation is defined by having the purpose of teaching. In other words, to be an entirely bad teacher means (in effect) that you are not a teacher at all. This is, of course, an example of an intellectual purpose. Teaching is a profession whose purpose is determined by the will of man. If we are to extend this more generally to humankind as a whole, we would need to propose that man was created with a specific set of purposes in mind, which implies a particular moral framework. This leads to divine command ethics.

The third approach is similar, but based on natural purposes. For example, an animal is defined as something with the natural tendency to reproduce. A good animal is one that (all other things being equal) is fit to fulfil this goal; a bad animal is one where the end is impaired. Equally, to be a rational animal is defined by certain tendencies, such as to intellectually grasp the truth. From these, we derive the virtues related to an intellectual nature. This leads to natural law ethics.

However, both natural law ethics and divine command ethics rely on assumptions that imply the existence of (some sort of) God. For divine command ethics, this is obvious: it assumes that mankind was created by an external intelligence. To avoid a regress, we need to come to an immaterial intelligence that is self-explanatory: namely God. For natural law ethics, the argument is a bit more subtle. Natural law ethics assumes the existence of natural purposes, which assume the existence of final causality (tendencies towards ends at a microscopic level). Aquinas' fifth way then takes over, and leads us to conclude the existence of God.

I am now in a position to answer Krauss' question. Can God decree that rape and murder are moral for humanity? No. It is a logical contradiction. Rape and murder are immoral because they contradict the purposes of mankind, which (in both divine command and natural law ethics) define what it means to be human. God could only declare rape moral by changing us from being human to some other species defined by different purposes and rules (such as barnacles). But then, rape would still be immoral for humanity. Equally, of course, there is God's timeless and unchanging nature. Given that murder has been declared immoral, it is impossible for God to change and declare it moral.

And this, of course, answers this version of Euthyphro dilemma. There is no contradiction to morality arising from both an external agent and evolutionary and social pressures. For evolution reduces to physics (or maybe physics plus God's direct intervention), and physics is (to the theist) a description of God's actions. Thus if we are "designed" by evolution, then we are also designed by God, if theism is correct.

Krauss' suggestion that we remove the middleman in ethics thus would not give him the result he desires. Because the middleman isn't God (who is first in the line), but the evolutionary and biological forces which he appeals to.

So onto cosmology. The same dilemma is proposed. Either God (or something similar) proposed the rules, or they arose from some less supernatural mechanism. But if we suppose that it was God, then we have to ask what, or who, determined God's rules.

Krauss almost gives the response that I would give. He turns to the notion of God as first cause or prime mover. Krauss now discusses Aristotle, but not particularly well. He confuses Aristotle's arguments for the eternity of the universe and his cosmological argument for the prime mover. Of course, the eternity of the universe refers to a sequence of causes in time, while the cosmological argument is based around an atemporal series of causation. The first cause is not the first cause in time, but a cause that exists outside time and is not dependent on anything outside itself. Aristotle, according to Krauss) proposed an eternal universe to avoid the regress (which in practice is not true: Aristotle accepted both an eternal universe and a prime mover terminating the series of causes), which is contradicted by modern cosmology.

Krauss continues,

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, but, as I have stressed, only at the expense of introducing a remarkable all-powerful entity for which there is simply no other evidence.

There are two different senses of the word eternal, and I think that Krauss in his discussion has got confused between them. Firstly, there is eternal within time, i.e. something that exists in time, but simply has no end -- or perhaps beginning. In this sense Christians talk or "eternal life" after the general resurrection. We would be time-bound creatures with a beginning but no end. The second sense of the word eternal is something timeless, i.e. which does not internally register the passing of time. It would see all moments of time simultaneously rather than in succession. It is in this sense that theists would describe God as being eternal. The universe could be eternal in the first sense. God is eternal in the second sense. Thus when Krauss discusses the two in the same sentence, we have another example of the fallacy of equivocation. But this is a minor point.

I object to Krauss' statement on two grounds. The first is that I disagree that there is no other evidence for God. For example, the historical evidence of the resurrection is in my view overwhelming to anyone who honestly evaluates it, which leads on to the rest of Jesus' testimony. More modern miracle claims provide additional observational evidence. To try to cite philosophical arguments (such as Hume's) to deny this evidence condemns the philosophy more than it does the evidence.

But more importantly, even if this were the only evidence we had for God, then that would not invalidate it. If we only had one known mathematical proof for a theorem, would we conclude that that theorem was then false because there was no other evidence? No, of course not. Neither then, if this were the only evidence for the sort of God the theists propose, it would still be enough to demonstrate God's existence.

Krauss does offer the argument that this deistic first cause has no logical connection to the personal Gods of the various religions. I think that the argument goes further than he realises. Firstly, once one works out the details, the cause is theistic rather than deist. One can tick off the divine attributes associated with such a philosophical God, and compare them against the attributes of God as described in (for example) the Bible. They are not inconsistent with each other. Of course, Krauss is entirely fair to say that one cannot derive Christianity (or Judaism, or Islam) from such arguments. But then, no respected Christian (or Jew or Muslim) who has deployed such arguments has said that you can. The purpose of these arguments in apologetics is to prepare the ground. They rule out atheism, deism, spiritualism and polytheism, and establish the world-view required to appreciate and correctly understand the revelation. They remove all the philosophical blindfolds, and allow us to take a clear look at the direct evidence.

In any case, in the paragraph I cited, Krauss has recognisably approximated the theistic explanation of the origin of physical laws. I would add a few things. Firstly, Krauss started this discussion by asking what sort of rules governed God, with an analogy to the rules that govern the universe. This analogy is false. The rules that govern the universe describe processes of change, corruption and generation. God is immutable, and is neither corrupted and generated. Thus we cannot use the word "rules" in the same sense with regards to God and the universe. It's another fallacy of equivocation. Considering God's status as a being of pure actuality, while the objects in the material universe are mixtures of actuality and potentiality, makes it clear that the sort of rules that apply to the universe don't apply to God. In other words, God is not subject to external rules (beyond the principle of non-contradiction and so on). This is why He is the only suitable termination of the regress.

To combat this argument (which I have only skimmed over), Kraus needs to show that one of its premises is false, or to present a reasonable alternative. How does he fare?

First Principles

Krauss states that we are better informed about physics now than Aquinas and Aristotle were, and that leaves us better placed to evaluate first cause arguments. I quite agree, but would only add that we are also better informed about physics than the likes of Hume and Kant who inspired many of the most popular responses to those arguments. We should also re-evaluate their counter-arguments, and the other objections to these arguments based on enlightenment philosophy. But re-evaluating the classical arguments doesn't mean that we should reject them. If they still stand up in the light of contemporary physics (which I am convinced the best of them do), then we should accept them.

Krauss believes that he has shown how we can have the creation of something from empty space, or the creation of empty space from no space, but that still leaves the question of what might have existed before such a creation, or what laws govern the creation. However, he views as certain the falsity of the rule out of nothing, nothing comes. I have already discussed in my previous posts how contemporary science does not show this to be false. But even without that, Krauss has a serious problem, because science itself assumes that the universe is open to rational understanding, which itself relies on this rule. When we talk about existence, we mean things which have the capability of interacting with other beings or things in the universe. If it doesn't exist, then it can't interact. Nothing is the absence of anything existent. To say that something comes out of nothing is to either say that it arises through an interaction with non-existence, or it arises but not without an interaction or any sort of cause (by which I mean substance rather than event causality). But if it interacts, it can't be non-existent. And the phrase out of nothing implies an emergence from nothing, a type of interaction with nothing.

If things can change their state, or come into existence, without an interaction, then we live in a universe that is at best only partially governed by self-consistent rules. Every rule is a description of a relationship between two or more different things, such as the initial and final states of a causal relationship. One of the axioms of scientific law is that it is constructed from such rules and that it governs everything in the universe (or, for the deist and theist, everything that does not arise from an act of special providence). Of course the laws need not be deterministic (events can be unpredictable), but there has to be a degree of rationality and continuity. To deny the principle of causality is to say that literally anything is possible regardless of whether it is consistent with scientific law, and can happen, and does happen, and presumably (if one has any evidence to back up the claim) has been observed to have happened.

Are theologians and philosophers, by making this claim, simply not aware that nature may be cleverer than them? No. They only make the demand that nature is self-consistent and contains no contradiction, and that (consequently) it can in principle (whether it is in practice or not) can be understood. Since those are also basic axioms behind science, when Krauss asserts out of nothing, something comes he is saying that the limits which science places on what is possible are absent, and thus that science itself is a fraud.

Then Krauss claims that this principle contradicts the idea of God held onto by those which claim that out of nothing, nothing comes. I don't quite see his point here. God Himself, of course, does not come out of nothing because God does not come into being at all.

If the notion of true nothingness requires not even the potential for existence, then surely God cannot work his wonders, because if he does cause existence from non-existence, there must have been the potential for existence. To simply argue that God can do what nature cannot is to argue that supernatural potential for existence is somehow different from regular natural potential for existence. But this seems an arbitrary semantic distinction designed by those who have decided in advance (as theologians are wont to do) that the supernatural (i.e. God) must exist so they define their philosophical ideas (once again completely divorced from any empirical basis) to exclude anything but the possibility of a God.

Where do I start with is quote? The first thing to say is that finally Krauss gets the definition of nothing. Nothingness lacks any sort of potential, whether for existence or to change its state. Potential existence subsists in actual existence; only something which is actual can have potential.

Now I will skip to the end of the paragraph. There are two ways in which philosophical theologians can come to belief in God. The first is because their philosophy demands it; i.e. the existence of God arises as a consequence of their philosophy. The second (and perhaps more common) is when they do have a belief in God in advance, for non-philosophical reasons. But what could those reasons be? Ultimately they come from observation; either their own or others. For example, one might reasonably conclude that the evidence for the resurrection is unassailable; that nothing else can explain the emergence of early Christianity and fit all the facts. Or one might look at personal experiences of miracles. The believer may then have the standard atheistic arguments against the miraculous waved in his face. But he will adopt the standard scientific position that evidence beats theory or philosophy, and conclude that atheistic philosophy is therefore flawed since it contradicts the evidence (and it is not difficult to find those flaws). He will then turn to other philosophical premises, this time consistent with the evidence, which conclude with the existence of God. His prior belief in God was only used to filter out incorrect philosophical axioms (just as he will also use the findings of science to filter out incorrect philosophies). The arguments still stand on their own merit, and God is a conclusion rather than a premise of those arguments.

Now let us return to the first sentence. Theologians do not make the claim that existence can emerge from non-existence. Rather the claim is that God is the ultimate ground of all existence. When theologians talk about creation from nothing, they mean that there was no pre-existing matter, not that there was nothing "pre-existing" (in this latter case, "pre-existing" is not discussing a sequence in time, but an atemporal causality, since God is timeless).

Then we have the idea that God can do what nature cannot. Is this arbitrary? No. Firstly, the personification of nature here is problematic. If Krauss means by that a natural particle, then the idea that God can do things that an electron cannot is sort of the whole point of God. If he is referring to the laws of nature, or scientific law, then I would reply that scientific law (when discussing events) is in my philosophy a partial description of God's actions in the universe. The exception to this would be acts of special providence. These are not different from general providence (or the usual way things unfold) in the means by which God directs matter. They are different because since they are acts which favour a particular person or group of people, they violate the various symmetries which are used as the basis of scientific predictions. Thus if this is what Krauss means by God can do what nature cannot, then it is not at all arbitrary, but a consequence of the origins of and limited premises behind the laws of nature. The distinction is not merely semantic, but follows directly from the standard theistic conception of how God relates to the universe.

The idea that a supernatural potential for existence is more powerful than a natural potential for existence (although the idea could be phrased better; I would prefer to discuss it in terms of contingency and necessity) is concluded because natural or material potential is insufficient to explain the existence of natural objects. Every material being is contingent: its existence depends on external factors, whether that is the underlying matter or form, or its efficient cause. That leads us to conclude both the existence of an immaterial cause, and that it has powers which all material beings lack.

Krauss instead proposes that the solution of where order emerges from can be found in the multi-verse. This he contends is more logically consistent. The idea is that the universe is one of a large or infinite (and I think it would have to be infinite) set of causally separated universes. That they are causally separated means, of course, that we can never obtain direct evidence for these other universes. To believe in them is to believe without even the possibility of evidence (which is becoming a good definition of atheist belief).

The idea is that the fundamental forces and constants of nature are different from one universe to another. Across the entire multiverse, every possibility is satisfied. We just happen to be in one particular universe where the laws are as we find them.

I strongly believe that the multiverse is the only option available to atheists (particularly given the fine-tuning coincidences). If you believe in atheism and accept modern science, and you want to be logically consistent, you have to accept the multiverse. This isn't evidence for the multiverse, of course, because atheism is not the only option.

Krauss offers a few suggestions for the multiverse: a landscape of universes in extra dimensions, or an eternal inflation scenario where we have a vast expanse in which small bubble universes appear and expand at different points. At the moment our knowledge of physics, particularly quantum gravity, is not sufficient to either rule these ideas out or in. It is an open question right now.

But does the multiverse address the question of where the laws of physics arise from? Krauss says Yes. I say only partially.

Firstly, Krauss asserts that the multiverse implies that the laws would arise stochastically and randomly. Under the principle that anything not forbidden is allowed, at least one of the universes would be as we have observed it. But Krauss seems to have forgotten that randomly does not mean that there is no cause, but only that we have at best a partial knowledge of the causes. Everything random in mathematics is governed by a distribution, and there has to be a reason why it is that distribution rather than another. That reason is hidden in the underlying structure of the multiverse. And if it has structure, and events can happen in the multiverse (such as a new bubble universe coming into existence), then there must be laws governing the multiverse. If not, then it would imply that something with order and laws would emerge from something without order and laws, i.e. an expanse where there are no substance causality. In that case, the multiverse as a whole would be a place where there were no rules: anything could happen without a reason. But our universe would subsist in the wider multiverse, it would be a part of it. We would thus expect that lawless events, events wholly unpredictable (even stochastically) by scientific law, could occur here as well. But (except in the case of miracles, which are signs pointing to God rather than directionless) that has not been observed. We are thus forced to conclude that there will also be laws governing the multiverse. So the question becomes why those particular laws? All Krauss has done is pushed the question up a level.

To circumvent this, Krauss states that there might be no fundamental law at all. This might imply that the sequence of multiverses continues forever, or some similar statement (perhaps he means that there is no ultimate law in our universe; the standard model is an approximation to quantum gravity, which is an approximation to the next theory, which is an approximation to the next theory, and so on ad infinitum). I'll restrict my example to an infinite hierarchy of multiverses. In this case there is a sequence of laws; the laws of our universe are derived from the laws of the underlying universe, which are in turn derived from the laws underlying that, and so on. This is not a temporal sequence. Each layer depends on the one below it, and there is a clear directionality and asymmetry, and none of the ordinary members of the series (such as the universe, or the multiverse above it) are self-explanatory their own laws. That means that we have an instrumental or hierarchical series, which must terminate (as opposed to an accidental series).

But the main problem with invoking the multiverse is that it doesn't actually answer the question. It (if it is correct, which is unproven) answers the question of why we have this particular set of laws. But it doesn't answer the more fundamental issue. Why are there laws of physics at all? Why does matter obey them? Why is the universe ordered? The traditional theist answer to this question is that the universe is upheld and sustained by God, and the laws describe that relationship (alongside describing the formal and final causes of the material beings, which were also ultimately instituted by God).

The atheist here has a problem, because he has to take God out of that picture and put something that isn't God in His place. He doesn't have history to fall back on, because obviously modern science arose in a Christian context, and it was precisely this sort of reasoning (in reverse) that led people to propose that there were laws of nature in the first place. He can't make the laws solely something internal to matter, because that would make it a form of Aristotelian philosophy, which implies the existence of God. And besides, the indeterminacy of the laws (i.e. that the information in the universe is insufficient to fully describe the system) implies that there is a component to the description of how matter evolves which is external to the universe. The death of mechanism rules out this way towards atheism. Nor can he describe the laws as merely a description of repeated observed conjunctions, for that undermines the basis of all scientific theory (and in particular its ability to predict things which have not yet been observed). Nor can he say that the universe is irrational; for that undermines his whole ethos. Nor can he say that it is impossible for us to answer the question; first of all because that attitude displays an irresponsible lack of curiosity, but mainly because the theist has provided an answer, and it is his responsibility to give a counter proposal.

And then what of the laws themselves? They point to something external to matter, which directs matter. That implies a will. Indeterminacy implies that it is a free will. It grasps abstract concepts (such as the forms and final causes of particles), so is tied to an intellect. Timeless, unified, simplicity, and universal follow immediately. There is nothing in the universe outside its power, which implies omnipotence, and that in turn leads to omniscience. And, of course, it is an existent being, since (by definition) only existent beings can interact with other beings. So the laws of physics themselves point towards a being with all the usual divine attributes. The only thing missing is God's personal nature (i.e. something which interacts with us at a personal level) -- but that's not a problem, because I haven't set out to prove it from this argument. What I have proposed does not contradict a personal God. And, there are other arguments, based on ethics, which support the idea of a personal God, and direct revelation which confirms it.

So Krauss' invocation of the multiverse doesn't do what he needs it to do. It doesn't answer the fundamental question, or provide a reasonable alternative to God. It still assumes an ordered universe, but does not and cannot explain it. Even if there is a multiverse, we would still need God to sustain and give order to it. And nothing that Krauss has written provides any response to the arguments supporting that claim.

Disjointed thoughts

Krauss next argues that because in a multiverse scenario there would be regions with nothing and regions with something, there is something rather than nothing because we happen to live in a region with something in it. That, of course, misses the point completely. He justifies this by saying that the universe is far wondrous than our human imaginations are capable of comprehending. Which is why philosophy and theology are incapable of making any progress. We should let nature call the shots. Of course this is a false dichotomy. There is no reason why philosophy and theology should not be informed by natural science. Equally natural science cannot answer these questions by itself. The goal of natural science is to describe the laws governing the universe, and propose the various axioms those laws are based on. It cannot go further than this, because beyond this experiment has nothing further to say. That is where you need philosophy and theology to link those findings to more fundamental principles. Science, theology and philosophy need to work together. And the question of why there is something rather than nothing is not one which can be directly answered by empirical science. It is a question of philosophy. Science can help, by ruling out false philosophical premises, but that is as far as it can go.

The universe is wondrous. But that doesn't mean that we cannot get at least a partial understanding of it. And it doesn't mean that we should just give up trying to understand and instead just marvel at the wonder of the universe. Theists have an answer to the question of why there is something rather than nothing, one which works (once you actually make the effort to understand it). Atheists need to provide an alternative. Not say that the question is no more profound than asking why some flowers are one colour and others a different one. One cannot take the nonsensical way out and say that something might always come from nothing. One cannot say that something contingent is necessary. Nor does saying that because the state of being something is rare makes the question insignificant. Nor can one excuse not pondering the question by saying that it is not useful in comparison to findings of science. There is no reason we can't do both, and (like much of scientific research) we don't know how useful the answer would be until we find it. If the answer is that there is God providing the ground for all existence, then that is surely something we need to know.

Krauss then asks about whether we should assume that "something" will ultimately persist. His context is thinking about the end of the universe, whether a a thermodynamic death or gravitational collapse. The question might become redundant, because, in some of these scenarios, soon there will no longer be something. I'm personally a little more hopeful for the future, but in any case that is all far enough in the future that we have more urgent things to worry about now.

But Krauss' question here is a good one. Why should we assume that "something" persists, not in the far future but even in the next instant of time? One might answer scientific law, or the principle of inertia, or even existential inertia. But unless we understand the grounding behind scientific law, how can we have confidence in this? The theological answer is that things only endure because God wills them to at each moment (and scientific law is an expression of that will). The atheist will need to replace God with something else. But not scientific law, which only describes how things evolve if they do continue to exist. It is an interesting question to ponder.


This chapter was concerned with the origin of physical law. Since he thinks that he has already described how matter arises from empty space and empty space can arise because physical law tells it to, this is where his argument (such as it is) has boiled down to. The conclusion of the chapter states that philosophy and theology are inadequate to answer the question, but instead we should just let nature guide us. Clearly, Krauss has a problem here. The best that science can do is describe laws of nature (and test them experimentally). Thus a scientific explanation of the origin of the laws of nature would be given in terms of a law of nature. Either Krauss has an infinite regress, or a circle. Waving hands about a multiverse doesn't change that. What is clear is that he cannot answer this question using his methods. Even if we grant everything that came beforehand (which we certainly should not), Krauss has hit a roadblock. He cannot scientifically (in his terms) explain why there is something rather than nothing. Thus his project would have been a failure even if he had not made numerous mistakes along the way.

I have now reached the end of the main body of Krauss' text. I still have one more post to prepare, describing his introduction and epilogue, and my own concluding thoughts.

Classical theism podcast.

Reader Comments:

1. Ben Cass
Posted at 03:38:57 Monday December 16 2019

Experiment for testing the Simulation Hypothesis

This comment will be off-topic from the original post, but I don't think there will be a better post for it. I was wondering what your thoughts on this paper are.

That aside, thank you for this excellent series of posts on Krauss.

2. Nigel Cundy
Posted at 12:50:47 Thursday December 19 2019

Experimental testing of simulation hypothesis

Thanks for sending me that link. It is certainly interesting. I'm not certain, however, that the experiment will do what it claims.

The centre of the paper is an experiment described at (Cho et al). It is based on a two slit experiment.

The standard two slit experiment is where you have a particle, send them one at a time through a pair of slits, and you get an interference pattern. Put in a measuring device to see which slit the particle went through, and the interference pattern disappears. That, you would think is easy to understand. You are interfering with the particle as it comes through the slit, so of course the pattern you later see at the detector is affected.

Cho et al, instead of using slits, use two atoms as sources of photons. The photons (photon X) from each of these atoms are directed towards the screen (detector D_0). They will interfere with each other, and you get an interference pattern. Block off the photons from one of the atoms, or try to measure which one it cones from, and the interference pattern disappears, and you get the distribution from a single particle. But in this case, the trick is that the photons are entangled, so they have a partner (photon Y). It is arranged through a set of 50% beam splitters that that partner can either land on a detector D_1 or D_4 unique to one atom or another, or detector D_2 or D_3 which are accessible to both atoms. So if photon Y hits detector D_1, you are sure that both photons X and Y came from atom A. If photon Y hits detector D_4, you are sure that the photons both came from atom B. If detectors D_2 or D_3 are triggered.

You then correlate the interference pattern at the screen D_0 with the results for photon Y. If you count only those hits on D_0 when D_1 or D_4 were triggered, then you get the single particle data on D_0. If you count only those hits on D_0 when D_2 or D_3 was triggered, then you get the interference pattern. In other words it seems like what happens to particle X depends on your measurement of particle Y.

In practice, of course, this is because uncertainty in quantum physics is parametrised by an amplitude rather than a probability, and the calculation of these amplitudes is conditional. So what we are calculating is the amplitude that you get a hit at a particular place on the detector D_0 conditional on detector D_1 (for example) being triggered in the same event. If you don't measure or correlate the signal with the detectors for D_1 through to D_4 (or you discard that data later), then you will get the standard interference pattern. It seems weird, but the results agree with theory and it is all consistent as long as you don't assume that the system is governed by classical physics and classical probability.

What this new paper (which you referenced) does (in part) is assume that in the simulation hypothesis results aren't rendered until they are needed. So the results on the screen D_0 will not be generated until you decide whether or not to look at the information from detectors D_1 to D_4. This, they claim will lead to a paradox unless one assumes the simulation hypothesis and a delay in rendering.

What the new paper lacked was mathematical detail. What precisely is the distribution they expect if the simulation hypothesis is true and if it is false? It is only useful if there is a clear experimental difference; i.e. on the simulation hypothesis the standard quantum physics calculation breaks down in one particular experiment (or the standard calculation breaks down in other hypothesis). Instead it just discusses "particle pattern" and "wave pattern". For example, it suggests recording the results of the detectors on two USB drives, drive X and drive Y. The claim is that if drive Y is destroyed before you read drive X, then you have no data on which way the particle went, and you should see the interference pattern. If drive Y is not destroyed, then you do potentially have data on which way the particles went, and you would see a particle like pattern. I'm not sure that this last claim is correct. The single particle pattern in Cho's experiment was only seen when you correlate the data with hits on D_1 or D_4; if you looked at the whole data regardless of which detector particle Y hit you would still see the interference pattern (wave like behaviour).

But suppose that this experiment was successful, and showed that the "standard" QM calculation broke down? Would that prove that the simulation hypothesis was true? No: we would update the theory to take into account the new data, and no doubt various objective universe interpretations would be posed for that new theory. If the experiment failed, would that disprove the simulation hypothesis? Not in itself, because somebody will no doubt come up with an alternative version of the simulation hypothesis which agrees with the new data.

All experiment can do is test theories. Interpretations of those theories stand or fall based on self-consistency and whether the interpretations actually imply the precise details of the theory.

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