This book tries to be two things–a book on the present state of cosmological science, and a polemic against theology and philosophy–and fails at both. It does a haphazard, disjointed job of relating the present state of cosmological science, but in an almost worshipful tone about the “elegant” (used repeatedly, mostly in describing the underlying mathematics) structure of the universe according to modern science, and worshipful science is not science, but belief. And as a polemic against theology and philosophy as sources of knowledge, it is crude and condescending, making wisecracks, for instance, about America’s high schools, and whether they would know the three angles of a triangle add up to 180 degrees in Euclidian geometry. If Krauss is the best the theoretical physics/cosmologist community has for arguing their theories about the origins of the universe according to their sainted Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity then it is quite doubtful they will enjoy much in the way of successful proselytizing. Krauss is no Paul of Tarsus.
It fails me why theoretical physicists would care what theologians and philosophers think about the universe. Theoretical physicists claim, relying solely on empiricism (but not logic, as I’ll explain further), to understand every moment of the universe, from its beginnings as an infinitely hot and dense speck (how a speck could be infinitely hot and dense also fails a simple mind like mine who understands infinity, in the philosophical sense, to mean all of everything), to its accelerated expansion, which will ultimately yield a universe so distantly separated that each corner of it will be isolated forever, along with everything that happened between its beginning and inglorious end. If they’re so confident they are empirically correct, then why worry over whether others hold contrary beliefs? They’ve got science and the other side has only belief. What possible threat could belief pose for scientific facts?
Of course, none of the mental gymnastics required to reach this depth of understanding about the universe requires inferences and speculations. None of it is self-contradictory. It is all conclusively proved and seamlessly logical. Or so Krauss claims. But it would take at least as much faith to buy his version of the universe as it would take to believe that God first filled the void with light, and then parted the sky and earth’s surface, and then parted the seas to create land, and then put the animals and plants on the earth, each according to its kind. Where are the skeptics? I’m quite sure Krauss would answer that there are none, because the science is unassailable. And to that, in the tradition of the great 18th century Scottish skeptic, David Hume, who successfully argued that nothing of cause and effect was ever truly knowable, I would reply, “Bullshit”.
Krauss (and the physical theoreticians he purports to represent) is doing nothing more than offering an alternative myth to explain the universe than the myth on offer by the Abrahamic theologies. His myth rests on speculations, inferences, and unproved theories, just like the Abrahamic myth, but uses mathematics and the human interpretations of data provided by sensory extending instruments, to offer what he believes is a more robust rationalization for his myth than the simple belief required of Abrahamic acolytes.
Neither myth is amenable to conclusive truth, but here’s the rub–it doesn’t matter. Having a myth of one’s origins, or the origin of the natural world in which one lives, is nice, but not necessary, to the continuation of one’s existence, so long as one is able, which is the abiding impetus for human beings, else they wouldn’t long exist. I can believe the universe or humanity poured forth from a plasma volcano whose eruption was initiated by a cosmic turtle snapping its jaws twenty billion years ago, for all that such things matter. A myth tied in a pretty bow of scientific materialism like Krauss offers is nice. With his myth and four-fifty at Starbucks, you can get a cup of coffee. But you’ll need an extra fin if you’re hungry and want to eat one of their sawdust muffins.
The basic catechism of the theoretical physicist/cosmologist community goes something like this. The universe started as an infinitely dense, hot speck, which then exploded, with a “big bang”. The universe cooled and lost density as it expanded after the initial bang, but not uniformly. There was an inexplicable period of rapid expansion. During this period of rapid expansion (called “inflation”), lumps formed in empty space due to quantum fluctuations which were intermittently frozen. We came to know the lumps as galaxies, and within the galaxies, as stars and planets, and on earth, as humans and everything else. Bingo–something came out of the nothing of empty space, providing scientific materialists a philosophy of existence and Mr. Krauss the provocative title for his book.
But the expansion of the universe hasn’t behaved as would be imagined it should, slowing down as it cools and becoming less dense, but has instead accelerated, and is continuing to accelerate. Everything is rushing further away from everything else, and at an accelerating rate of speed. Eventually, the universe will be so spread out that each galaxy will exist in isolation, moving too quickly away for light to reach escape velocity. The night sky will have a few stars, but only those close by in our own galaxy. What is driving this expansion? Dark energy, which counteracts gravity. What is otherwise keeping the galaxies together? Dark matter, which increases gravity to a level sufficient to account for the speed of their rotation without everything flying off into space. What does it all add up to? Zero, exactly nothing, because all the energies cancel out in a flat universe, and a corollary of the catechism is that the universe turns out to be flat.
It may be surprising, but this new philosophy is riven with more internal contradictions than is the Judeo-Christian idea of a God who is all-powerful and all-good, yet nonetheless subject to the forces of evil. Just for fun, let’s run through a short list of logical conundrums in the creation myth propagated by Krauss and his physicist buddies:
1) General Relativity, upon which the whole of Krauss’ myth depends, does not conclusively explain much of anything, unless you count the precession of Mercury’s orbit around the Sun. (I wonder whether any physicist has ever stopped to consider the possibility that General Relativity might have got the answer to Mercury’s orbital precession by accident? Or, that the famous experiment during the solar eclipse that supposedly proved General Relativity was profoundly flawed?) Regardless of whether the supposed proof of the theory has been misinterpreted, the theory clearly can’t be applied to the understanding of quantum particles, because it disintegrates in a flurry of contradictions and infinities, i.e., it doesn’t even work in the abstract, where it started in the recesses of the mind and mainly still resides, when things get very small. Yet physicists believe the whole history, of both the large and small of the universe, can be constructed from its equations.
2) Physicists determined the universe was expanding (critical to the theory) by employing the Doppler effect to detect whether objects were moving closer or further away. The Doppler effect is what makes a train’s whistle sound high-pitched as it approaches, and then markedly drop lower in pitch on passing. Sound waves emitted by the whistle are compressed as it moves towards an observer (listener), thus rendering a higher-pitched tone, and are stretched out, and thereby lower, by the time they reach the observer on its passing. This is all fine and dandy for sound waves, because we don’t expect that the speed of sound is the same for all observers. If a person is moving rapidly towards a sound source, the person’s forward movement must be accounted for in determining when the sound waves will reach them.
But there is a little nugget of lunacy residing at the core of Einstein’s General and Special Relativity so far as light is concerned. No matter how fast an observer is moving relative to a light source, according to General and Special Relativity, from the observer’s perspective, the light will, nay must, appear to be traveling at the same 186,000 miles per second. How can there be a Doppler effect for light waves, if light is perceived to be traveling at the same speed by all observers?
Yet scientists used the “red-shift” of light waves (red has a longer wavelength than blue light, thus a red-shifted object would show a stretching of light waves, and a movement away from the observer by the light source) to measure the speed of objects in space, and to finally determine that the universe is expanding, and at an accelerating rate. How can there be an observable red-shift if the speed of light is the same for every observer?
Red-shifted galaxies are a critical element to Krauss’ proof that the universe arose from nothing according to the tenets of General Relativity, but red-shifted light violates a foundational tenet of General Relativity. Next conundrum.
3) There has been discovered something called Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation (CMBR), a faint, cold (only a few degrees above absolute zero) radiation permeating space, which is presumed to have been left over from the Big Bang. It’s been with us always, yet was only just discovered a few decades ago. (All that was required to discover CMBR was detection with any number of readily-available instruments; still it wasn’t until the nineteen sixties that it was finally noticed. But now we are quite sure there is nothing that may have been missed in the construction of the mythological universe arising from nothing? You be the judge). CMBR, and the interpretations of minute variations in its strength, was used to prove that the universe was flat, which, (surprise!), was the shape physicists hoped it would be, as a flat universe is far more mathematically elegant than a curved or open universe. And a flat universe is the only universe in which the total gravitational energy adds up to zero, which is required if the universe were to have arisen from nothing. Perish the thought that this universe of the physicist’s imagination was constructed “just so” in order to make all the equations of Relativity work just so. But if the CMBR really is radiation left over from the Big Bang, and we and everything else were tightly packed together in that one infinitely hot and dense speck at its beginning, then wouldn’t this radiation simply be the radiation that traveled along with us on our journey in space and time to today? How could the CMBR reveal anything more, in its variations or otherwise, about the Big Bang than the stars and planets we see around us? Isn’t all radiation, in a sense, radiation left over from the Big Bang, if the theory is correct?
The uniformity of the radiation led to the idea that the universe had undergone a rapid inflationary episode during its initial stages that briefly froze everything in place for a time (allowing for the uniformity to arise), after which the expansion slowed. There is nothing except the equations of General Relativity that point to this inflationary episode, and there, only implicitly. But, since the equations of General Relativity can apparently explain the precession in Mercury’s orbit roughly 13 billion years after the universe needed to undergo rapid inflation for the equations to work to explain all of space-time, then inflation is precisely what happened. The General Relativity tail is wagging the inflating dog of the universe.
4) How could a universe possibly be considered to have a shape? A shape implies boundaries, and if there is a boundary, there must be something, not nothing, existing outside of the boundary, else what does the boundary delimit? If the universe is flat and bounded, as theoretical physicists like Krauss assert, into what is it poured to create its form?
By claiming that the universe has a shape, the physicists are doing great violence to the logic of the language, and language is all we have to communicate ideas. If universe means all of everything, then it can have no shape. This may seem a trifling matter–that the logic embodied in language can bend to physicists’ “brilliant” will (it probably wouldn’t surprise you to find that all young physicists exploring the nature of the universe are uniformly brilliant according to Krauss), like light bends in the presence of gravity–and no harm will accrue. It is true that logic is hardly the life of the mathematics used to discern this universe made of nothing. There are infinities that must be subtracted from infinities to reach real numbers (in calculating the energy level of “empty” space). There are imaginary numbers, i.e, numbers that inherently violate logic, used to explain real stuff existing outside of the abstractions of the mind. Mathematics is a language, just like English or Chinese are languages. It is a means of communicating ideas among human minds. And as a language, mathematics will sacrifice logic at the altar of utility in communication when necessary.
But there is no reason to believe the universe itself is so amenable to sacrificing logic for the sake of communicating its secrets for man. The whole enterprise of trying to understand the universe depends on teasing out its logic–on figuring out what causes what. General Relativity, even with all its internal contradictions, still is founded on the idea that a discernible cause exists for every effect, no matter whether the cause is ascertainable by human inquiry. (Quantum theory, ruled by probabilities, is somewhat different in operation, but not in outcome. As Einstein proclaimed, “God does not play dice with the universe”). Either the universe is logical in its operations; either it has a cause for every effect, or teasing out its secrets will inevitably yield mysticism, the very thing the scientific enterprise seeks to avoid. And a “universe” with a shape defies logic. Somewhere in the reasoning yielding a shaped universe, an effect sprang up without a cause, which is Krauss’ point to be sure, but is just as mystical as filling in all the gaps of understanding with God. It depends on faith in things unseen.
5) Which brings us to the last we’ll cover of the logical conundrums nesting at the core of this origin myth for scientific materialists (there are a great many more, both foundational and derivative, but it would take several encyclopedic volumes to cover them all). How is it imagined that everything in the universe could be speeding away from itself at an accelerating rate?
The evidence for this acceleration comes via red-shifting, the problems of which have already been discussed. But what exactly is it that is speeding away at an accelerating rate? Is it stars within a galaxy, or galaxies, or clusters of galaxies…what? It doesn’t appear that the stars and planets in our little galaxy are speeding away from each other, but seems they are in fact doing just the opposite, getting slowly dragged into the purported black hole in the center. And we know that our galaxy, like all others, is spinning, and the individual solar systems within it are also spinning. But if everything is spinning, i.e., constantly changing direction, how could everything appear to be speeding away, i.e., heading in a single direction?
And do we think our telescopes are so powerful that, using only the faintest of light coming from distant galaxies, we can peer through vast stretches of space and time without interference such that we can conclusively know that all other galaxies are speeding away at an accelerating rate? Even Krauss was initially skeptical of this claim, but bought into it when he realized an accelerating expansion required just the right amount of dark energy to provide for a flat universe, which seems to be his holy grail of universes, as a flat universe is a mathematically elegant one. But why does this dark, repulsive energy only work at the scale of galaxies? Why is it not pushing everything away in each galaxy, impeding or destroying the coagulation of matter?
It seems to me that dark matter (30% of everything), which was invented to explain why galaxies were moving much faster than they should be moving if the only force driving them was the gravity of all the observable matter in them, and dark energy (70% of everything—leaving the whole of the visible universe and its forces to nothing more than a rounding error), which was invented to explain why the universe is expanding, and at an accelerating rate, are nothing more than wisps of the imagination created by theoretical physicists for the express purpose of making Einstein’s equations work.
This modern myth of the origin of the universe sports inferences piled on speculations wrapped in cloaks of mysticism. Yet no one seems interested in unwrapping the cloak; in looking beneath the inferences. It is a failure of modern physics that no one will question the premises. Philosophy won’t allow you in the academic door without which the essence of your enterprise is questioned to its foundations.
Take, for example, the notion that the speed of light constitutes a speed limit for the universe—that light’s speed is the measuring stick through which everything else is measured. There is ample reason to question this foundational premise.
First is that, as stated, the law can’t be proved. It can be disproved, if anything is conclusively proved to have exceeded the speed of light. (Think entangled particles and gravity and even exotic particles traveling a circuitous route through the Alps. No one has yet satisfactorily explained the apparently instantaneous knowledge transmitted through entangled particles.)
Krauss reiterates the claim that gravity can’t travel faster than the speed of light, but where is the evidence? Gravitons are imaginary particles quantum theorists have created to carry gravity. But what if gravity just is, everywhere and always knowing exactly what all reaches of the universe are doing at all times? As gravity rapidly fades with distance, it would be hard to empirically test whether it takes time to act on something, or instantaneously exerts its pull. But if gravity isn’t instantaneous, shouldn’t its effect have some sort of lag time across galaxies that might be detectable and capable of providing clues as to mass and distances? This much is clear: we know far less about gravity than we think we know.
And gravity isn’t all that remains a mystery. We still have only a crude understanding of light. We consider it to be a particle, but also a wave. This duality is prima facie illogical, but the universe could hardly be faulted for our failure to tease out its logic. To say light is both a particle and a wave is to simply give up on deep understanding, and resort to well-known categorization schemes.
The idea that light travels at the same speed for every observer is profoundly suspect. How could anything be considered to have any speed whatsoever if its measured “speed” is always the same? Speed is a relative measure. What is the speed of light measured against that it would always yield the same answer? The idea that the speed of light must be the same no matter how fast and in what direction the observer is traveling makes absolutely no sense, but is crucial to the workings of Special and General Relativity.
I believe the near fetishistic devotion to relativity theory is the source of all that ills theoretical physics, particularly as the theory depends on light being the speed limit of the universe (except, as Krauss indicates, when the universe itself is moving, expanding, etc., but really now, how in the world can a universe be imagined to move or expand? If it can move or expand, it must be doing so relative to something else, which means it ain’t the universe). Einstein invented Special Relativity to prove that there was no amorphous ether through which light traveled. In doing so, his universe finally resolved to one that is almost 100 % invisible, incapable of detection by any means except abstractions created in the mind. Perhaps we would all have been better off had Einstein just stuck with the ether, for what is all this dark matter and energy except the idea of ether by a different name? Michelson and Morley may have been incorrect about a detectable ether, but there were spot on that speed, of either light or anything else, is meaningless without the existence of something relatively stationary against which it might be measured. Speed is always relative. If there is no ether, or something like it, then how does light have any speed at all?
I am no theoretical physicist. I am just a blogger in the attic, but one who can see through biases and ulterior motives, and the theory Krauss proposes is riven with them. In this credential-obsessed world, I know my observations on theoretical physics will mean little to most people. But still, I am confident that one day, probably far in the future, our descendants will look back and laugh at the theoretical physicists’ folly in trying to explain so much on so little evidence by employing such flights of fancy that every turn of the explanation yields logical conundrum after logical conundrum.
It is clear that Krauss imagines cobbling together a universe that arises from nothing is something of a crowning achievement for theoretical physics. He is loud and proud, thinking physics has finally shown itself superior to theology and philosophy in explaining how things came to be and why. But his universe is as much a creature of the mystical mind of man as was Abraham’s. And his version of the universe matters to roughly a rounding error in the percent of the population who believe in it outside of his own tribe of physicists and scientific materialists. For three billion or so other souls, Abraham’s origin myth helps them get through the day.
As for me, I don’t believe in much of anything so far as the origin and future of the universe is concerned, mainly because it just doesn’t matter. Wherever all those twinkling stars and planets came from, and wherever they might be going, it is highly unlikely I will notice any perceptible difference to them in my lifetime.
I do, however, think that all things are connected, most probably at least by gravity; that matter and energy really are the same thing in different form, and that the theory of evolution is roughly all that is necessary to explain why. Why is there something rather than nothing? Because it turns out that something, rather than nothing, was naturally selected as the most viable state of affairs. Why am I here? Same reason. That’s about as clear an understanding as is possible. Anything more, and there is no escape from mysticism.
Richard Dawkins offers an afterword in the book where he praises Krauss for his efforts in explaining how the world need not have had a creator; that it could have arisen from nothing. Dawkins is a proselytizing atheist who is trying to force the abandonment of belief, which in his field of evolutionary biology can be a serious impediment to understanding. Without acknowledging the almost tautological truth of the basic premise of evolution theory—that whatever survives does so because, in the premises, it could—it is hard to see how an understanding of life’s process could even begin, and understanding life’s processes matters to real live human beings. In other words, Dawkins’ atheistic proselytizing is more forgivable—probably not more effective, but more forgivable.
Krauss has no reason to try to banish God, except as a shill for his theoretical physicist community which wishes to set itself up as an alternative priesthood. What he is attempting is shameful and disingenuous. He pretends his origin myth is based solely on science, proving that God isn’t necessary, but shows a craven disregard for both God and science in the breach. An un-falsifiable theory is not science but speculation, and Krauss’ universe from nothing is full of un-falsifiable theories. Krauss’ mysticism could never conclusively prove or disprove the existence of a being that is all-powerful, all-present and all-knowing—the theologically accepted God of Abraham, and banishing a straw God of ill-informed believers is an easy task that diminishes the one undertaking it. Except to the prestige and funding of theoretical physicists, believe in God, no matter how ill-informed, is harmless, so it is shameful when theoretical physicists attack it. People can believe that reality got rolling when the ancient universe fell off a cosmic turtle’s back if it makes them feel better, and mankind will not suffer for the fantasy. But bastardizing science in the manner with which theoretical physics has done in attempting a scientific explanation of something it can’t possibly understand is a disservice to the scientific project that in other realms may actually prove deleterious to matters of real human concern. Krauss, in his role as mouthpiece for theoretical physics, should be ashamed.