How Can the Universe Have Arisen From Nothing?We are asked to examine the problem logically
Science writer Prudence Louise offers some realism on the topic:
The question of cosmic origins is a perennially popular question, but most theists think the answer has been known for thousands of years. God is the ultimate cause of the cosmos. While there’s room to disagree with that theistic conclusion, there are rational limits on the valid ways to reject it.
None of the outcomes of rejecting God are appealing. They’re the sort of explanatory gaps we reluctantly accept in the wider context of our philosophical commitments.Prudence Louise, “Universes from Nothing?: Scientific euphemisms and equivocations” at Medium (November 21, 2021) (November 21, 2021)
She runs through a number of ideas that sound popular in the lunchroom but don’t stand the test of careful thought.
Just for example, “one day science will answer the question of why the universe exists.” But that’s not what science does. Generally speaking, science answers “how” questions, not “why” questions. Science can tell us a lot about how things work. But to ask why things work is a matter for philosophy, not science.
Louise is not a fan of Lawrence Krauss’s 2013 book, A Universe from Nothing:
It should be obvious you can’t come close to nothing by talking about something regardless of how nebulous and vacuous that something is. Nothing and something are, and always will be, direct opposites and logically exclusive of one another.Prudence Louise, “Universes from Nothing?: Scientific euphemisms and equivocations” at Medium (November 21, 2021)
Now that she mentions it, the term “nothing” must be carefully delineated in physics, as astronomer Hugh Ross points out:
It can mean “a complete lack of:
2. Matter and energy;
3. Matter, energy, and the three big cosmic space dimensions (length, width and height); 4. Matter, energy, and all the cosmic space dimensions (including the six tiny space dimensions implied by string theories)
5. Matter, energy, and all the cosmic space and time dimensions;
6. Matter, energy, cosmic space and time dimensions, and created nonphysical entities;
7. Matter, energy, cosmic space and time dimensions, created nonphysical entities, and other dimensions of space and time;
8. Matter, energy, cosmic space and time dimensions, crated nonphysical entities, and other dimensions or realms-spatial, temporal, or otherwise; or
9. Anything and everything real, created or otherwise.Hugh Ross, Why the Universe Is the Way It Is (Baker, 2008) pp. 130– 31
And he asks,
So what kind of nothingness did the universe come from? According to the space-time theorems of general relativity, not from the first five or possibly six kinds on this list. In other words, the universe could not possibly have arisen from matter, energy, and/or any of the space-time dimensions associated with them, either existing or previously existing. The reason number 6 remains open to debate is that, depending on one’s theological/philosophical perspective, created nonphysical entities may or may not be endowed with the ability to create space-time dimensions.
The space-time theorems also eliminate option number 9. The universe of matter, energy, space, and time is, in itself, an effect. Every effect is generated by a cause. Absolute nothingness – the complete lack of anything and everything – cannot be a cause or causal agent. That is ruled out by definition and also by observation. If absolute nothingness could spontaneously produce something, scientists would see new somethings arising everywhere. Instead, they see the consistent operation of the first law of thermodynamics, which says the total amount of matter and energy within the universe can neither be increased nor decreased.”Hugh Ross, Why the Universe Is the Way It Is (Baker, 2008) pp. 130– 31
Louise comes to the same sort of conclusion, though from a quite different perspective:
Every single thing we know of has a cause for its existence. Not one exception. That’s a lot of evidence for things having causes.
And it doesn’t help the naturalist to say maybe the universe is eternal. Telling us how long something has existed isn’t an explanation for why it exists rather than not.
And it doesn’t help to say while everything within the universe has a cause, maybe the universe itself doesn’t have one. The universe isn’t something over and above everything we know of, it isn’t some distinct thing. The universe is just a word to describe the collection of all the stuff we know of. All of which has causes.Prudence Louise, “Universes from Nothing?: Scientific euphemisms and equivocations” at Medium (November 21, 2021) (November 21, 2021)
So if people believe that the universe can come into existence without any cause, there are several perspectives from which we can express reasonable doubt.
You may also wish to read: Why physicalism is failing as the accepted approach to science. The argument that everything in nature can be reduced to physics was killed by the philosophical Zombie, as Prudence Louise explains. Physicalism which depends on a mechanistic view of the universe, was challenged by observer-dependent quantum mechanics. Then the Zombie started walking…