Science Will Never Explain Why There’s Something Rather Than Nothing

By John Horgan

a-universe-from-nothingWhen predicting something that science will never do, it’s wise to recall the French philosopher Auguste Comte. In 1835 he asserted that science will never figure out what stars are made of. That seemed like a safe bet, but within decades astronomers started determining the chemical composition of the Sun and other stars by analyzing the spectrum of light they emitted.

I’m nonetheless going out on a limb and guessing that science will never, ever answer what I call “The Question”: Why is there something rather than nothing? You might think this prediction is safe to the point of triviality, but certain prominent scientists are claiming not merely that they can answer The Question but that they have already done so. Physicist Lawrence Krauss peddles this message in his new book A Universe From Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing (Free Press, 2012).

Krauss’s answer is nothing new. Decades ago, physicists such as the legendary John Wheeler proposed that, according to the probabilistic dictates of quantum field theory, even an apparently perfect vacuum seethes with particles and antiparticles popping into and out of existence. In 1990, the Russian physicist Andrei Linde assured me that our entire cosmos—as well as an infinite number of other universes—might have sprung from a primordial “quantum fluctuation.”

I took this notion—and I think Linde presented it—as a bit of mind-titillating whimsy. But Krauss asks us to take the quantum theory of creation seriously, and so does evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. “Even the last remaining trump card of the theologian, ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?,’ shrivels up before your eyes as you read these pages,” Dawkins writes in an afterword to Krauss’s book. “If On the Origin of Species was biology’s deadliest blow to supernaturalism, we may come to see A Universe From Nothing as the equivalent from cosmology.”

Whaaaa…??!! Dawkins is comparing the most enduringly profound scientific treatise in history to a pop-science book that recycles a bunch of stale ideas from physics and cosmology. This absurd hyperbole says less about the merits of Krauss’s derivative book than it does about the judgment-impairing intensity of Dawkins’s hatred of religion…

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Science Will Never Explain Why There’s Something Rather Than Nothing | Scientific American

 

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