Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Jerry Coyne pans Lawrence Krauss' "A Universe From Nothing"

It's not just David Albert who is less than impressed with Lawrence Krauss' 'bait and switch' book "A Universe from Nothing." Jerry Coyne, who is not backwards in his atheism has a confession:
 I was not keen on Lawrence Krauss’s new book on the origin of the universe, A Universe from Nothing: Why there is Something Rather Than Nothing. I couldn’t share the chorus of approbation and acclaim for the book, and wondered if I, as opposed to everyone else, was blind to its merits. (Let me hasten to add that I am a big fan of Krauss’s public lectures, and also that I haven’t read any of his other books.)
 I found A Universe from Nothing awkwardly written and poorly explained; indeed, in places I felt completely at sea, and had to reread bits of it several times to figure out what he was trying to say.  Even then some of it baffled me, and since I have a Ph.D. and have read a fair amount of popular physics literature, I figured this must have been a case of unclear writing rather than simple ignorance on my part. 
Further, I felt to some degree cheated:  much of the book was not about the origin of the universe, but dealt with other matters, like dark energy and the like, that had already been covered in other popular works on physics. Indeed, much of Krauss’s book felt like a bait-and-switch.  It also seemed to me that Krauss came to grips with the real problem—how do you get matter from an initial condition of nothing?—only in the last 40 pages of the book. The whole argument could have been written more concisely, and clearly, in a smallish book the size of Sam Harris’s Free Will. 
Further, Krauss defines “nothing” as a “quantum vacuum,” without giving us reasons why that would obviously have been the initial default state of the universe.  Is that a sensible definition of “nothing”? If not, whence the quantum vacuum?  And so on to more turtles. . .
Exactly. This is the point that credulous non-theists, desperate to evade the fact that the existence of the universe is not something that can be waved away do not explain. [1]

A quantum vacuum is not the ultimate privative. End of Story. No amount of evasion, posing for photographs next to scientists (knowledge is not transmitted by osmosis. It needs real study) or petty references to 'Iron Age' mythology will make that fact go away, and until an intellectually honest attempt to answer how Nothing can become something is made, there is simply no point in engaging with such non-believers on this subject.

1. I don't cite Coyne because he would agree with my theism. He doesn't. I cite Coyne because he calls out what he regards as a less than impressive book which did not live up to its claim: "I didn’t feel, after having digested the book, that it was anywhere close to Darwin in the thoroughness of its treatment or in its final disposal of the design-from-materialism problem." Non-theists who mindlessly praise this book and write about it need to do some real research, and not swallow a comforting story from the nearest authority figure. Until they do this, there is no point even beginning to engage them in reasoned debate.