Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Something from Nothing

Lawrence Krauss is a well-known cosmologist and popular-science writer who apparently wishes to be numbered among the ranks of those who write science in order to disprove the existence of God. Krauss has a new book out in which he aspires to demonstrate that the universe could have arisen out of nothing, or almost nothing, and that a Creator isn't necessary to explain cosmogeny. The book is titled A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing and it received a rather derisory review in the New York Times from Columbia philosopher of science David Albert, author of Quantum Mechanics and Experience.

Krauss argues that the laws of quantum mechanics working in the quantum vacuum (Krauss' "nothing") could have produced a "fluctuation" that produced the universe. In this view, which is not particularly new, the universe is seen as the debris from an inopportune quantum belch, as it were. Albert, not to put too fine a point on it, thinks this is rather ridiculous:
Where, for starters, are the laws of quantum mechanics themselves supposed to have come from? Krauss is more or less upfront, as it turns out, about not having a clue about that. He acknowledges (albeit in a parenthesis, and just a few pages before the end of the book) that every­thing he has been talking about simply takes the basic principles of quantum mechanics for granted.
So, there must have been something, the laws of quantum mechanics, which produced the universe, but where did these laws come from? Were they just floating about in .... in what? It couldn't have been space because space and time didn't exist before there was a universe so where exactly were the laws which generated the cosmos. The most likely candidate, the mind of God, is exactly what Krauss is trying to show didn't exist, so that's not a plausible option for him.

Albert explores for several paragraphs the cul de sac Krauss has constructed for himself. The problem is that what Krauss is calling "nothing" isn't really nothing. To argue that the universe's origin out of the quantum vacuum is an origin ex nihilo is like arguing that a fist popping into existence where no fist was before is the creation of a fist out of nothing:
Relativistic-quantum-field-theoretical vacuum states — no less than giraffes or refrigerators or solar systems — are particular arrangements of elementary physical stuff. The true relativistic-quantum-field-­theoretical equivalent to there not being any physical stuff at all isn’t this or that particular arrangement of the fields — what it is (obviously, and ineluctably, and on the contrary) is the simple absence of the fields!

The fact that some arrangements of fields happen to correspond to the existence of particles and some don’t is not a whit more mysterious than the fact that some of the possible arrangements of my fingers happen to correspond to the existence of a fist and some don’t. And the fact that particles can pop in and out of existence, over time, as those fields rearrange themselves, is not a whit more mysterious than the fact that fists can pop in and out of existence, over time, as my fingers rearrange themselves. And none of these poppings — if you look at them aright — amount to anything even remotely in the neighborhood of a creation from nothing.
There's more to Albert's review of Krauss at the link. Put simply, Krauss wants to say that the universe could have come from nothing, but what he calls "nothing" is really not nothing in the sense that most people construe the word. And if that's true, if Krauss' "nothing" is really a vast congeries of forces, fields, and elementary particles with the inherent potential to burst into a space-time, mass-energy universe then where did all that "nothingness" come from?

Muslim Tolerance

Lawrence Haas wonders why, given the extraordinary levels of violence against Christians in the Muslim world, most of the major media outlets in the U.S. seem to have no interest in discussing it:
Did you read about Sheik Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, and his call this month to "destroy all the churches of the region?"

You might think that’s big news – big enough to garner some attention from America’s leading media – especially because the Grand Mufti is among the Muslim world’s leading authorities. He is President of the Supreme Council of Ulema [Islamic scholars] and Chairman of the Standing Committee for Scientific Research and Issuing of Fatwas, according to the Middle East Forum’s Raymond Ibrahim.

A Kuwaiti delegation had asked the Grand Mufti about a Kuwaiti parliament member’s call for the "removal" of churches in his country, later clarified to a ban on new ones. In response, the Grand Mufti called it "necessary to destroy all the churches of the region." He reportedly relied on the famous tradition, or "hadith," that the Prophet Mohammed ruled on his deathbed, "There are not to be two religions in the [Arabian] Peninsula."

But, the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today apparently didn’t find it newsworthy. It was relegated to conservative media (e.g., Washington Times, FOX online), Muslim-focused websites, and lots of blogs.

However appalling, mainstream media reticence to cover that news is understandable in one sense. Its coverage would force public discussion of dicey issues that challenge the political correctness that all-too-often pervades our thinking about relations between the West and the Muslim world.

We’d have to ask the inconvenient question of whether the Grand Mufti’s call is but one element of a "war on Christians" across the Muslim world.

And if we did that, we’d have to ask whether such intolerance, and the violence against Christians that has swept Muslim-dominated nations in recent months, reflects a fringe element or more mainstream attitudes.
The murders and persecutions are so widespread it's hard to believe that they're just the work of fringe elements. The following is just a partial list of the crimes perpetrated against Christians by members of the religion of peace:
"Half of Iraq’s indigenous Christians are gone due to the unleashed forces of jihad," he wrote. Many fled to Syria where, alas, "Christians are experiencing a level of persecution unprecedented in the nation’s modern history."

Meanwhile, 100,000 Christian Copts have fled Egypt since Hosni Mubarak’s downfall unleashed Islamic forces, while 95 percent of Christians have left northern Nigeria where the Islamist group Boko Haram has been slaughtering them. The group announced recently that it’s planning a "war on Christians" in the coming weeks to, a spokesman said, "end the Christian presence in our push to have a proper Islamic state."

Elsewhere of late, a dozen armed Muslim men stormed a church in Pakistan, seriously wounding several Christians; armed men ransacked a church in Algeria after threatening and attacking the pastor and his wife repeatedly since 2007; and 50 Palestinian Muslims stoned Christian tourists on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.

Muslims attacked one pastor with acid and shot another in Uganda; Al-Shababb Muslims beheaded a Muslim convert to Christianity in Somalia (marking the third such beheading there in recent months); and Iran sentenced a Christian convert to two years in prison, arrested as many as 10 others while they met to worship at a home, and is preparing to execute a pastor for refusing to renounce Christianity.
There's more at the link. When one looks at the sweep of Muslim history going back to Mohammed one would have to be an incarnation of Voltaire's character Candide to think that Islam isn't inherently intolerant and violent. It's tragic that so few voices in the West, either in the media or in the more moderate Muslim community, see fit to speak out against the barbarism.