Something from Nothing? May 5, 2012Posted by Ubi Dubium in Rants.
Tags: apologetics, big bang, Evangelists, god of the gaps, nothing, science
First the backstory. My spouse (Ubi Dubius) has a Fundamentalist brother (who I will call Ubi Credulus). For some time this brother had been giving us increasingly preachy xmas presents. There had been VeggieTales videos for the kids (see my previous post about that) a copy of The Passion of the Christ, a slipcased beautifully bound copy of Bishop Ussher’s book, that sort of thing. At the same time I had been sending their family pieces of religious jewelry for their kids that I had been given in my childhood. When he asked if I shouldn’t be giving them to my own kids, I said that it would not be appropriate, and then quickly dropped the conversation. I was hoping to make our position clear, while also making it clear that I did not want to get into a lengthy conversation about it.
Well, we finally had to do something when he gave us a copy of Expelled. Was he being deliberately insulting, or just clueless? Ubi Dubius and I had a talk about it, and decided that we really had to return the gift to him, quietly and without a big scene. Which we did. But that prompted an email exchange between my spouse and Ubi Credulus that went on for quite awhile. He threw out a lot of the classic Fundie challenges, the ones that they think are so great, but that absolutely fail when used on an actual unbeliever. (I think there was a fair amount of cut-and-paste there, but perhaps he was just regurgitating all the apologetics he has been fed.)
This is an excerpt from one of Ubi Credulus’s messages:
When a person with a naturalistic point of view entertains the idea that an intelligence is a valid cause of the universe they are no longer naturalistic, by definition, and therefore they are prohibited from entertaining it...
If everything came out of nothing then the nothing wasn't nothing... it was something. All that matter had to come from somewhere. What scientific theory can you reference to show there wasn't a cause? Empirical evidence has never found a case for something that has begun to exist without a cause.
Ubi Dubius did a very nice job in a reply email of addressing the fallacy about “prohibited from”, and the old first cause argument. So I won’t tackle those now. Maybe another time.
What I wanted to talk about this was this false assumption that I hear all the time: “You atheists think everything came from nothing, so your belief is even sillier than ours.” So I wanted to talk about this “nothing” that it’s claimed we believe in.
First, we have no examples of “nothing” that we can possibly study. Every part of our universe, even those parts that look like empty space, are full of something. Cosmic background radiation, electromagnetic and gravitational fields, the constant neutrino flux, (and maybe dark matter/dark energy, I lack the expertise to have an opinion on that,) everywhere in our universe there is too much something. So there is really no way that we can say anything about “nothing”.
There is another thought that I have had for several years, and I just saw Lawrence Krauss quoted in the latest Scientific American, that perhaps “nothing” is not even stable. Perhaps it’s not at all ridiculous to have something come from nothing. We don’t know, and we don’t currently have any way of finding out.
And I would not say that I think the universe popped in out of nothing. I think that about 13.7 billion years ago a small singularity rapidly expanded into the space-time universe we have now. That’s where the evidence points. What came before? Well, if time as we know it also started at this singularity then “before” has no meaning in this context. But putting that aside, can we talk about something “outside” of that singularity that might have caused it?
Sure we can speculate, but until we have some way of gathering evidence and testing hypotheses we can’t really have any real answers. Maybe there are a lot of universes. Maybe they naturally bud off each other. Maybe a universe is some sort of vacuum fluctuation. Maybe the singularity was from a previous universe that contracted, so we have a sequence of “big bangs” each followed by a “big crunch” and another “bang”. All cool ideas, but I have insufficient reason to “believe” any of them yet, because we don’t have any information to lead us to which one, if any, might be true. “We have no information” does not justify jumping to a conclusion of “therefore god”. That’s the “god of the gaps” argument, which fails as usual.
But not having the right answer does not mean that we can’t rule out a bunch of wrong ones. I can be confident the universe wasn’t the work of the Invisible Pink Unicorn or the sneeze of the Great Green Arkleseizure. It wasn’t Leprechauns either, or Ptah, or Odin, or Zeus. And it wasn’t the war totem of a tribe of Bronze-Age mideastern goatherders. And I don’t care if those goatherders wrote a book that claimed they knew the right answer, they didn’t.
I don’t believe “everything came from nothing”. I think we don’t yet know where everything came from, and I’m OK with not knowing. I prefer having an interesting mystery to investigate rather than devoting my life to a bunch of wrong answers somebody made up thousands of years ago.