Saturday, November 1, 2014

Is our universe the ultimate free lunch?

Have recent astrophysical theories proven that God is not necessary? Stephen Hawking wrote, “It’s not necessary for God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.” [1] And, theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss stated: “Forget Jesus, the stars died so you could be born.” [2] The publisher asserts that Krauss’ book, A Universe from Nothing, is a: “game-changing entry into the debate about the existence of God and everything that exists.” So, is it possible this universe began from nothing?

What exactly is nothing?
This would seem to be a nonsensical question, but according to Lawrence Krauss, nothing can have many different meanings. Regarding the common notion of nothing as people read into Genesis 1, Krauss notes: “That kind of nothing turns out to be full of stuff in a way … because due to the laws of quantum mechanics and relativity, we now know that empty space is a boiling, bubbling brew of virtual particles that are popping in and out of existence … and that kind of nothing, if you wait long enough, you’re guaranteed by the laws of quantum mechanics, to produce something.” [3] According to the current understanding of particle physics, at the Planck length, space-time can be conceptualized as a sea of foaming bubbles, particles and anti-particles popping into and out of existence. The commonly held understanding that empty space literally contains nothing is not commonly held by theoretical physicists. Krauss explains: “Once you apply the laws of quantum mechanics to gravity itself, then space becomes a quantum mechanical variable and fluctuates in and out of existence.” So, what humans perceive as containing nothing can be very active on the subatomic quantum level. Krauss goes on to assert that, “You can literally, by the laws of quantum mechanics, create universes, create space and time where there was no space and no time before.” Here, Krauss makes a statement that is not empirically provable and is an invalid logical leap. It is impossible for experimental physicists to know with certainty what existed prior to the creation of this universe because this universe is the only data set we have to work with. The statement is also illogical because the quantum fluctuations occur within space and time that we know now. With no space and no time, there would be no arena within which the subatomic particles could function.

Zero energy universe?
Virtual particles operate according to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, which states one cannot accurately measure a subatomic particles position and momentum at the same time accurately. So, the thinking goes, this leads to unpredictability in these particles. The same principle is applied to quantum energy fluctuations, which are also unpredictable. And, the greater energy fluctuations necessarily last for a shorter duration. Low energy fluctuations can last longer. The durations in these events are on the Planck level, vastly shorter than a second. This, of course, creates a problem with a universe that has existed for 13.7 billion years. The resolution, according to Hawking and others, is that the universe has zero net energy. Sure, there are pockets of positive energy, but overall, the net sum is zero, so they say.

In the inflationary theory of our universe, matter, photons, and the like are considered to consist of positive energy. However, this is balanced out by negative energy, such as gravity. How is that, one might ask? A falling object has positive energy, but as matter is gathered to the center of a mass, such as a planet, the gravitational energy is negative. According to this reasoning, the sum of the positive energy in the universe is balanced by the negative, making the entire universe a zero sum. And, to run the inflation backward to the beginning of a zero sum universe, only a very small spark would be required to start. This is the so-called ultimate free lunch – a universe that began from nothing and has no energy.

Bathed in quantum foam
Observations in tiny disturbances in the energy levels of the electron in a hydrogen atom led Hendrik Casimir (namesake of the Casimir Effect) and Dirk Polder in 1947 to make a prediction. If the quantum foam is real, then particles should exist everywhere in space. Since particles have a wave function, there should also be waves everywhere – even in “empty” space. They used an experiment with two parallel metal plates, placed very closely together so only short waves could exist between them and longer waves would be outside the plates. Because of this imbalance, the excess of waves outside the plates should push them together. This effect was confirmed and measured accurately in 1997. [5] So, the quantum foam is real - there are extremely small virtual particles which seem to pop into and out of existence.

Time and nothingness
According to the Hartle-Hawking model (James and Stephen), if one travels backward to the beginning of the universe’s expansion, one would reach the point where there would be only space and no time. Beginnings, such as the big bang, are based on time. Since there was no time, a beginning is meaningless. With all due respect to Mr. Hawking, even zero time and zero energy do not mean nothingness. The singularity that is our universe is still something. As is the so-called quantum foam which allegedly contains a sea of extremely small particle pairs that pop into and out of existence. This “foam” is still something, even though to our measurements, it is a zero sum game. Another way to think of this is to imagine an object sitting on the ground. The object, say a rock, is not in motion and is producing no energy. It is in equilibrium with the gravitational attraction of a larger rock – the Earth. So, according to mathematical calculations, this smaller rock is a zero sum. But, no rational person would say it is nothing.

Out of time
The theory that the universe popped into existence is problematic regarding the issue of time. As Astronomer Hugh Ross notes, the probability of a quantum outcome, such as the production of a virtual particle, increases with the passage of time. The larger the time interval, the greater the likelihood of an occurrence. However, according to space-time theorems, time began coincident with the beginning of the universe. In fact, even Stephen Hawking has stated the same. If the time interval is zero, then the probability for any quantum event is zero. So, there is no time for quantum mechanics to create a universe. [4]

Cause and effect
While it is true that quantum fluctuations producing virtual particle pairs are observed frequently on a sub-atomic level, the big question is: From where did the virtual particle pairs originate? From nothing? That is exactly what appears to happen, but a very well established physical law states that an effect always has a cause. We know this from life experience – nothing happens without being caused in some manner. Because current observational methods are incapable of detecting the state of these virtual particles prior to “popping” into existence, it does not mean there was nothing at all. We simply are not able to observe what came before. It is inaccurate to assume that since I cannot see something, then that something must not exist.

Kicking the can back the road
Whether these virtual particles are comprised of strings (one dimensional) or branes (two dimensional), and seem to come from nowhere, this does not rule out an intelligent creator. This simply pushes the origin question farther back. From where did the strings or branes (comprising virtual particles) originate? Any explanation, even by those as brilliant as Hawking and Krauss, requires something to start with. To claim that random quantum fluctuations in a sea of dark energy seem to pop into and out of existence still requires something to emerge from nothing. The best explanation for that phenomenon is an intelligent creator who is outside of the laws of physics.

Faulty Biblical interpretation
There seems to be a very common misreading of the Bible these days. Inexplicably, many people reach a mistaken conclusion that, if modern science comes up with some new theory to explain human origins, then the Bible must be wrong and there’s no God. I challenge anyone to find that in the Bible. Even Krauss himself falls into that faulty logic: “There are many seeming ‘miracles’ of nature that appear so daunting that many have given up trying to find an explanation of how we came to be and, instead, blame it all on God.” (Lawrence Krauss, A Universe from Nothing, p. 12) The reasoning is that, since we, the educated modern humans, have discovered how some physical processes operate, we are now able to demonstrate that unsophisticated, primitive theists erroneously invoke a deity in matters with which they are ignorant. Gaining more understanding of the creation does not eliminate the Creator.

The first few verses of the book of Genesis state, as most people know very well, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.” Where in those verses does the Bible explain how God created? Where in those verses does the Bible state God did not bring about the universe via a quantum foam or subatomic “strings”? The point is, none of the new theoretical physics disprove God or the Bible – despite statements to the contrary by Krauss or Hawking. They are making an invalid logical leap based on a faulty reading of the Bible.

We must be careful not to turn the Bible into a particle physics textbook. That’s not to say the Bible is inaccurate or outdated; rather, it simply does not explain the details of how God completes His purposes. Many people in the 21st Century have reached the invalid conclusion that, if something can be explained, then God must not have done it. And we should keep in mind that, in the area of theoretical particle physics, explanations of the big bang are still highly speculative.

[1] Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design, (Bantam, 2012).
[2] Lawrence Krauss, A Universe from Nothing, (Atria Books, 2013).
[3] Lawrence Krauss, Life, the Universe, and Nothing lecture, 2012.
[4] Hugh Ross, “A Universe from Nothing? A Critique of Lawrence Krauss’ Book”, Reasons to Believe, 12 Apr 2012.
[5] Don Lincoln, “Quantum Foam, Virtual Particles and Other Curiosities”, PBS Nova, 23 Oct 2012.