Monday, 23 April 2012

Has Physics Made Philosophy and Religion Obsolete?

In January, Lawrence Krauss, a theoretical physicist and Director of the Origins Institute at Arizona State University, published A Universe From Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing, a book that, as its title suggests, purports to explain how something---and not just any something, but the entire universe---could have emerged from nothing, the kind of nothing implicated by quantum field theory.

This article contains an interview with Krauss who seemingly blows apart the theory that there needs to be a 'first cause' to the universe and that that cause needs to be God, as put forward by countless theists.

He caused controversy when he claimed that, unlike science, philosophy "hasn't progressed in two thousand years.". However when challenged on this in the interview claimed that "To me what philosophy does best is reflect on knowledge that's generated in other areas." and he categorises different parts of philosophy into other disciplines, effectively reducing the subject to maths, literature, history, political science etc.

He later claims that "scientists are really happy when they get it wrong, because it means that there's more to learn", but doesn't clarify if this means he thinks philosophers, and potentially theists, don't like it when they get something wrong. Indeed will philosophers or theists actually admit to getting things wrong? Perhaps not.

When asked about the religious nature of his work he says:

"The religious question "why is there something rather than nothing," has been around since people have been around, and now we're actually reaching a point where science is beginning to address that question...  I didn't write the book to attack religion, per se. The purpose of the book is to point out all of these amazing things that we now know about the universe. Reading some of the reactions to the book, it seems like you automatically become strident the minute you try to explain something naturally."

Richard Dawkins wrote the afterword for the book and claimed that this book was on a par with "The Origin of Species", although Krauss pushes away such claims.

When challenged on the actual claims of his work, he states:  "I don't think I argued that physics has definitively shown how something could come from nothing; physics has shown how plausible physical mechanisms might cause this to happen."

The articles then goes on to discuss some of the more scientific aspects of his work and how 'something' could be 'created' out of nothing.

Potentially this kind of science could provide big question marks to Aquinas' first three 'Ways'. There could indeed be an uncaused cause, and that it may not be God.

The article begins, "Science is meant to make people uncomfortable." - yet in many ways this is exactly the same as philosophy. Certainly Krauss is raising many philosophical questions and states he is always focused on the 'why'. Maybe he was right when he said these disciplines are linked? Maybe his love for philosophy has lead him to question whether something can be created out of nothing, although at this stage it is still largely hypothetical...

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