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Debate: a Universe Self-Created from Nothing?

Debate: a Universe Self-Created from Nothing? November 9, 2021

This is a follow-up discussion of sorts to my post, Seidensticker Folly #75: Why a Universe at All? (11-5-21). Discussion occurred on atheist JMS Pearce’s blog. Atheist abb3w was one of many who participated in that. Some of his words originally posted in the post above are transferred here, with further dialogue. His words will be in blue.

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As near as I can make out, physics currently answers “Why is there something rather than nothing?” with “Because having Nothing is unstable under the first two Laws of Thermodynamics, and thus tends to explode At Once into Something.” Or at least, something like that once the math gets translated back to something resembling English. In slightly greater detail…

When you have Nothing, there is zero net mass-energy. However, under the current model and to the limits of experimental measure, the total mass-energy of the universe is zero (because the mass-energy of space-time curvature has negative sign under general relativity). Thus, going from Nothing to Something doesn’t violate the First Law.

The entropy of a system is defined as some (Boltzman’s) constant multiplied by the logarithm of the the number of possible microstates of a system — that is, the number of ways it can be arranged. There is only one way to arrange Nothing; the logarithm of one is zero; therefore, Nothing has an entropy of zero. When you have Something, there are more ways it may be arranged; the logarithm is positive; therefore, the transition from the former is favorable.

When you have Nothing, there is an absence of space-time, and therefore an absence of time. Time is “what keeps everything from happening at once” as observed by an old SF writer; therefore, in its absence, such transition would tend to happen at once.

So, in short – we apparently have Something because having Nothing is thermodynamically unstable.

More philosophically, I think the answer is instead “We only infer that we have Something as a consequence of some basic premises; if we take some of those premises in Refutation instead of Affirmation, we may instead conclude that we do not have Something after all.”

This is literally nonsense. The Laws of Thermodynamics (as part of the fundamental laws of physics) deal with matter, and “nothing” is immaterial (not matter). Therefore, they don’t apply before the universe existed (i.e., do not apply to a scenario where no matter exists).

It’s just another area where science (insofar as any physicist engages in such irrational, ludicrous mythmaking) is delving into areas which science, by definition, can say nothing whatsoever about, since all physical science has to do with the study of matter.

Christians and other theists are constantly told that we can’t introduce our non-empirical, non-physical ideas into science, since this would be basic category confusion. I don’t bow to a double standard — this being the case — whereby science can suddenly proclaim upon ideas that have nothing to do with matter. It’s the same epistemological “unlawful intrusion” in reverse.

I myself don’t believe that God must be excluded from any explanation of the universe because I don’t believe that science is the sum of all knowledge. It’s materialistic science that arbitrarily demands this exclusion in questions of origins and cosmology. Very well; the materialistic scientist, by the same token, ought to stick to matter, and let the philosophers and theologians deal with immaterial spirit (i.e., categories outside of matter).

This is literally nonsense.

This is literally incomprehensible to you. The difference seems often considered philosophically significant. The Banach-Tarski sphere dissection and its philosophical dependence on the Axiom of Choice is incomprehensible to most people; nonetheless, e pur si segue.

If indeed it is merely incomprehensible to me rather than being intrinsically absurd and literally nonsensical, then please explain to me why, as a good educator teaching a non-scientist and non-philosopher. I’m all ears. You haven’t plausibly explained the thing under consideration. The above is no argument, and if I am not simply utterly ignorant on the question, it’s also technically an ad hominem fallacy.

“nothing” is immaterial (not matter)

Zero is a number.

Yes it is, and that is in the area of mathematics, which is not matter and not science (though it is a fundamental building block of same).

Also, the laws of thermodynamics are not merely about matter, but a mathematical description of information more generally.

It appears that there is great debate on this very question. Neuroscientist Peter Århem and philosopher B. I. B. Lindahl, in Århem (editor), Matter Matters?: On the Material Basis of the Cognitive Activity of Mind (1997), contend that it is a “common objection” that “an interaction between something immaterial and something material would violate the laws of thermodynamics” (p. 238).

That would come from from the currently dominant philosophical monism or materialism, as applied to one’s view of science.  So perhaps one might say that my comment would apply only to the materialist version of science that is currently quite dominant (especially among the atheist types, though there are atheist dualists, like, for instance, the philosopher David Chalmers).  

Arhem and Lindahl cite prominent philosopher of science Karl Popper as one who would argue against the above “common objection.” I found another article about that:

The philosopher Karl Popper attempted to resolve the monism-dualism problem by proposing an “interactional dualism” to explain the relationship between mind and body, subject and object, and spiritual and material manifestations of reality. Popper considered that the process of acquiring knowledge requires some degree of separation of the whole into its parts and the consideration that different levels might have different governing principles. For example, it is not possible to derive principles of animal behavior directly from the laws of quantum physics, nor is it possible to derive political theory from molecular biology. While considering that all thought has a material basis, he hesitates by considering that science cannot capture the complexity of human experience simply by applying the laws of physics. This dualism is not ontologic (referring to existence or being), but epistemologic (referring to knowledge and understanding): to understand our world, we need to fragment it into systems and subsystems, describing their interactions, and only then can we make predictions about human experience and our relationship to the world.

The scientist-philosopher Edward O. Wilson takes exception to this idea. Wilson posits that scientific advances in the human realm are accomplished when several fields of knowledge converge, or when connections can be made between them. He refers to this larger unifying principle as consilience. Wilson believes that, in the future, science will uncover the unifying principles that transcend all levels, from the molecular to the societal, and create connections between fields that are currently separate, such as psychology and molecular genetics. In other words, he believes that the roots of human behavior are in the laws of elemental particle physics and could be predicted mathematically in the same way that we can predict the movements of the planets. Wilson´s view can be described as ontologic and epistemologic monism. (Borrell-Carrio F, Suchman AL, Epstein RM. The biopsychosocial model 25 years later: principles, practice, and scientific inquiry. Annals of Family Medicine. 2004;2:576-582. Appendix 1. Clarifying Engel’s Critique of Dualism. Monism And Dualism: An Old and Unfortunate Controversy)

I think the problem for the atheist is that if he or she adopts any sort of dualism in an effort to explain origins, that they — by the same token — leave themselves wide open to God being one of these immaterial entities that are now “epistemologically” allowed. I don’t see how He can be excluded out of hand once the very notion of immaterial entities (apart from relational abstracts like the number zero or logic) are accepted.

Scientists already manage to firmly believe in quite mysterious entities such as dark matter and dark energy, which I have argued is not much different from our believing in God without ironclad proofs.

But much more generally speaking, my initial point, that thermodynamics has to do with matter, seems to be believed by lots of folks:

Thermodynamics is the branch of physics that deals with the relationships between heat and other forms of energy. . . . Thermodynamics, then, is concerned with several properties of matter; foremost among these is heat. (Jim Lucas, “What Is Thermodynamics?”, LiveScience, 5-7-15)

As Einstein showed us, light and matter and just aspects of the same thing. Matter is just frozen light. And light is matter on the move. How does one become the other? Albert Einstein’s most famous equation says that energy and matter are two sides of the same coin. . . . [E]nergy and matter are really the same thing. Completely interchangeable. (Brian Koberlein, “How Are Energy and Matter the Same?”, Universe Today: Space and Astronomy News, 11-26-14)

Nothing there about “nothing at all” as somehow part of the material universe . . .

There’s also a more philosophical but sillier response that I’ll omit for now.

You could hardly surpass the silliness you’ve already shown, but whatever . . .

It’s just another area where science (insofar as any physicist engages in such irrational, ludicrous mythmaking) is delving into areas which science, by definition, can say nothing whatsoever about, since all physical science has to do with the study of matter.

Your definition of science is artificially restricted. Science is not fundamentally rooted in the study of matter, but the study of experience; matter is a sub-topic involving something consequently inferred from experience.

As I said, if you adopt this as part of your definition, then God is not a priori excluded, since there are several arguments and experiences that are purported to be a result of His actions.

I myself don’t believe that God must be excluded from any explanation of the universe because I don’t believe that science is the sum of all knowledge.

This seems to be setting up multiple straw men.

The claim that “science is not the sum of all knowledge” seems necessary but not sufficient to your inference.

It’s beyond that; it’s self-evident.

Notably, I agree that mathematics is a branch of knowledge that is independent of (or more precisely, precursor to) empirical science.

Hence, science is not the sum of all knowledge. Thanks!

I also agree that engineering is a branch of knowledge separate from (or once more, subsequent to) science, which evaluates “ought” propositions based on some basis of partial ordering of empirical possibilities. However, the philosophical demarcations of these fields of knowledge does not preclude that the question of “Does God exist?” is one within the scope of “science”. As necessary but not sufficient, it seems less “because” and more “not despite”.

Can you rephrase those last two sentences in English?

Furthermore, it’s not that God is necessarily (“must be”) excluded; rather, it’s that God is consequently excluded; roughly the “Je n’avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse-là” that Augustus De Morgan attributed to Pierre-Simon Laplace (although Hervé Faye indicates the original may have had a different nuance, and the quote and associated anecdote may have been mere contemporary popular fabrication).

Of course, that’s simply a cynical assumption of God not being necessary. People say that about evolution, but since Origin of Species came out of the theistic mind of Charles Darwin, he obviously didn’t think God was excluded, and he had many theistic evolutionist friends, like the botanist Asa Gray.

You can talk all this technical stuff and show the impressive scope of your knowledge in various philosophical and scientific particulars, but it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in explaining the nonsensical notion of “the universe lifted itself out of non-existence and made itself actual.” That makes no  sense, whereas the idea of an eternal immaterial Being like God, Who then creates matter and the universe, is not immediately absurd. It requires more thinking and “work” to believe but at least it’s not violently incoherent and self-contradictory (at the very least). Merely using a bunch of big words and technical ideas don’t amount to an explanation. They merely cover for the lack of a plausible one.

But this sort of obscurantism is an old technique in atheist and materialist scientific rhetoric, and unfortunately ain’t going away anytime soon.

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There are over fifty philosophical theistic arguments.

All of which depend on initial axiomatic premises that may be taken (or reached from alternative axiomatic premises) in refutation rather than affirmation, or depend on inferences of conclusions that do not follow the premises.

As usual, we must battle over axioms, which are every bit as prevalent in atheist thought (as in all thought), as in theist thinking. We all have them, and almost by definition, we hold them (usually) without any elaborate prior rationale as to why they are accepted.

But my point in context was explained by the words immediately following (which you ignore: for very good reason):

How many philosophical arguments are there that defend the notion of “the universe exists because it should” or “the universe lifted itself out of non-existence and made itself actual”?

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God is “inserted” into the equation because that makes the most sense of any of the “explanations.”

Not by the mathematical measure of “makes the most sense”.

Yeah, it plainly makes much more sense to say that “the universe lifted itself out of non-existence”.

“the universe lifted itself out of non-existence” and suchlike are not explanations at all.

Actually, it kind of is. What it’s not is a particularly good explanation — which is the major defect of “God did it”. Furthermore, it’s formally more a conclusion explained from other starting premises.

Okay; please explain it now in detail if you think it explains anything. I wanna see 1) why anyone would believe such a thing, and 2) how it works, step-by-step. I understand that it is speculation, but knock yourself out. After all, atheist think God is so nonsensical and can’t possibly be believed in by rational, educated folks (upon adequate reflection); so by all means, give us your plausible alternatives. Looking eagerly forward to this . . . 

Nohow, the disagreement seems fundamentally rooted in a philosophical disagreement about what it means for some A to “explain” or “be an explanation for” some B.

Yes. So now the usual tedious analytical philosophy can be brought to bear and become so abstract that no one notices that nothing has really been explained . . . 

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Photo credit: Piotr Siedlecki [PublicDomainPictures.Net]
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Summary: Debate with an atheist & commenter on JMS Pearce’s blog about the plausibility of a universe self-created from nothing. Yes, people actually believe this.

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