Monday, July 30, 2012

A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing, by Lawrence Krauss

Lawrence Krauss’ A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing (Free Press, 2012) seeks to explain in terms a layperson can understand how the universe could have come into being from nothing.  Defining nothing is the rub, and he makes a point of explaining exactly what nothing means.  Calling on his own research as well as that of other cosmologists and quantum theorists, Krauss argues that the discovery of dark energy, a force that infuses the entire universe, has transformed understanding of the Big Bang and the formation of all that we know.  Quantum energy inhabits even empty space—nothing—and creates a dynamic that makes it natural and inescapable that nothing will erupt into something.  Krauss makes more sense in his book than I do here.  What he argues is widely held scientific theory. 

I have two problems with this book.  One is that Krauss’ definition of “layperson” apparently does not always include me.  Though he is capable of wisecracks and witticisms and well-chosen metaphors, he is not capable on a consistent basis of giving clear and accessible explanations of complicated scientific phenomena.  Certain passages in his book left me confused, even after I reread them.  Did some of the lay reviewers who praised this book for its clarity not want to admit their difficulties with it, or am I suffering brain freeze?  A second problem: Krauss seems concerned with proving that the universe could have come into being without the involvement of a supernatural creator.  This in and of itself is not a problem for me.  But he really wants to argue that there is no need for a god at all.  (He lists Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins among his friends, and Dawkins wrote the afterword for the book). 

Where the existence of God is concerned, I am probably on Krauss’ side.  However, I don’t see why explaining scientific principles necessarily requires explaining away the possibility of God.  Science is how God works, if he is there.  This insistence by many scientists on proving that God doesn’t exist is part of the reason for the Science/Religion schism that infects our world.  Science would be better off if it would focus on explaining itself in clear terms.  Religion would be better off if it would accept that the intricate natural processes science studies are worthy of a Supreme Being.  If our nation had a better understanding of the value of particle accelerators and stem cell research and space exploration we might not have lost our place as the world’s leader in scientific research.  Belief in science shouldn’t automatically mean disbelief in religion. Belief in religion shouldn’t automatically mean disbelief in science.

Lisa Randall’s book Knocking on Heaven's Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World (Ecco, 2011) more successfully explains complicated concepts, and she gives one of the best accounts of the Large Hadron Collider I have read.  Unfortunately, wooden and clumsy writing riddles her book as well.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I find the book “The Origin of the Universe – Case Closed” to be compelling. It has easy to follow math in the Appendix to back up its claims. It is hard to argue with math! It’s easy to follow with many pictures.