Nothing, Quantum Fluctuations, and the Cheshire Cat

We continue to see learned men claim that something can spring from nothing, but that nothing consists of quantum fluctuations. I have already written of this, which you can find here, and here, and here.

A few things seem rather obvious. First, quantum fluctuations are not nothing, but something. Second, we have no proof that these fluctuations come from no thing and have no cause. (how would such an idea be proved?) Third, whatever is brought from potential to actual must be caused to do so by something that is already actual. Thus if there is a potential thing that becomes an actual thing, there must be an actual thing that brings it to be. Fourth, quantum physics is not nearly as well understood as principles of cause and effect, which are foundational to knowledge. It is not logical to take a theory which is little understood and use it to replace one that is well understood. Fifth, appealing to quantum fluctuations merely pushes the problem of causality back one more step, for we must ask the cause of the fluctuations.(1) Sixth, we have no evidence that quantum fluctuations and the laws of physics, such as gravity, can exist in isolation with neither matter nor energy in prior existence, nor do we have any evidence that such laws by themselves have any causal power. Seventh, the whole affair reeks of smoke and mirrors. As someone rightfully pointed out, those that appeal to quantum physics do not really explain things, they quantum them. The reason is tossed into the murky world of odd physics where logic can do anything. Alice’s Cheshire Cat has completely disappeared, except for the smile.

In reality, all empirical evidence points to a universe made of matter, energy, and information, which had a beginning. Things that began need a cause. This we call God.

(1) in anticipation of the tired argument about “what caused God?” let me repeat yet again: The law of cause and effect says that anything that had a beginning needs a cause; anything that is an effect needs a cause. God did not have a beginning, and is not an effect. Neither is He composed of parts that had to be put together.

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About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
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17 Responses to Nothing, Quantum Fluctuations, and the Cheshire Cat

  1. Walt says:

    I’m not trained in philosophy, but I wonder if you’d attempt to help me understand cause and effect. I understand the everyday occurrence of cause and effect…something doesn’t move unless it is moved…but this only deals with transfers of mass and energy. The car doesn’t come to be unless it is assembled, but this is a transfer of mass to the form of the car. How do we know that cause and effect operates for the true creation of something, rather than the transfer of one thing to another? In other words, how do we know that cause and effect applies to creation ex nihilo?

    • humblesmith says:

      Well, we certainly cannot put creation ex nihilo in a lab and do it over and over until we can publish a paper on it. This is true because it has never been observed, and therefore is not happening every day. So we must draw inferences. We know that infinite series of events cannot be traversed, for by definition, we cannot reach the end of an infinite. Also by definition, an infinite is not a continually increasing finite. Therefore if we go backward in the chain of events or backward in time, we cannot have an infinite series into the past, since the series we are in is continually increasing. Therefore there had to be a beginning. Therefore matter and energy are not eternal.

      We have also known for quite a long time now that if ever there was a time when nothing existed, there would be nothing now, for from nothing, nothing comes. Proving this is a bit difficult short of a true vacuum, but assuming you could generate one, it could be watched for quite a while to see if it could generate something. Let me know what you find.

      We can also draw a logical conclusion from the authority of the Bible, which tells us this is so. If every instance that we can test the word of an authority is proven true, then it is reasonable to conclude that the instances where we cannot test the authority are also true. Thus we can trust the Bible.

      The burden of proof is on the one proposing the theory that creation ex nihilo could be generated without any cause at all. We cannot merely express a possibility of such an event happening with no evidence, and expect this possibility to prove a point.

      • Walt says:

        humblesmith, thanks for your reply – here are my thoughts.

        I’m happy saying that matter and energy are not eternal for this discussion.

        One could watch a vacuum to see if matter and energy came into existence, but this vacuum would be entirely different than “nothing” as critics of Krauss so often point out. Just as many elements are formed only in certain environments like stars, it is reasonable to think that universes form only under certain conditions. I think theoretical physicists are trying to understand what this might look like, but darned if I understand any of it. Just because we haven’t seen or can’t see creation ex nihilo doesn’t mean it didn’t happen or can’t happen.

        I’d be happy to discuss the authority of the Bible, but I’m not sure how it relates to this topic. The Bible posits that God created everything – is that the point you’re making here?

        “The burden of proof is on the one proposing the theory that creation ex nihilo could be generated without any cause at all.”

        I disagree. Everyday cause and effect, and indeed anything that we’ve ever observed, tested, or thought about other than the creation of matter and energy has nothing to do with the creation of matter and energy. You cannot infer anything from observing how transfers of mass and energy occur. We are talking about true creation here, and the burden is on the person who says, “I know how it must have happened.” I am saying, “No you don’t, unless you provide extraordinary evidence.” It is a much stronger statement to say that a god did something than to say simply that something happened without a cause, when there is no reason whatsoever to think that there must have been a cause. It’s that last clause for which I would greatly appreciate more feedback. Thanks for the discussion so far

        • humblesmith says:

          It is much stronger statement to say “something came from nothing, with no cause” than to say “something generated something.” Even if we grant, for the sake of argument, that all empirical observations known to man do not apply to this question, it is still a greater leap of speculation to say that something happened without a cause than to say something happened with a cause.

          If we dismiss all empirical evidence of cause and effect, we are left with a mental problem to solve about a physical universe. First, Descartes’ dilemma proved that you can never get from a mental problem to a real world. Without dealing with empirical data, the most you can get is pure skepticism, which leaves us with the inability to come to any conclusion. (BTW, pure skepticism is self-refuting….David Hume was the king of this method, taking it to an extreme extent, and he refuted himself. Skepticism ends with ‘I know that I can’t know.’) Second, even with a purely mental problem, we can know that logica and cause and effect applies, since any line of reasoning I take leads me in a series of logical conclusions, with each thought generating the next.

          Therefore we cannot escape the fact that everything we know has effects being generated by causes. It is much more extraordinary to claim that absolutely nothing existed, then suddenly something sprang into existence with no cause. Your problem statement shifted to whether “I know how it must have happened.” The situation you described, by rejecting all empirical evidence, does indeed leave us with not knowing how it happened, but it does not rule out that it happened, and your problem case certainly does not build a case that proves anything. Regardless of where the burden of proof lies, merely casting doubt on the other side does not prove or disprove anything.

          • Walt says:

            humblesmith,
            You say, “Even if we grant, for the sake of argument, that all empirical observations known to man do not apply to this question, it is still a greater leap of speculation to say that something happened without a cause than to say something happened with a cause.”
            If we don’t have any empirical evidence that informs what we think about the creation of matter and energy, then why aren’t the two positions equal?

            I’m not sure what you’re trying to say regarding Descartes – keep in mind I’ve taken two philosophy classes in my life…are you simply saying that extreme skepticism is self-defeating? I have no problem with that. I don’t think it’s a problem to remain skeptical on a particular phenomenon for lack of evidence – am I missing something? I don’t understand how a “mental problem” parallels creation ex nihilo.

            My main contention that I’m trying out here is that we have no empirical evidence whatsoever for cause and effect regarding creation ex nihilo, since everything that we have ever observed deals with transfers rather than creation, and that there is therefore no reason to use our intuitions regarding cause and effect on creation ex nihilo. I can’t tell if you agree or disagree with this. I agree with you that effects have causes, but what reason do we have to believe that creation has a cause?

            I don’t think that I’ve rejected “all empirical evidence.” I’m arguing that what we normally think of as empirical evidence for the necessity of a prime mover for creation ex nihilo is not actually evidence – I argue that comparing transfers of mass and energy is the apple to creation ex nihilo’s orange.

            I certainly don’t rule out that there is a prime mover – I’m sorry if I ever said such a thing. I’m totally open to the possibility that there was. You say, “things that began need a cause,” and I’m arguing that we don’t have any evidence for this claim. I argue that it is possible that there is a prime mover and that there isn’t a prime mover. I’m not trying to prove that there wasn’t a prime mover…this is of course impossible. Apologies for not making this clear. When there are two options (prime mover or not), isn’t it a stronger claim to say that only one is possible than to say that both are possible? Thanks for your patience with my amateur philosophy ;)

  2. Lawrence Krauss: A Universe from Nothing

  3. I beg to differ, If two people were standing 3 feet apart looking directly at each other. You would ask, what is between you? And the obvious answer through observation of the eyes is NOTHING ,

    But there is something in between them. Air….Air has mass, it has mixture of chemical compounds like oxygen, carbon, and hydrogen. It has protons, neutrons, electrons. It has quarks and higgs boson, It has weight, density, temperature and other things. So say something is nothing, no longer stands.

    Nothing is Something, even if it is unobserved by the human eye.

    • Walt says:

      This isn’t the nothing that would have existed before the universe. The nothing that Krauss talks about was before chemical compounds and most if not all of those subatomic particles, is it not?

      • I was illustrating the difference between nothing in the realm of physics and science and pure eye observation and philosophy. Nothing is Philosophy is not the same as in regards to physics.

        The nothing krauss talks about is dark matter and dark energy, which is the empty space between planets and galaxies. And with the discovery of the Higgs Boson, Scientist can better understand how the observable nothing comes together to form mass and form something.

        • I would describe it as, correcting the philosophical definition of nothing. Because the philosophical or religious definition of nothing begins in Gen 1, when the bible calls the world void, empty and formless.

          But in reality, when we describe something as void & empty, we can observe on a nano level that there is something there not just nothing. And empty space, is never just void and empty.

          So when a christian ask the question.. “Can Something come from Nothing?” The question becomes scientific, not theological. And a scientific answer must be given.

    • humblesmith says:

      In your illustration, the observable nothing is actually something, i.e., air. So the person making this statement has either been imprecise, which we all do in everyday speech, or equivocated on the term nothing, making something into nothing. The problem is that everyday terms, like “you’re driving me batty” are not intended to be literal. Krauss does not appear to be speaking in this manner, but he is nevertheless not dealing with pure nothing, for nothing cannot produce something.

      If we had a standard situation where things could come from purely nothing with no cause, then it would undermine all science, for we could never determine cause and effect of anything. A la David Hume, we would end in total skepticism, for we could make no cause-effect conclusions.

      Christians are oft criticized for believing in a God that we cannot present in a lab experiment, but here we have recognized scientists either holding (a) that nothing causes something or (b) something causes something, and they’re calling the cause nothing. The problem is that they don’t come right out and say they’re grasping at theoretical straws; they present this stuff as if it’s concluded fact that the universe does not need a cause, since it came from nothing.

      Stephen Hawking has made similar sleight-of-mind statements, which I posted about here: http://humblesmith.wordpress.com/2011/05/16/will-someone-please-give-stephen-hawking-a-message/

      Also see here: http://humblesmith.wordpress.com/2011/08/22/atheist-of-the-gaps-theory/

      • Walt says:

        humblesmith,
        I still don’t understand where we left the previous conversation. Why would we be left with skepticism about the world we live in if we say that there need not have been a cause for the creation of the universe? The world we live in relies on cause and effect in regard to the transfer of mass and energy. Why should the one-time creation of the universe have philosophical ramifications for the ongoing transfer of mass and energy that we now experience?

        • humblesmith says:

          As I understand it, you proposed that in the question of initial creation, we could not use any empirical evidence that we know about an already-created world. If this were the case, then we would have absolutely nothing by which we could draw any conclusions. We cannot repeat the process so we could learn, and any speculation about it would be just that, speculation, and could not be based on anything we know or could prove. Even your most recent question, “…if we say that there need not have been a cause for the creation of the universe” cannot be proved or disproved (in the scenario). If we remove all empirical evidence, and cannot repeat the process to learn anything, then we are left with pure mental speculation about a real world that we cannot access. We would then be left with not being able to know anything about the process. Your statement that there need not be a cause is equally unprovable as mine that says it does. The end result is skepticism, not being able to know or prove anything about the creation process.

          But as I’ve said, I think the problem is a purely mental construct. As a purely mental problem, it can prove nothing about the real world. In philosophy, the most famous person with such a problem was Rene Descartes, who created a series of mental doubts about the real world, and in spite of his best efforts, ended up only proving that once we lock ourselves away from making conclusions about the actual real world that we experience, we can never get back there by any mental reasoning.

          I also do not think the problem is a valid one. We have no evidence whatsoever that something can come from absolute nothing, and every experience mankind has ever known shows that it cannot. We have never experienced anything happening from absolutely nothing, and all our experiences tell us that effects need a prior cause. If you think it is still valid to speculate about what could happen in in nothing, and think that speculation proves anything, I do not have any other thing I can say about it.

          We would both benefit much more from spending our time reading the Bible, which would be much more profitable.

          If you want to take this further, I’d suggest looking into the writings of William Lane Craig, the champion of the Kalam Cosmological proof for the existence of God. He’s written several books and several dozen technical philosophical articles on the argument. I would think he would have covered this subject somewhere.

  4. Pingback: Genesis 1, Science, and Logical Conclusions | Thomistic Bent

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